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Tennessee vs Florida: The Five Biggest Questions For The Vols

Can the Vols provide us with answers to the following questions on Saturday?

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NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee
The Vols defeated the Gators last year, will they be able to do it again?
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

It is here.

Call it a week of excitement. Call it a week of anxious optimism. Call it a week of anticipation for a beat down of one of Tennessee's most hated rivals.

But in reality, this is Florida Week.

The Vols snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Gators last year in Knoxville and now they look to make it two years in a row.

Tennessee hasn't won in The Swamp since 2003 - which for the lesser mathematicians - is 13 very long years.

If the Vols can provide rebuttals to the following questions, then expect the Vols to return to Knoxville 3-0.

Can The Offense Avoid Another Slow Start?

2015 was the year UT couldn't finish games on defense. 2016 - and 2017 thus far - have shown the Vols getting off to very slow starts on offense.

Six games saw Tennesse score seven points or fewer during the first half in 2016. All but one opponent averaged at least 12 points in the first half - the outlier being Tennessee Tech, who had a goose egg in their performance.

Also remember that UT was down 21-3 at halftime last year when they played Flordia.

2017 hasn't been that much different. The Vols scored just seven points in the first half against Georgia Tech and went three-and-out on their first drive against Indiana State.

Even though the Gators have only played in one game, they have shown the ability to make game-changing plays on defense. Florida had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the first half against Michigan and held a 17-13 advantage at half time.

It is absolutely imperative that the Vols come out and have early success on offense. They must set the tone and put the Gators on their heels defensively. Florida's offense doesn't scare anyone, but if you give them a lead then anything is possible in The Swamp.

The Gators will load up the box to stop John Kelly, so look for Quinten Dormady to get into an early rhythm. If he can do that, then the Vols will be in good shape. If Dormady starts off like he did against Georgia Tech - then things could get ugly really fast.

NCAA Football: Indiana State at Tennessee
Quinten Dormady needs to have a big game Saturday.
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The last thing Tennessee needs is to get down early in Gainesville with a young quarterback. Speaking of which, that leads us to Quinten Dormady.

How Will Dormady Fare In The Swamp?

We all know that John Kelly is the key to this offense and so does Florida. I expect Florida to load the box early and make Dormady beat them with his arm.

While Dormady has been solid during his early career, he has also shown major lapses in his play and did not wake up until the second half against Georgia Tech. He also had back-to-back turnovers last week against the Sycamores - something that cannot happen against Florida.

Tennessee will try and run Kelly often and early. As to what degree of success they have remains to be seen, but if Kelly can't get it going then Dormady has to step up.

But the actual Gators won't be the only obstacle for the young passer, the crowd will certainly have a say in how he performs as well.

The Swamp is notorious for rattling young passers (see Nathan Peterman, 2013) and this experience will be no different for Dormady.

Dormady is also pivotal to avoiding a slow start for the offense. He needs to come out crisp and alert in order to gain an advantage on Florida.

The Vols average just over 200 passing yards per game this season. They have to figure out a way to balance out their attack come Saturday.

Can The Defense Stop The Run?

At this point, the question seems almost rhetorical - a puzzle created by defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to confuse and beleaguer the minds of his opponents.

Except it is the exact opposite of that scenario.

If you have paid even the slightest attention to the Vols since midway last season, then you know damn well about this team's struggles against the run.

2017 opened with Tennessee giving up the most rushing yards in team history to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. They followed that up by allowing Indiana State to run for over 120 yards.

I can understand the Jackets, but the Indiana State Sycamores? What the hell?

If Tennessee wants to have any chance at winning, they must stop Florida's ground game. The good news for the Vols is that Florida's best running back, Jordan Scarlett - amongst others - is probably suspended for this game.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Florida
Antonio Callaway probably won't be around to terrorize the Vols in 2017.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

However, Georgia Tech also played without their best back against UT and we all know how that went.

Tennessee has been receiving a decent push in the middle of the defensive line, but the perimeter has been a huge issue. Georgia Tech destroyed them in that area and Indiana State had major success as well.

The Vols must find a way to put this game in freshman quarterback Feleipe Frank's hands - and his hands alone. If they can accomplish that feat then Tennessee could find themselves building a winning streak of their own for the first time since 2003-2004.

Can Tennessee Develop A Pass Rush?

This is a major concern for the Vols. Granted, they have played two very unique offenses. Those two teams also combined for just 27 drop backs throughout both games.

So, while it may look pretty lackluster in the grand scheme of things, there is still potential for the Vols defensive line to become a major component of this team.

Kahlil McKenzie, while still developing, has made some pretty big strides these past couple of weeks. Darrell Taylor's athleticism and play-making ability has been on display all year, and Kyle Phillips showed flashes against Indiana State last week.

NCAA Football: Indiana State at Tennessee
Darrell Taylor and co. need to step up their game Saturday.
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

But the Vols still need more. Shy Tuttle played decently in limited fashion last week, however, there is one player that Tennessee really needs to step up.

That young man's name is Jonathan Kongbo.

At one point in time he was considered the number one overall JUCO prospect despite his extremely limited experience with the sport. He came to Tennessee with all the hype and the label of an almost-guaranteed recruit.

As of this week, it's safe to say he has failed miserably at living up to expectations.

Injuries caused him to play inside a lot last season, but that excuse is gone now. Through two games, Kongbo has a meager eight combined tackles, with no sacks nor hurries on the quarterback.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee
Kongbo needs to make more plays like this against Florida.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The need to generate pressure on Franks cannot be overstated. The Vols have to find a way to get him down whether it be through scheme, blitzes, or magic.

Bob Shoop said last year that he was hired to beat Florida. Could we possibly have an actual Shoop appearance on Saturday?

It'd be nice, that's for damn sure.

Who Will Step Up At Receiver?

Marquez Callaway has been more than effective, but the rest of the receiving corps still has a long way to go. Excluding Callway, just four different receivers have caught a total of 12 passes for the Vols.

That's an average of 1.5 catches per game - which is also an average of absolutely terrible.

NCAA Football: Indiana State at Tennessee
Jeff George showed major flashes of potential last week.
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The Vols lost a lot of talent at receiver when Josh Malone departed for the NFL early last season. It also didn't help when they lost Jauan Jennings for the season in week one.

But this is year five for Butch Jones and the talent should be there to step up when needed. Injuries can no longer be an excuse for lack of production.

The Vols get a big weapon back in Josh Smith for this week's game. When healthy, he has the speed and agility to do some damage across the middle.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Tennessee
Josh Smith brings experience and speed to UT's receiving corps.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Johnson and Jeff George need to make their presences felt in the red zone this weekend. Both have the length, size, and height to create mismatches on fade routes in the end zone.

The unit also needs to overcome the drops and the lack of concentration with routes from time to time. The talent is there, they just need to put it all together.


What Is The Biggest Area Of Concern For The Vols This Week?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Offensive Line
    (85 votes)
  • 57%
    Defensive Line
    (542 votes)
  • 7%
    (66 votes)
  • 3%
    Wide Receiver
    (36 votes)
  • 22%
    (208 votes)
937 votes total Vote Now