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Tennessee Football: Vols must prove they can stop the run to beat Florida

The main key of Saturday’s game.

NCAA Football: Indiana State at Tennessee Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Through two games of the 2017 season, we still don’t really know all that much about the Tennessee Volunteers. A 2-0 start is all you can ask for, but some of the questions that we were asking about this team throughout the summer still remain. This Saturday may be the day we begin to get some of those answers as the Vols head down to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators.

The primary question that I need answered (along with just about everyone else) is whether or not the Tennessee front seven can stop the run. This plagued the Volunteers last year and through a couple of games in 2017 we’ve yet to see improvement.

If anything, concern over this question has grown so far this season. Last season’s issues mainly stemmed from a rash of injuries, particularly at linebacker and defensive tackle. This year the Vols are already down a couple linebackers, but are full strength up front.

I’m not ready to panic just yet, however. Tennessee faced a somewhat gimmicky flexbone attack against Georgia Tech, giving up 535 yards on the ground to the Yellow Jackets. That offense is tough for any team to stop, but it definitely was disheartening to see the Vols gashed after a summer to prepare.

I think most of us are reserving final judgement until they have face a traditional SEC offense, though. The Vols gave up five yards per carry last week to Indiana State’s Lemonte Booker, but they too utilized a unique (jet-sweep) option offense which made the defense a tough evaluation.

Let me be clear, I’m not trying to make excuses for Tennessee. They simply haven’t been very good up front so far, but I think this week against Florida will give us a more accurate illustration of who the 2017 defense is.

Speaking of Florida, consider what the Gators did (or didn’t) do on the ground against Michigan. Look at this box score against Michigan from two weeks ago.

ESPN Stats

Granted, Florida is missing some key pieces due to the ongoing credit card fraud investigation, but still — that’s abysmal. That same offense, likely missing those key pieces once again, is who Tennessee will face on Saturday in Gainesville.

If Tennessee gives up a big game on the ground to this rushing offense, the Volunteers and Bob Shoop have some major problems ahead. You saw what Michigan was able to do, but I don’t think any of us are expecting that sort of performance out of this Tennessee defense. But we do want to see positive steps forward. They have the perfect opportunity to take those steps this weekend.