Tennessee takes on SEC East rival Florida this week in what will likely be the defining game for the Volunteers in Jeremy Pruitt’s first season in Knoxville. A win for the Vols creates a fairly reasonable path to six wins and a bowl berth, but a loss makes the likelihood of a bowl game for Tennessee infinitesimal.
The Vols welcome the Gators to Neyland Stadium this Saturday for what has been the most consistently close game on Tennessee’s schedule in recent memory. Florida is a 4.5-point favorite, but the adage of “throwing out the records when these two teams get together” is pretty apt for this matchup.
With Tennessee and Florida traditionally playing early in the season, it’s usually hard to have a great read on either team heading into this game.
Florida’s lone game against a Power Five opponent so far this season was a 27-16 loss to Kentucky at home — the Wildcats’ first win against the Gators since 1986. West Virginia, Tennessee’s only Power Five opponent thus far, took care of the Vols 40-14 on a neutral field.
While Tennessee has looked largely unimpressive so far this season, Florida comes in with many problems of its own. Feleipe Franks did not play well against Kentucky, the Gators’ offensive line has had its share of struggles and starting cornerback Marco Wilson is lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL against.
Suffice it to say — as has been the case the past several years — this is certainly a beatable Florida team, even with whatever concerns Tennessee has.
Florida bounced back from its first loss to Kentucky in three decades with a tune-up against Colorado State last week, which the Gators won 48-10.
Feleipe Franks finished 8-15 for 119 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — good for a QBR of 23.0 — but the Gators rushed for more than 200 yards and scored two special teams touchdowns to put the game away.
Colorado State actually gained eight more first downs than Florida and had more than 38:00 of time of possession. If it were not for the Rams’ three turnovers and special teams miscues which led to two Florida touchdowns, this could have been a much tighter game.
WR Freddie Swain — So far this season, Freddie Swain has recorded a modest six receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns. However, Swain also demonstrated his home run ability with an 85-yard punt return touchdown against Colorado State. Swain is a speedy receiver that Florida will look to use to get behind Tennessee’s inexperienced secondary and take deep shots down the field.
RB Dameon Pierce — Dameon Pierce is the other home run threat on the Gators’ offense. He has 14 carries for 162 yards and a touchdown this season, but the 11.6 yards per carry is what will see him featured more in the offense going forward. Expect to see a lot of pierce alongside Jordan Scarlett on Saturday.
DL CeCe Jefferson — CeCe Jefferson missed the first two games of Florida’s season due to an academic-related suspension, but returned last week against Colorado State. Jefferson was named a Preseason First Team All-SEC selection after recording 13.5 tackles for loss last year and will be a big boost to the Florida front seven.
I have given up predicting what will happen in Tennessee—Florida. It’s futile.
This will be a crazy game in which we all see something we’ve never seen before and there will likely be a crazy ending which leaves one team and fanbase in anguish for the next year.
My only insight is that this will be a low-scoring game. The O/U for the game is set at 49 points, and I honestly don’t see how Florida or Tennessee gets to 20.
Tennessee’s best chance to win this game is to have its young secondary have its breakout game against average-at-best Feleipe Franks and hope the offensive line can hold up against a Florida defensive line which now has its best player back.