It’s finally here.
Other than the start of the season, the most exciting time of the year is when SEC play officially begins.
Granted, the Vols haven’t had much luck lately in terms of conference opponents, but they hope to turn the tide this year under Jeremy Pruitt.
Dan Mullen’s Gators have already suffered a humiliating defeat on the season, but how much did that really tell us about the team? The same can be said for the Vols, who were demolished 40-14 against West Virginia but have since outscored their next two opponents 83-3 - albeit it was against two of the worst teams in college football.
Tennessee needs to put together a complete performance if they want to beat the Gators for the second time in three years.
1. No slow starts
The Vols got off to a very slow start against ETSU. Considering how poorly the offensive line played in the first quarter, it’s safe to assume that if UT were playing against an SEC opponent, then they could’ve been down two touchdowns before the first 15 minutes expired.
Things didn’t get much better against UTEP. The Vols gained 259 yards in the first half, but penalties and turnovers held them to just 10 points.
That must change against Florida.
Again, this is a SEC-caliber program, I don’t care if they went 4-8 last year.
Tyson Helton has to get this offense going early or else it could be a very long day for the Big Orange.
2. Consistent offensive line play
This is by far and away the most important aspect of the game. Tennessee’s offensive line has to find a way to not only keep Jarrett Guarantano upright, but create running lanes for their talented running backs.
Perhaps they found a formula last week after running for 345 yards and allowing only one sack. Again, that was against UTEP, but the results should be encouraging nonetheless.
Will we see the same line that failed to show up in the first half against WVU and the first quarter against ETSU? Or will we see the one that showed up in the second half against WVU and the past seven quarters of play?
One would have to think the answer to those questions will be answered early on and it will most likely dictate how this game will be played.
3. Throw the damned ball
Jarrett Guarantano is playing lights-out football. He has completed 72.7% of his passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions through three games.
While the touchdown rate shouldn’t scare anyone, his efficiency should.
Guarantano averages 9.9 yards per attempt, but averages an insanely remarkable 9.1 yards per completion - the yards per attempt being good for 24th in the nation. That’s good enough for 91% efficiency when it comes to air yards, a feat that not even Will Grier (85%) and Tua Tagovailoa (80%) can match.
Now don’t get me wrong, both Grier and Tagovailoa have made more impactful plays, but it’s easy to see that Tennessee’s offensive line can’t hold up long enough for Guarantano to throw the ball deep against higher-caliber opponents.
Regardless, with this type of efficiency, there is no reason to think that the Vols shouldn’t be able to dink and dunk their way down the field. That may not sound like blue-collar, SEC football, but if it gives the Vols the best shot to win - they need to make it happen.
4. Defensive pressure
Another weak spot for Tennessee that needs to improve in a big way, the Vols have just four sacks on the season.
Bob Shoop’s defense was able to get consistent pressure on Felipe Franks and until the very end of the game, the results were very promising. If you take away the 63-yard bomb that occurred at the end of the game because Shoop decided to play prevent defense, Franks would’ve finished the game 17-27 for 149 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Wildcats pressured Franks enough to the tune of two sacks and 3.5 TFLs, while routinely pressuring him throughout the game. The end was result was a 44.8% completion percentage to go along with two touchdowns and one interception.
Franks is talented, but also very inconsistent. He got off to a terrible start against Colorado State, leaving Jeremy Pruitt with some tape on how to get him off his game.
The offensive line isn’t the best unit, either. This is a big matchup for the Vols to exploit effectively if they want to win this game.
5. A healthy Ty Chandler
Chandler showed just what he could do last week. His combination of speed, power, vision, and agility make him a complete mismatch just about anywhere he lines up on the field.
The Vols were able to use John Kelly effectively last season and if Kelly doesn’t drop a goal line pass, then things could have been much different on the scoreboard.
Chandler may not be a better runner than Kelly, but he is definitely a better pass catcher and should give the Florida defense fits all night Saturday.