It’s good to be back. We took a brief hiatus from the opponent breakdowns for a couple of reasons. One is simply just the availability of film. It was a challenge to find quality footage of ETSU and UTEP despite my best efforts. Secondly, let’s face it, those teams just were not very exciting opponents to talk about. But that all changes this week! The Tennessee Volunteers welcome in the Florida Gators to Neyland Stadium. For the first time in several years this game will be played under the lights. That gives Vol Nation a good long time to get a lather going prior to the 7pm kickoff.
Just like last season, both teams enter this game with only one loss. But that’s pretty much where the similarities between this year and last year end for both teams. Time to take a brief look at what Florida likes to do, and what Tennessee will need to stop, on both sides of the ball.
Dan Mullen has quite the reputation with running quarterbacks in his career leading an offense. He has coached exceptionally talented runners in Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott, and most recently Nick Fitzgerald. Now at Florida he has... Feleipe Franks? Okay, Franks isn’t exactly fleet of foot. Certainly not compared to those other guys. But he is the best quarterback Mullen has on his roster right now and Mullen isn’t afraid to run Franks.
Now, the above is not Franks’ best run ever, but I chose it because I think it highlights Mullen’s willingness to run Franks. He isn’t a guy with break-away speed, yet he is still being asked to run straight QB sweep/outside zone against an SEC defense. Another play that Florida likes to run a lot is the zone read. Franks is no longer strictly a pocket passer, although that is more his strength. Defensively, Tennessee will have to account for Franks in the running game. He probably won’t win the game with his legs, but he can make enough plays with them to keep the Gators moving the chains - something we didn’t necessarily see last season.
On the subject of Franks, something interesting about his game stood out to me in watching film. I mentioned this earlier in a tweet, half joking, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I might not be joking. I will never advocate against a pass rush. However, what I will say is that if Tennessee doesn’t get to Franks this Saturday it might not be the end of the world. The reason being, he seems to struggle against a 4-man rush with lots of time to throw. Here is his one interception against Kentucky:
Kentucky brings a linebacker but drops a defensive end into coverage leaving a four man rush. Franks has plenty of time to throw, but stares down his receiver the entire way and throws an inaccurate ball that is able to be picked off. Here is another example from the Kentucky game, this time with a mismatch.
Franks has his RB matched up with a MLB down the seam. Again a four man rush. Again very little pressure. Again staring down his receiver the whole way. And, again, an inaccurate pass that falls incomplete. Here is a final example to drive the point home.
Kentucky brings only four rushers again. Franks even gets a mini roll-out for extra room. He sets, fires, and delivers a ball basically right into the chest of Mike Edwards. The problem - Mike Edwards plays for Kentucky and is one of the best safeties in the SEC. It’s shocking that he wasn’t able to intercept this pass and possibly take it back the other way.
Franks’ struggles against the four man rush will be a huge advantage for Tennessee Saturday night. I expect Tennessee to rush four and defend with seven. The young secondary should be able to play aggressively with seven defenders for five eligible receivers and Franks at times staring down his reads. Hopefully this translates to Tennessee winning the turnover battle, and giving the offense more chances to punch the ball in the endzone.
The final point that I want to make about Florida’s offense is that they seem to love attacking the middle of the field in third down situations. Here is the first third down of the game for Florida against Kentucky.
The wide receiver was able to release inside of the Kentucky defensive back in man-coverage. With a linebacker blitzing plenty of space was available over the middle to complete this pass.
They also used this concept, out of motion to a quads formation, multiple times on third downs to convert over the middle.
(Bonus clip - because Florida doesn’t convert this third down out of quads, but probably would have if Franks had thrown to his open receiver over the middle)
The take home message is this: respect Franks’ running ability, rush him with four lineman, and account for the middle of the field during third and medium to long situations. If the Vols do this on Saturday I think we’ll be in for a fun evening.
Colorado State’s offense is not too different from the what Vols like to do offensively. That is a huge advantage for Tennessee, as the Vols are able to see how Florida likes to align against certain looks and where some weak points might be. Here are a few defensive alignment examples against common Tennessee formations:
Florida is truly a 3-4 defensive team, which you can see best in the first picture. However, due to personnel they spend most of their time in a Nickel/4-2-5 look which you can see really well with the last two pictures. In this respect they are not too different from Tennessee. They will place either #99 Jachai Polite or #7 Jeremiah Moon as the Jack LB opposite the two receiver side in 11-personnel groupings.
I think Tennessee, despite their troubles this year, really can have success in the running game toward this Jack LB on Saturday. Here is an example of Kentucky running zone toward the defensive weak side.
Here is an example of Colorado State running inside zone from a doubles set toward the Jack LB to pick up a first down.
It all starts and ends for Tennessee up front with the offensive line. Tennessee doesn’t even necessarily need to be dominate up front, although that would be great. They just have to create enough space for the running backs to get downhill for 3 to 4 yard gains. Doing so means “staying ahead of the chains.” It makes the Florida LB’s play more aggressively to defend the run and sets up a potential shot play to Dominick Wood-Anderson down the seam (similar to how CSU scored their lone touchdown).
A final point on Tennessee’s offense - I’m interested to see if/how they will expand the passing game. Jarrett Guarantano has been improving in his ability to make pre-snap decisions and the correct reads on RPO’s. He appears capable of shouldering more of the load. He has demonstrated decent accuracy on deep passes down the middle of the field and has yet to turn the ball over. I am hoping to see Tennessee take shots more to the outside of the numbers with one-on-one match-ups. I am also hoping to see an RPO game plan with routes getting more down the field than just the ‘now’ screen. It’s time to unleash all of the talent that this passing game has to offer.
That is a brief description of what Florida looks like schematically. Let us know what you think about Florida and the Vols’ chances in the comments below. Feel free to engage with us over on Twitter, too! Remember, with a 7pm kickoff pacing yourself is key. Go Big Orange!