Welcome to Florida week.
Tennessee is looking to shock its season back on the tracks with an upset win in Gainesville this weekend against the Gators — something that they haven’t been able to do since 2003. The 9th ranked Gators are coming off of a dramatic comeback win against Kentucky last week, which got them to 3-0 on the season.
The Volunteers? Well, that’s a different story. Tennessee dropped its first two games at home to Georgia State and BYU. They picked up a win over Chattanooga last Saturday to get to 1-2 on the year, but now is when the season really begins.
“There’s a lot of familiarity there,” Pruitt said of the Florida coaching staff. “I’ve coached against Dan (Mullen) for a long time and I’m very familiar with Todd Grantham.”
Pruitt’s first matchup with Mullen as a head coach didn’t go as planned. Multiple first half turnovers doomed Tennessee last year in Knoxville against Florida. The Gators poured it on from there, walking away with a 47-21 win. That was just one of several blowout losses that Pruitt suffered in year one.
The story heading into this one is the change at quarterback for the Gators. Feleipe Franks went down with an injury that will likely keep him out for the year against Kentucky. Veteran reserve Kyle Trask entered in his place, sparking a comeback win after being down 21-10.
Will we see former touted quarterback recruit Emory Jones in this one? It’s possible, as Mullen indicated on Monday. That’s something to watch for this week.
“Offensively, the are replacing some guys up front,” Pruitt said of Mullen’s offense. “But they’re doing a really nice job. They lost their quarterback this past week, but the backup come in there and did a really fine job. Probably expected — a guy that’s been in the program for a while, a lot of maturity.”
Trask is a redshirt junior in his fourth year as a Gator. He completed 9 of 13 passes against Kentucky, throwing for 126 yards in total.
Elsewhere in the Florida offense, familiar faces remain. Lamical Perine is still the main man in the backfield, while Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney form a solid group at receiver.
“These guys have really good skill players,” Pruitt continued. “From tight ends, to running backs, to wide receivers. They spread the ball around. They’ll hit you with RPOs. They’re really stubborn when it comes to running the football. They’ve always done a really nice job running the ball and being creative with how they do it.”
The Tennessee defense has rebounded after an embarrassing week one which saw alignment issues cause multiple lapses. Outside of a couple of plays, Derrick Ansley’s defense has been much better in the last two weeks, though they haven’t seen talent of this level just yet. Whoever lines up at quarterback for Florida, Tennessee will have a challenge.
However, the thing that’s probably on most fans’ minds heading into this one is quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who was a big issue against BYU. Will Guarantano be able to get through his reads quicker against Florida? Will he make the right decisions? Will his offensive line hold up?
They’ve got a tough task ahead of them, as Pruitt pointed out on Monday.
“Defensively, Todd continues to do a really good job,” Pruitt said of Florida’s defensive coordinator. “Very multiple up front, they’re leading the country in sacks. It’s not surprising that they have really good players at all three levels. They’ve got experience and they’ve got depth.”
Florida’s sacks have come from several different places within the defense, although Jabari Zuniga leads the way with three. Zuniga is nursing an injury and will be “on the edge” of playing on Saturday, according to Dan Mullen on Monday.
That Gator front seven against Tennessee’s young offensive line will absolutely be the key matchup to watch in this one.
Tennessee and Florida will kickoff at Noon ET on ESPN. The Gators are currently 14.5 point favorites.