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Fearless Prediction: Tennessee vs. Florida

Can Tennessee hang with Florida?

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NCAA Football: Tennessee at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Florida week…

You can excuse Tennessee fans if they aren’t excited about Saturday’s matchup because Casey Clausen isn’t walking through that door.

You can excuse Tennessee fans if they aren’t excited about Saturday’s matchup because the Vols have lost 13 of their last 14 games against the Gators.

And you can excuse Tennessee fans if they aren’t excited about Saturday’s matchup because the last two visits to Gainesville have brought forth two of the most painful losses in program history.

In 2015, this happened.

In 2017, this happened.

There were many other reasons that UT lost those two games, but being beaten on not one, but two separate 63 yard pass plays in the closing stages of the fourth quarter is simply staggering.

Tennessee goes into the ballgame fresh off a 45-0 victory over Chattanooga. The big takeaway for me from that game was how Vols fans still showed up. Officially, 86,208 were in attendance but the real “backsides in seats” number probably was around 75,000.

Keep in mind this is following two horrific losses (Georgia State/BYU), with a Noon kickoff, in the heat, against a Chattanooga team that didn’t bring thousands of fans of their own. I’m always impressed with how Vols fans support their team, despite a conference title drought currently at 20 years and counting.

As for the game itself… the Vols defense forced five turnovers, special teams scored on a blocked punt, and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano looked much more comfortable in limited action. That’s all well and good. But unless Tennessee joins the FCS, we shouldn’t read too much into that result.

The Vols will yet again face a backup quarterback for Florida, as Kyle Trask will start against UT. Trask led Florida to a come from behind victory at Kentucky last weekend, subbing for the injured Feleipe Franks. Franks is expected to miss the rest of the season, which gives the redshirt junior Trask an opportunity to play. Trask looked good against the Wildcats but we haven’t seen enough of him to really get a feel on how he will play Saturday.

The Gators are a banged up group, and they haven’t looked great in victory this season. They pick up too many personal foul penalties. Their head coach isn’t good at clock management. But so far it hasn’t mattered. They are 3-0 and ranked in the top ten in the country. With Auburn, LSU and Georgia still to come, the Gators can’t afford to drop this game if they want to have any hope of winning the SEC East.

Also, don’t forget that Florida’s defensive line is legit. Guarantano is a tough kid and will continue to stand in the pocket and take hits to make his throws, but he struggles when pressured. I don’t have much confidence in how he’ll fare against those pass rushers.

Years ago I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t pick Tennessee to beat Florida until they actually beat Florida. I cheated on that promise once and got burned. The Vols win in 2016 feels like an aberration in this series. Tennessee simply is not as good in 2019 as they were on that day at Neyland Stadium three years ago.

Jauan Jennings will give it his all, but he won’t be able to save them again.

Fearless Prediction time…

Florida 30, Tennessee 16

Mark’s 2019 Fearless Prediction Record: 1-2

Mark Nagi is the author of “Decade of Dysfunction,” an in-depth look at all that lead to the crazy coaching search of 2017 at Tennessee. The book is available on Amazon.