It’s Florida Week.
And boy, do the Vols need a win more than ever against one of their fiercest rivals.
Tennessee will travel down to The Swamp in an attempt to take down the No. 9 ranked team in the country and turn the season around. One could argue the Vols have never been in worse shape heading into this game body-of-work-wise, but that’s another conversation for another day.
It’s going to be a tough game for Tennessee, but injuries to a few Gators have altered the outlook on this matchup, even if it is just a tiny bit.
The Vols were able to pull of their first win of the season thanks to a dominating 45-0 win over the Chattanooga Mocs.
Jarrett Guarantano and the offense looked sharp, the defense feasted on sacks and turnovers, and the special teams continued to do its thing.
Guarantano only threw eight passes the entire game, but managed to accrue 142 yards and three touchdowns with the limited opportunities. Ty Chandler led the team with 46 rushing yards and a touchdown on ten carries while Jauan Jennings found the end zone for the fourth time this season.
Tennessee allowed just 76 passing yards, but surrendered 172 on the ground. The Mocs found a sustainable ground game - they ran the ball 44 times - and were able to break off several long runs that were too reminiscent of the bad run defense the Vols have seen in the past. Five turnovers doomed the Mocs. The worst one had to be the lost fumble inside the UT10 that erased any chance of a scoring opportunity.
The Gators pulled off a close one against Kentucky on Saturday. Even though they won the game, they lost starting quarterback Feleipe Franks. He dislocated/fractured ankle his ankle during the game, but backup quarterback Kyle Trask was able to come in and help lead the Gators to a comeback victory.
Head coach Dan Mullen has publicly stated that he plans on using both Trask and sophomore quarterback Emory Jones on Saturday against the Vols. Obviously, there’s only speculation when it comes to the usage of both players, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Florida’s also dealing with more injuries than just Frank’s ankle. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney is definitely out, while CJ Henderson and Jabari Zuniga are questionable to play. Junior Devin Stiner will have to sit out the first half after being ejected in the second half of Week 3’s matchup with Kentucky.
Losing Zuniga would be a major blow. He is a valuable asset to Florida’s pass rush. If he were to miss the game, the Vols should benefit from his absence.
A 12PM EST kickoff is unusual for this matchup, but it’s what both teams have been served. Will the players be ready from the start? Or will they have to shake off the Saturday morning rust for the first few minutes or so of the game?
There are a lot of questions surrounding Saturday’s contest as both teams look to add a “W” in the SEC-matchup column. That usually makes for a good time.
For Tennessee’s sake, let’s hope so.
What To Watch For
- Dual quarterbacks: Like I mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see how Mullen uses both quarterbacks on Saturday.
- Tennessee’s pass protection vs. Florida’s pass rush: Florida is the top team in the country with 16 sacks on the season and the Vols are tied for 57th in the country with five sacks given up in three games.
- The return of Bryce Thompson: Florida has some pretty talented receivers, so his return will provide a big boost to the secondary.
- Third-down defense: Tennessee is currently 105th in the country in terms of third-down conversion percentage (44.7) on defense. They have to get these inexperienced quarterbacks off the field.
- Force more turnovers: Last week helped the Vols improve their overall turnover margin, but before the UTC game, they had forced just two turnovers (both interceptions) through two games.
- Jarrett Guarantano: Even though he’s been pretty bad this year, he will be needed on Saturday.
- RBs Ty Chandler/Eric Gray: The Vols have to get a ground game going - and stick with it - on Saturday.
- WR Jauan Jennings: Marquez Callaway finally showed up last week, but Jennings has been very steady throughout 2019. He needs to make an impact against the Gators.
- LB Darrell Taylor: As mentioned above, a pass rush and third-down defense will be important and it all starts with Taylor.
- LB Henry To’o To’o: The defense will need to be ready for the multiple looks it’ll likely see. To’o To’o is the man that makes all of that happen.
- CB Alontae Taylor: He needs a big game after a rough end to 2018 and the disaster against BYU.
- QBs Kyle Trask/Emory Jones: It’s hard to pinpoint which one will be used more, however, it’s imperative that Tennessee stops both of them.
- RB Lamical Perine: Perine isn’t the most explosive back, but he can wear down a defense.
- WR Van Jefferson: He leads the team in receptions (12) and yards per catch (16.4) among players with nine or more receptions.
- DL Jabari Zuniga: IF he can suit up, UT will have to account for him on every snap that he plays.
- LB David Reese II: Fresh off an SEC Defensive Player of the Week award, expect Reese’s name to be heard often on Saturday.
- CB Kaiir Elam: Can the Vols take advantage of the freshman corner that is tied for the team lead in interceptions (2)?
For some reason, it doesn’t feel as ominous as it should entering this game.
A lot of the issues that have plagued the Vols continued to show up against UTC, which is concerning, but the Gators’ injury list is pretty long and could have an impact on this game. If the aforementioned players were to sit out, it certainly helps balance the scales a bit, but we can’t rely on that until a little bit before kickoff.
Unfortunately, no one really knows how much Tennessee has really improved after last week’s win. Jeremy Pruitt’s team came out and did what it was supposed to do, but it was against a FCS team, so it’s not saying much.
Obviously, a win would be the best-case scenario, but it’s probably safe to assume that most UT fans will be happy with a hard-fought, competitive game that lasts all four quarters.
It sucks that’s where the program is right now, but it could be worse, I guess.