I’m sure everyone can agree that a Tennessee win would help alleviate much of the pain and suffering that 2020 has produced. Can Tennessee get it done?
- All-time series history: The Gators lead, 29-20.
- Longest win streak: Florida’s infamous 11-game win streak occurred from 2005-2015.
- Interesting series fact: Tennessee didn’t allow more than 14 points in a single game for the first 15 games in matchup history.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: The Vols are 12th in total offense (11th passing, 7th rushing) and eighth in total defense (6th passing, ninth rushing). The Gators boast the SEC’s third-best offense (1st passing, 10th rushing) and sixth-best defense (5th passing, seventh rushing).
What To Watch For
- A new starter at quarterback for the Vols?: Ryan Callahan of 247Sports said Wednesday on 104.5 The Zone the thought is that Jarrett Guarantano is the quarterback currently in quarantine for the Vols. It’s still chalked up as speculation, but if this turns out to be accurate, then it’s likely true freshman Harrison Bailey will get the start. This stems from Pruitt’s comment about “one quarterback” being placed in quarantine along with several others. The Vols have had an extra week to prep Bailey for this game and many believe that Bailey should start, anyway. Will he finally get his shot?
- Tennessee’s COVID situation: Speaking of the quarantine stuff, the Vols have 16 players currently in quarantine due to contact tracing via the Auburn game. This is obviously not ideal for an already-struggling team. Hopefully everyone turns out OK and can play this week, but we obviously won’t know that until later on. Keep your fingers crossed.
- Kyle Pitts: This dude is so good that he deserves his own section. Pitts currently leads all SEC tight ends in receptions (29) and receiving touchdowns (11). He’s second in receiving yards (513) and that mark is also good enough for the 11th-most receiving yards among tight ends and receivers in the SEC. Pitts is going to be a nightmare matchup for the Vols, especially across the middle. I really can’t think of anyone who can cover him effectively enough to where it won’t effect the rest of the defense. You could Bryce Thompson on here, but then who would defend Kadarius Toney? This is one matchup the Vols have to figure out before Saturday.
- Playing with fire: This is still a game to get up for, despite the crappy season. Can Tennessee come out hot and make things interesting? An advantage to starting Bailey would be the limited amount of tape, so he could catch Florida’s defense off guard early on and another advantage would be the fact that a lot of teams come out extra encouraged after a quarterback switch. It’ll also be important to note if Tennessee comes out flat. That’ll be a whole other storyline worthy of discussion if that does indeed happen.
- More Eric Gray, please: The sophomore running back had the best game of his career against the Auburn Tigers and was the only reason Tennessee did anything on offense. This guy is head and shoulders above the rest of the running backs on the depth chart and the Vols’ offense is more effective when it runs through Gray. The Vols have to get him involved often and early and keep him involved as the game goes on. Even in the passing game: Keep. Him. Involved.
- QB Harrison Bailey: Sure, there’s no guarantee he starts/plays, but I think he does. If/when that does happen, it’ll be fun (hopefully) to see how he plays for four full quarters.
- RB Eric Gray: He could possibly be the best offensive player on the team. Tennessee has to keep feeding Gray in every way possible.
- WR Josh Palmer: The senior receiver has had a solid season thus far, but he’s gotta be ready to bail out his quarterback and make some big plays this weekend.
- OLB Deandre Johnson: This is the type of game where your best players need to show up and Johnson is the Vols’ best shot at any kind of pass rush. He needs to have a big game.
- MLB Henry To’o To’o: See above about best players showing up.
- Whomever is on Kyle Pitts: It could be a safety, a linebacker, or a corner. The one guarantee is that Dan Mullen will find the mismatch. Whomever it is needs to be on point when their number is called.
- QB Kyle Trask: His ascension since becoming the full-time starter has been impressive. Trask is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and in the country.
- TE Kyle Pitts: He’s a sure-fire first round draft pick and the best player on the roster. You’re guaranteed to hear his name called often on Saturday.
- WR Kadarious Toney: The talented receiver has the eighth-most catches (45), the 11th-most yards (541), and the fifth-most receiving touchdowns (7) in the SEC. If you focus too much on Pitts, then Toney will surely beat you at some point.
- DL Zachary Carter: Fresh off his SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week award, Carter leads the defensive line with three sacks. The Vols have to neutralize him.
- LB Brenton Cox Jr.: He leads the team in sacks and is top-10 in the SEC and is a very good player in run support.
- DB Shawn Davis: It feels like this guy has been around forever. He’s Florida’s best defensive back and currently leads the team with two interceptions.
There’s plenty of reasons to be excited for this game up until kickoff. Whatever happens after that is fair game, though.
In terms of on the field, I don’t know if the Vols hold any advantages. There’s a slight chance that the Vols could slow down the Gators’ ground game, but that could easily happen just because the Gators are lighting it up through the air. On offense, Tennessee’s best shot to get any work done will be through the ground game. One just has to hope that the offensive line plays like it did against Arkansas. It could go a long way if Tennessee can actually move the ball on the ground and play keep away.
At this point, you just want a competitive matchup. You want guys to stay healthy and you want the younger guys to play well in hopes of finding some building blocks for the future. If all that happens, then this week will be considered a success. It sucks we are back to this point again, but you have to make the best of what you have.