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Staff picks: Tennessee-Florida

Can the Vols finally win in The Swamp?

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

It’s gameday, Tennessee-Florida style. The Volunteers and the Gators will square off in The Swamp tonight, with Tennessee looking for their first win in Gainesville since 2003. Can the Vols get in done? Our picks are below.

Terry: Tennessee 27, Florida 16

I’m choosing to downplay the offensive struggles through the first two weeks. Josh Heupel’s track record so far in Knoxville is just too good to assume this level of play continues in the passing attack. We’ve seen Joe Milton play at a high level, we know the receivers can play — I’m going to assume it all clicks at some point. Truthfully, this is the first real game on the schedule too, so I’m going to guess it’s the first time we see the full playbook too.

The Tennessee defense might be really good. We’ll figure that out this week, I suppose. Either way, Graham Mertz doesn’t scare anyone, and I think the Gators will have some trouble establishing any sort of ground game.

Tennessee’s offense doesn’t even have to be great to win this game. Just make the routine plays, let the defense work, and you’ll probably leave with the win.

Nick: Tennessee 34, Florida 28

I’m going against my almost involuntary nervous system instinct that I would never pick the Vols to win in Gainesville until I see it happen (cc: Brent Hubbs). We don’t know how good either of these teams are, really, but we’re about to find out. But Florida looked better in its warm-up game last week than UT did.

The Vols’ offense doesn’t have to be GREAT, but it does need to put up more than 7 and 3 points in the first quarter like it did against UVA and Austin Peay, respectively.

If Milton can connect on a deep shot — or two — early, the that will do wonders for quieting the crowd and putting some doubt in the Gators’ players heads. I imagine it also bolsters Milton’s confidence.

When he’s playing free, he’s golden. As a backup, his passing percentage last season was 65 percent. As a starter during his career at Tennessee, he’s sitting just below 50 percent. There’s something to that, if I had to bet.
Lean on Jaylen Wright, let the front seven make Mertz uncomfortable and possibly make a big play on defense. I’d like to see Dee Williams house one, too, helping UT and Milton escape an away game against Florida (Milton’s home state) with a win. I can’t believe I’m picking a Vols win in the Swamp. Somebody stop me.

Matt: Tennessee 33, Florida 16

Tennessee finally gets one in The Swamp. The Vols haven’t won at Florida in 20 years, but times are changing.

Tennessee has the advantage at every position, at every unit. The biggest component to watch will be can Tennessee get off to a quick start? I think they do, and that’s how the Vols end this early.

Tennessee’s defensive front has created so much chaos in the backfield thus far, and Florida’s line has surrendered a lot of pressures this season. I expect the Vols pass rush and run defense to keep Florida’s offense from getting off the ground at all.

Craig: Tennessee 31, Florida 27.

This really should be the year the Vols break through and deliver a convincing win that doesn’t involve heart palpitations to get to the final whistle. But it won’t be. Jaylen Wright and the Vols’ ground game will be effective, and Josh Heupel will unleash some plays from his bag of tricks that result in at least a couple of very long passing plays.

Graham Mertz will be annoyingly plucky, with Ricky Pearsall going for over 100 receiving yards and the Vols having some trouble slowing the Gators offense for much of the game. However, the defense makes one stop that they need late, and the Vols escape town with a much-needed win in their own personal house of horrors.

Christian: Florida 28 Tennessee 24

As a 26-year-old, I do not remember the last time Tennessee won in the Swamp in 2003. I also do not remember the last time Tennessee beat Florida two years in a row. I understand this is probably not the popular pick. I understand the comments might tell me to kick rocks. But after the slow starts the last two weeks in front of crowds that were 95% Tennessee fans, I’m struggling to believe Tennessee walks away with a win tomorrow night in Gainesville.

Until proven otherwise, I think what we’ve seen so far from Joe Milton is exactly what Joe Milton is. Not the guy we saw against Clemson, but the guy we’ve seen in all of his other appearances. A guy with all the arm talent in the world that struggles to consistently throw the ball downfield with accuracy and is, for the most part, hesitant to generate plays with his legs. His receivers haven’t helped, but like my colleague Matt pointed out, Milton’s accuracy is a glaring issue (by the way go read that piece it’s great). Against Virginia and Austin Peay, a roster as talented as this one can overcome those obstacles. I don’t believe they can against an SEC rival, especially on the road. At night.

While Graham Mertz isn’t a world beater, he does have a higher completion percentage and passer rating than Joe Milton, while averaging nearly two more yards per completion. He’s a veteran quarterback that has played in big games. And regardless of what anyone thinks of Mertz and the Florida offense, they will be the biggest test this Tennessee team has so far. Based on what I’ve seen the first two weeks, I’m not quite sure they’re prepared to ace it.