Tennessee Football vs. Florida Gators: 6 Reasons Why the Volunteers Will Win
It's been a good run, Florida fans.
For the past seven years the Gators have beaten the Tennessee Volunteers football team in every game. The last five were by double digits.
This year's Volunteers believe it stops now. They are preparing to turn the yearly meeting back into a rivalry. And they just may have what it takes to do it in 2012.
No one can deny that Florida has taken complete control over the series in the past 20 years. Even so, some of the sweetest Tennessee wins over the Gators have also come during this time.
Like 1998 in Knoxville, where the Gators missed a 28-yard field goal in overtime on the game's final play of the 20-17 Vols win. UT went on to win them all and the national title that year.
Or, December 1, 2001, when No. 4 ranked Tennessee entered the Swamp an 18.5 point underdog to No. 2 Florida. U.T. ruined Steve Spurrier's last home game and the Gator's hopes for a national title that night, 34-32.
There have been even more significant Gator wins in the series. One example was In 2006, where UT led for most of the football game until the Gators stormed back to take the lead 21-20 late. Florida held on to the one point win and went on to the national title that season.
Here in 2012, neither team looks to be headed towards the BCS title game this year. Both are rebuilding after recent coaching changes.
Still, for the first time in quite a while, the Vols seem to have an advantage going into the game.
The following six reasons are why Tennessee will beat the Gators this season and end seven straight years of Florida domination of the series.
6. New Attitude on Defense
It runs deeper than just the switch from the 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive alignment. Last season, Tennessee's defensive style could best be described as read and react.
Under Sal Sunseri's direction, the defense promises to be a more attacking unit. Of course, there is still a lot of learning to be done with the system change. But, the amount of blitzing is apparently going to go up.
Putting pressure on Florida sophomore quarterback, Jeff Driskel, is likely in the Vols gameplan. If U.T.'s various blitzes can rattle NFL-bound Mike Gannon of N.C. State, you have to figure they are going after the new starter even more.
In last year's game, the Gators turned to their all-everything senior running back, Chris Rainey. He had over 108 yards rushing, 104 receiving and blocked a punt!
Tennessee's defense just couldn't deal with his quickness and speed last year. This season, Rainey is playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Vol defenders should be happy for it.
Florida's main back this year is senior, Mike Gillislee. He isn't as fast as Rainey—very few are—but at 5'11" and 209 pounds, he can run over or through arm tackles.
If the Tennessee defense can pressure Driskel, they may be rewarded with some bad throws. More likely, coach Will Muschamp will try to rely on the run game—something that Driskel is good at—and attempt to grind out a win.
If the Vols can stop the Gator ground game and make them rely on passing—something easier said than done—they have a great shot at winning this year.
5. Home Field Advantage
People tend to underestimate the value of the home field nowadays. I will agree there are some teams that have very little home field advantage—the Vols are not among them.
Neither are the Gators. Many of the handicappers will add three to five points to a team's point spread if they are playing at home. This is especially true of the big, traditional power programs.
If Florida and Tennessee were to grade out equally, this year, I would add four points to UT for playing in Neyland. Normally, I add 4.5-to-5 for UT at Neyland but their fans haven't been as rowdy in recent seasons.
Somehow, I get the feeling that the atmosphere at this UT/Florida game will resemble 1998. Not that UT fans are all thinking the Vols are national title contenders; it is more about they feel better about this team than any other in the past few years.
Vols fans are starved for something to cheer wildly about. This Tennessee team will feed the beast throughout the year. In turn, the team is going to feed off the fan emotion as well.
The home field advantage of Neyland should be back up to expectations during this game.
4. Tennessee Offensive Line vs. Gator Defense
Volunteer fans need not go into this game expecting 200 plus rushing yards against Florida. Still, a negative yardage result like last year must be avoided to win the game.
Though much improved, Tennessee's ground game still has some significant holes to fill. The run game totals against FCS opponent, Georgia State, of 184 yards on 43 attempts—a 4.3 average per rush—speaks to the inconsistency of the Vols' running game.
There is nothing for Vol fans to panic about here. This team has improved significantly in running the ball. They simply are not a running team.
The 2012 addition of Volunteer football is a passing team that can run the ball. That is a very important distinction from the team that faced Florida in 2011.
That Vols team was a passing team, period. They lived, and unfortunately died, by the ability of Tyler Bray to get the ball to his two primary receivers, DaRick Rogers and Justin Hunter.
When Hunter went down with his knee on Tennessee's first possession, they never recovered. When the game ended, the pass-happy Vols had completed 26-of-48 passes for 288 yards.
Not bad numbers but they were really not in the game. UT got down 16-0 and never got any closer than nine points after. They ran the ball 21 times for minus nine yards.
The difference this year is the running game should complement the passing game. This year the run downs should accumulate some yardage and cause the Gator defense to play it as well as the pass.
Make no mistake though, if the Vols are to beat Florida, it is going to be with the passing game. The way the offensive line has protected Tyler Bray so far, bodes well for their chances this Saturday.
On the other side is the Gator's pass defense. We got a really good look at Florida's pass defense on the ropes for a half with Texas A&M.
Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback, Johnny Manziel, was giving the Gators defense fits early. He finished the day completing 23 of 30 throws for 173 yards. However, it was his ability to run that got him and his team out of trouble regularly—not a Tyler Bray strong point.
Still, Florida is susceptible to the short to intermediate pass—if they respect your run game—and a long pass may work if the line can buy time.
Tennessee's offensive line has already proven they can protect Bray. Against Florida, look for the Vols to come out doing what they do best—throwing the football.
3. Florida Offensive Line vs. Tennessee Defense
The Florida offensive line is almost a mirror opposite to the Vols. Their strength is run blocking while the Vols strength is pass blocking.
The Gator's line, like the Vols, is much improved over last season's group. But, they still have work to do in pass protection. This line will continue to improve as the season goes along. So, getting them earlier is truly a good thing for the U.T. defense.
Against Texas A&M, the Gators gave up eight sacks. With a mobile quarterback like Jeff Driskel, giving up a total that high says there are areas that can be exploited by the Tennessee defense.
Look for the Vols to mix it up with the Gators. They will come with some blitzes, but I expect they will try and stop the run first, making the Gators win it with the sophomore quarterback's arm.
2. Tennessee Has Game Changers at Receiver
Times have surely changed. Tennessee used to be the play it close to the vest, run the ball and play great defense team. Florida was the wide open team,with four and five receiver sets, slinging the ball all over to their superstar receivers.
Flip-flop; turn it around in your head. It's just the opposite this year.
For years, Florida held the overall edge in game-changing receivers in this series. Not that the Vols didn't have their share (and even more than Florida) in some years.
In the 2012 season, there is no doubt which team has the game changers at receiver. No more Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, running and receiving for over 100 yards each for the Gators.
Florida has good receivers, but not the speedster wide-outs of years past. Last week, their leading receiver was junior tight end Jordon Reed. He had five receptions for 59 yards. The next closest receivers were three tied with two receptions each.
Florida has completely changed their offensive philosophy under Will Muschamp. He is building a team that plays great defense, great special teams, runs the ball well and protects the football.
Yes, they pass the ball. But that's the one area where the rebuilding project has yet to be completed.
Tennessee's great offensive playmakers in 2012 are at quarterback and receivers. Given how well the Vols protect Tyler Bray and the quality of his receivers, this is the biggest advantage Tennessee possesses this year.
1. Tennessee Has the Clear Advantage at Quarterback
Florida's sophomore quarterback, Jeff Driskel, is a great athlete who is growing into a great quarterback. Unfortunately for him, this is his first autumn as the Florida starter. Before that, he was battling out for the position with fellow sophomore, Jacoby Brissett.
Driskel won out mainly as a result of his running ability. He is a threat carrying the football. Also, in last week's game, despite heavy pressure, he completed 13-of-16 passes and had no turnovers.
Driskel made good strides in the Texas A&M game and he will likely grow into another great Florida quarterback. For now, he is still young and still learning how to play in the SEC.
Much of how well Florida does this Saturday will depend on how few mistakes Driskel makes under pressure.
Tennessee's junior quarterback, Tyler Bray, is not known for running the football. Though he will take off in a pinch, he is considered a true drop back passer.
Bray's passing stats through the first two games are 45-of-61 attempts for 643 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. That equals a quarterback rating of 194.8!
While it isn't wise to put too much stock in his numbers vs. Georgia State—18-of-20 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns—he did almost as well in the start against N.C. State. They were supposed to have the premier defensive backfield in college football.
Bray's accuracy and coolness in the pocket, gives Tennessee a pass and catch combination that is among the best in college football.
It is the combination of all these reasons, that makes me think this is Tennessee's year.
Prediction: Tennessee - 28, Florida - 24
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