Florida Gators vs. Tennessee Volunteers: Complete Game Preview
It hasn't been pretty for the Florida Gators, but they enter their annual matchup against the Tennessee Volunteers where we expected they would be, at 2-0.
The Gators aren't winning with style points, but they are showing that, with a strong running game and a solid defense, they can play play with almost any team in the country.
On the other hand, Tennessee is winning with style. The Vols have scored 86 points in their two games this season, and quarterback Tyler Bray is looking like a mature player who is ready to turn the corner in his career.
Florida is riding a seven-game winning streak over Tennessee, something the Volunteers are very aware of and anxious to end.
Will this be the year that Tennessee topples Florida? Would a win over the Gators cool down the seat Derek Dooley is sitting on? Can the Gators win their second straight SEC road game?
Let's take a look at the matchup and try to answer those questions along the way.
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Who: Florida at Tennessee
When: Saturday, Sept. 15, 6 p.m. EDT
Where: Knoxville, Tenn.
Stadium: Neyland Stadium (102,455)
Radio: WRUF AM 850 (Gainesville); Vol Radio Network
Internet Stream: Watch ESPN
For the second straight week, the Gators will be featured on ESPN's College GameDay. The show will begin at 9 a.m on ESPNU and will continue at 10 a.m on ESPN.
The Gators have been featured more than any other school on the show, and this will be their 33rd appearance.
Depth Chart for Florida
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QB: Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett
RB: Mike Gillislee, Matt Jones or Mack Brown
FB: Hunter Joyer, Trey Burton
TE: Jordan Reed, Clay Burton
F: Trey Burton, Omarius Hines
WR (X): Frankie Hammond., Latroy Pittman or Andre Debose
WR (Z): Quinton Dunbar, Solomon Patton
LT: Xavier Nixon, D.J. Humphries
LG: James Wilson, Ian Silberman
C: Jonotthan Harrison, Sam Robey
RG: Jon Halapio, Jessamen Dunker
RT: Chaz Green, Kyle Koehne
DE: Dominique Easley, Earl Okine
DT: Sharrif Floyd, Damien Jacobs
NT: Omar Hunter, Leon Orr
BUCK: Lerentee McCray, Dante Fowler Jr.
Sam LB: Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball
Mike LB: Jon Bostic, Michael Taylor
Will LB: Antonio Morrison, Michael Taylor
CB: Marcus Roberson, Jabari Gorman or Jeremy Brown
CB: Jaylen Watkins, Loucheiz Purifoy
S: Matt Elam, De'Ante Saunders
S: Josh Evans, Valdez Showers
Nickel CB: Jaylen Watkins, Matt Elam
Dime CB: Matt Elam, Brian Poole
K: Caleb Sturgis, Brad Phillips
P: Kyle Christy, Todd Fennell
KR: Andre Debose, Solomon Patton
PR: Andre Debose, Marcus Roberson
Depth Chart for Tennessee
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QB: Tyler Bray, Justin Worley
RB: Raijon Neal, Devrin Young or Marlin Lane
FB: Ben Bartholomew, Justin King
TE: Mychal Rivera, Ben Bartholomew
WR (X): Cordarrelle Patterson, Zach Rogers
WR (Y): Justin Hunter, Cody Blanc
LT: Antonio Richardson, Alan Posey
LG: Dallas Thomas, Marcus Jackson
C: James Stone, Mack Crowder
RG: Zack Fulton, Alex Bullard
RT: Ja'Wuan James, Kyler Kerbyson
DE: Darrington Sentimore, Corey Miller
NG: Daniel McCullers, Daniel Hood
DE: Maurice Couch, Marlon Walls
Jack: Jacques Smith, Jordan Williams
Sam LB: Curt Maggitt, Willie Bohannon
Mike LB: A.J. Johnson, Channing Fugate
Will LB: Herman Lathers, Dontavis Sapp
CB: Marsalis Teague, Justin Coleman
CB: Prentiss Waggner, Eric Gordan
S: Brian Randolph, Rod Wilks
S: Byron Moore, Brent Brewer
K: Derrick Brodus, Michael Palardy
P: Matt Darr, Michael Palardy
KR: Devrin Young, Cordarrelle Patterson
PR: Devrin Young, Justin Hunter
What Happened to the Gators Last Week
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The Gators looked like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last week in College Station, Texas. The Florida defense gave up over 260 yards of offense in the first half but stonewalled the Texas A&M Aggies for just 65 yards in the second half.
Hurricane Issac forced the Aggies to reschedule their season opener, so the Gators didn't have much to work with in the way of film study, and that could have led to the defensive struggles early.
The Gators defense in the second half looked much more like the defense that many expected to see coming into the year.
Florida went into the locker room at halftime down seven points but was able to come from behind and win the game 20-17. The Gators showed that they can handle adversity and can make the necessary in-game adjustments to be successful in this league.
UF got a little banged up during the game. Jelani Jenkins injured his thumb in the first quarter. Jenkins had surgery on Monday and could miss four weeks. Cody Riggs has a slight fracture in his right foot. Mike Gillislee was hobbled with what appeared to be a groin injury, but he is supposed to be ready for Saturday.
What Happened to the Volunteers Last Week
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Tennessee beat the mighty Panthers of Georgia State 51-13 last week in what was essentially a week off before hosting Florida.
Tyler Bray was the model of efficiency, completing 18-of-20 passes for 310 yards and four scores.
Justin Hunter had a great day, catching eight passes for 146 yards, and tied a single-game Tennessee record with three touchdown catches. JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson continued to be a receiving threat, with three receptions for 71 yards.
What It Means for Both Teams
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After taking a beating in 2011, the Gators should get a much-needed confidence boost after their win in College Station. For the first time under Will Muschamp, Florida was able to beat a quality opponent on the road.
The Gators have yet to beat a ranked team under Muschamp, but they will get a chance this week against No. 23 Tennessee.
The Volunteers haven't faced any real competition—North Carolina State is a bottom dweller in the basketball conference known as the ACC.
Tennessee will face a confident Florida team looking to extend its winning streak.
Florida fans should take this game more seriously than they have in the past. Although the Gators have dominated the series against Tennessee, Derek Dooley has this Vols team pointed in the right direction, and this is a huge game for both teams.
If you need more proof to take this game seriously, look at Michigan. In 2007 Mike Hart referred to Michigan State as the Wolverines' "little brother." The Spartans won the next four games in the series, and the quote has become known as the "Curse of Mike Hart."
This is still and always will be a rivalry game, and in rivalry games anything can happen.
Key Players for the Gators
The Florida coaching staff believes it will have Mike Gillislee at full speed for the game on Saturday. If Gillislee is healthy, you know the offense will run through him.
However, the key player for the Gators is Jeff Driskel.
Driskel has done a good job of being a game manager the past two games, but the Gators will need more from their sophomore signal-caller to come away from this game with a win.
On the year Driskel is 23-of-32 for 276 yards and one touchdown. He has shown amazing accuracy and has yet to turn the ball over. Last week Driskel connected on his first true deep pass of the season, and you should expect the Gators to go deep against Tennessee off of some play-action looks.
Driskel has been slow to go through his progressions and gets antsy in the pocket when his first read isn't open right away. The coaching staff needs to let Driskel know that he should have the green light to take off whenever he doesn't feel comfortable in the pocket.
If the Gators can establish their power running game with Gillislee and create the threat of Driskel being able to scramble, it should soften the defense enough for Florida to hit some passes over the top.
Key Player for the Volunteers
The Vols will go as far as Tyler Bray can carry them.
The junior quarterback has lit up lesser competition through two games and will face a tough test at home on Saturday.
Bray was effective last year against the Gators, completing 26-of-48 pass attempts for 288 yards and three scores. He did have two interceptions, with the second one pretty much icing the game.
Bray had some maturity issues during the offseason, but it seems that he has put that behind him and is ready to lead his team.
The Gators Will Win If...
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They can control the clock and create turnovers.
Tennessee has a high-powered offense, and the Gators would be wise to keep Bray and company on the sideline for as much of the game as possible.
Florida won the time of possession game against Bowling Green (33 minutes and eight seconds to 22:52) and against Texas A&M (35:07 to 24:53). The Gators have shown a power-running, grind-it-out style to this point, and it may be just the right formula to come out of Knoxville 3-0.
The defense must be sick of hearing about turnovers, but until it starts creating them, the talk will continue. Florida was unable to force a turnover against A&M but has had a strange knack for coming up with big plays at big moments against Tennessee. If The Gators can get pressure on Bray, he has shown that he will force balls into coverage.
Forcing turnovers and controlling the clock will also go a long way to keeping the crowd in check and will help the Gators win their second SEC game.
The Volunteers Will Win If...
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They stop the run and don't turn the ball over.
While Jeff Driskel has done a good job of managing this football team, the offense is run through Mike Gillislee.
Gillislee was hobbled with what appeared to be a groin injury against A&M, but it looks like the senior tailback will be ready for Saturday. If Tennessee can overload the box, keep the Gator running game in check and force Driskel to win the game with his arm, the Vols could win.
Tennessee also needs to take care of the football. Bray's aforementioned two interceptions a year ago helped the Gators win their seventh straight game in the series.
If Bray and the Vol offense can hold on to the ball, they could take advantage of the Gators' injury-plagued defense.
Gators singing the alma mater in Neyland Stadium, 2010
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Florida has won the last seven meetings, including the last five contests by double digits. The Gators are coming off of a big road win that should have them confident going into Rocky Top.
Tennessee is also confident, coming into the game with a strong-armed quarterback and two huge weapons at receiver.
In the end Tennessee will not be able to slow the Gators running attack down, and the Gators will outlast the Vols to extend their winning streak to eight. Florida's pounding style of offense will keep Bray and the Tennessee offense on the sideline, and the tough Gator defense will be able to get pressure on Bray and force a couple of turnovers.
If the new kickoff rule allows it, don't be surprised if Andre Debose gets the Gators on the board with a touchdown on special teams.
Florida 30, Tennessee 24