Tennessee vs. Florida: Will New-Look Vols Finally Break 8-Game Losing Streak?

Jeff BellCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2013

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee head coach Butch JonesJim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Tennessee Volunteers will head into their game against the Florida Gators with a fanbase that has realistic hopes of seeing their team walk away victorious.

Of course, this topic may have been a bit juicier before last weekend, when Butch Jones' team walked into Autzen Stadium and then walked out with a nosebleed and a 59-14 defeat.

But while plenty of questions still surround the Volunteers, this game may be about the Florida Gators more than anything else.

Will Muschamp's team is averaging just 20 points per game, good for 100th in the nation. While the defense is playing as advertised, you can't win very many games when you don't score.

Currently, the spread is Florida by 17 points. So can the Volunteers somehow end their eight-game losing streak against the Gators?

The answer is going to depend largely upon what kind of play they get out of their quarterback, whether it's Justin Worley or backup Nathan Peterman.

Worley started out strong but failed to develop any sort of rhythm against the Ducks, even after he led his team down the field for a touchdown on their second drive of the game. His pass to Jason Croom in the corner of the end zone had both velocity and accuracy, and it showed that his potential, however fleeting it may be, is there.

You can't expect to see the Volunteers get much going on the ground in this one. Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal are a solid duo, but neither back was able to much going in Eugene. Give credit to the Ducks' defensive line, too, but Florida may boast the top unit in the country.

This is the same unit that held super sophomore Duke Johnson of Miami to just 59 yards on 21 carries.

For the Gators, the storyline is very much the same, and it surrounds the quarterback situation. Jeff Driskel has already proven to be in a class above Worley, but he makes too many mistakes to be considered a dependable player. He's thrown just two touchdowns this season to go along with two interceptions.

One thing you admire in watching Driskel is his toughness. Can you ever recall a quarterback who had no qualms about sitting in the pocket and delivering a ball as a lineman was bearing down, ready to smash him into the ground?

The problem is that more often than not, those throws are off target.

So again, who has the upper hand here? It almost seems easier to make a case for why each team won't be able to pull this one out.

But if we're looking at positives, start with the Florida defense, which is going to keep the team in every game it plays this season.

Vernon Hargreaves III has already become a big-time playmaker in the secondary. The true freshman picked up his first interception in the opening game against Toledo, and Tennessee didn't fare too well against another top corner last weekend in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon.

We already mentioned that the defensive line, led by Dominique Easley, is among the best units in the country. So while the Gators may continue to struggle on offense, the Volunteers' struggles may be even greater.

The short answer to the question posed in the headline is no, the new-look Vols won't be able to end the eight-game losing streak to Florida.

The only "new look" about them is the head coach, and despite Jones' success on the recruiting trail, his team just hasn't developed its young talent enough to beat the Gators.

The operative word there is "young," which signals that if Jones and his staff can develop these kids correctly, business will be booming once again in Knoxville.

Right now, however, this matchup favors the Gators by a couple scores.

If you're a Florida fan, you know that your team isn't going to match what the Ducks did last weekend. But this is the kind of game where you want to see some consistency from the offense if you want your team to hang with Georgia and South Carolina.

The Volunteers will see the streak go to nine games Saturday, but a word of caution to Driskel and company: Careless mistakes can and will keep this one close, and the last things you want to give an underdog are hope and a chance to win it at the end.

In any case, this should be a hard-fought game that will tell us a lot about the trajectory of both teams in 2013. Ultimately, it's the Gators who will prevail.