Tennessee Football: Previewing the Florida Game
The Tennessee Volunteers are on a six-game losing streak against the Florida Gators. Will that streak be extended this weekend in Gainesville?
Both Tennessee and Florida are coming off of two easy wins to start the season, Tennessee's being slightly more difficult and certainly more hyped due to the breakout of quarterback Tyler Bray.
Bray broke Peyton Manning's school record of seven straight games with at least two touchdown passes, leads the SEC in passer rating and is just nine touchdown passes away from fourth all-time in Tennessee history.
He has only started seven games in his career.
On the other side of the ball, Florida's defense has given up but three points in its first two games. New head coach Will Muschamp brought a wealth of knowledge and experience as defensive coordinator for Texas and it seems to be meshing well with the Gators.
I think I already see what the key matchup will be.
Chris Rainey vs. Austin Johnson
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The Florida Gators' offense has yet to wow anyone, but if any individual player has wowed us so far then it is running back Chris Rainey.
Rainey has 198 yards rushing this season on just 27 attempts, good for an impressive 7.3 yards per carry. He also has added 110 yards receiving and has scored on a punt return. Clearly, he's doing it all for Florida.
Austin Johnson has had a lot to deal with as the lone upperclassman at linebacker for the Tennessee Volunteers. Not only has he had to make sure that his two freshmen A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt are in the right place, he has had to stop two quality spread offenses from the middle linebacker position.
Johnson has impressed me with his poise, leadership and effort on the field. His ability—or lack thereof—to stop or just slow Rainey will be a key if Tennessee wants to win the game.
John Brantley vs. Tennessee Secondary
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The Florida Gators have scored 80 points in two games. Their quarterback, John Brantley, has thrown one touchdown and two interceptions. Something's not right here.
The fact of the matter is Brantley has yet to live up to his lofty expectations. While he has maintained a friendly 67.3 completion percentage this year, his 212 yards passing per game average indicates that he's simply not an integral part of the blowout wins.
Brantley has been a B/B+ quarterback thus far and that might be good enough for the Gators in the long-term, but will it be this Saturday?
The Tennessee Volunteers' secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense, even with the departure of safety Janzen Jackson. Much like the offensive line, this unit has failed to impress. Brent Brewer hasn't lived up to the hype that his great athleticism has garnered and Justin Coleman hasn't shown the speed that was so talked about.
By this third game, it's imperative that the Vols' secondary fine stability and exploit Brantley's shortcomings.
Tauren Poole vs. Florida's Defensive Line
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The Tennessee Vols' running game has been slow-starting, to say the least.
While running back Taureen Poole has 199 yards rushing this season, just shy of 100 per game, most of his yards came have the passing game opened the defense up in the second half. The vaunted offensive line, full of talented sophomores, has been the biggest disappointment thus far in the Vols' 2-0 start.
Poole will have to dig deep and pick up tough first downs to keep the defense honest against the pass.
The Florida Gators' defense line is dominant. It features three sophomores that were Rivals' five stars coming out of high school, all three in the top seven players in the country. The trio of Sharrif Floyd, Ronald Powell and Dominique Easley is devastatingly good.
If Poole and Marlin Lane can contribute on third and short, I call it a major success.
Tyler Bray vs. All of Gainesville
One way to keep the Florida Gators' great defensive line at bay is for Tyler Bray is carve up the secondary as he is likely to do.
A gunslinger is a quarterback that takes chances and is a boom or bust when he throws. With 698, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions, Bray is far from a gunslinger. He's just a great quarterback and an early contender for the 2012 Heisman. Wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers not only get separation from defenders, they can catch anything.
I'm young compared to many of the Big Orange faithful, but never have I seen such a vicious passing attack on Rocky Top. Not Manning-Nash, not Clausen-Stallworth, not Ainge-Meachem. Bray-Hunter/Rogers is tops.
The Gators will not stop the Vols' passing attack. It won't happen. Bray and his receivers showed their liking for quick slants against Montana and long bombs against Cincinnati. They can do it all and not even all of Gainesville can slow them down.
Tennessee Offense vs. the Florida Defense
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In case you haven't noticed, the overall matchup to watch is the great Tennessee Volunteer offense go up against the great Florida Gator defense.
The running game of Tennessee is weak. The secondary of Florida is weak. The passing game of Tennessee is awesome. The defensive line of Florida is awesome. They really are mirror images of each other.
The Gators are going to try to put a ton of pressure on Bray, but the Vols' offense line has shown that they're capable pass blockers. A steady mix of slants and slants-and-gos will limit blitzing and catch safeties off guard if correctly executed.
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How can I be a self-respecting predictor if I abandoned my preseason projections after just two weeks?
It'll be 31-28, a shootout by SEC standards, as the Gators offense simply won't be able to keep up with the future first round trio of the Vols' passing attack—Da'Rick Roger, Justin Hunter and Tyler Bray.