Florida Gators Football: Previewing the Tennessee Game by Positional Breakdowns
For the Florida Gators, the season is just starting to heat up.
After two cupcake games against Florida Atlantic and UAB, the Gators have cruised to a 2-0 record.
But their first real test comes on Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers in the Gators' first conference game of the 2011 season.
It's tough to predict how the game will go since there are so many questions with both teams that are still unanswered, but it should be a real shootout.
While it's unclear on who has the upper hand for Saturday's game, let's break it down by position to see who has the real advantage.
Florida: For the Gators, John Brantley is looking to regain the trust of the fans as well as his team after an awful 2010 season. So far, he hasn't looked as bad, but nothing great as stuck out as well.
He has thrown for over 400 yards, but already has two interceptions.
At times, Brantley has also made some very questionable throws into double or sometimes triple coverage. He locks onto one receiver too often, which tips the defense off about where he is throwing the ball. The Tennessee game will be a big test for Brantley in assessing how much progress he really has made.
Tennessee: Tyler Bray has really looked like a different quarterback so far into the season. He has already totaled seven touchdowns and almost 700 yards.
He has several weapons at wide receiver and Bray certainly seems as if he is ready to make that next step into a top-tier quarterback in the SEC. The Gators' defense could have their hands full on Saturday.
Florida: Perhaps the biggest highlight of the Gators' season so far has been the running backs. Both Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey have been electric in both the running and passing games.
Rainey, especially, has been a lot of fun to watch. He seems to be returning to his old form, juking defenders left and right and outrunning the defense. Not to mention, he has already made an impact in special teams after returning a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Rainey and Demps are the true playmakers for the Gators' offense in 2011.
Tennessee: The running backs for the Vols haven't had as much of an impact as Tyler Bray, but the great talent of Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane is undeniable.
The stats don't show it, but Poole and Lane are running backs that you can't sleep on. If the Gators' focus too much on Bray, then Tennessee's running game could become a huge factor in the game.
Florida: A big question mark for Florida has been the wide receivers. Ever since the departure of Percy Harvin, the Gators have lacked that big play threat.
Receivers Quinton Dunbar and Deonte Thompson have produced some good results in the first two games, but the Gators' still lack a consistent receiving corps.
Tight end Jordan Reed figures to be a big part of the offense this season, but after transitioning from quarterback, it could take him another couple games to establish himself as a legitimate passing threat.
Tennessee: Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers are the main passing threats in the Tennessee aerial attack. These two players can bust open a big play at anytime and are the key to Bray's success so far.
Between those two, they have hauled in 31 receptions so far in 2011. Hunter and Rogers could be the next great SEC wide receivers.
Florida: The Florida offensive line has also been another point of question for Gator fans this season. After such a horrendous 2010 that included bad snaps and numerous sacks, it was clear they had to step up in 2011 in order for the Gators to have success.
So far, the line has held up pretty well. Head coach Will Muschamp is still shuffling some things around in order to find that right combination, but they have been able to give John Brantley enough time to feel comfortable in the pocket.
They have also been able to really open some holes up for the Gators' running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.
Tennessee: Last year, the Volunteers started three freshmen so the offensive line went through a lot of growing pains. They were ranked 115th in sacks allowed in 2010, so they have a lot of work to do in order to become a quality offensive line unit.
Bray has shined in the first two games, but it was against significantly lower competition. Nevertheless, you can see that the Vols' offensive line has improved, but it remains to be seen whether they can hold up against an SEC defense this season.
Florida: The strongest unit on the Florida Gators' defense is the defensive line. It boasts three 5-star recruits and two upperclassmen.
Dominique Easley and Jaye Howard have been an absolute force in the first two games as they consistently get pressure on the quarterback. They have been living in the backfield.
Ronald Powell, even though he is listed as a linebacker, constantly rushes off the line in Muschamp's 3-4 defensive scheme. He hasn't made too much noise yet this season, but you can expect Powell to show his dominance as the season wears on. He's too dynamic of a player to stay quiet for too much longer.
And with Shariff Floyd returning this weekend against Tennessee, that gives the Gators another major force on the defensive line.
Tennessee: The Vols' defensive line has an exciting combination of strong upperclassman and impact freshmen. Veterans Ben Martin and Malik Jackson anchor a defensive line unit that had 26 sacks in 2010.
Add in freshmen like Curt Maggit and the Vols have a potentially game-changing defensive line unit. However, I just do not believe the Vols have as much talent and athleticism on their line like the Gators do.
Florida: The Gators' linebacking corps has another year under their belt and it has definitely shown in the first two games.
Players like Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic have really stepped up for the Gators' defense. A big improvement seems to be have made in the tackling by the Gators.
Too many times last year, the Gators were unable to bring down the ball carrier, often leading to giving up a lot of yardage.
Lerentee McCray and Ronald Powell are often rushing off the edge. But as mentioned before, Powell and McCray provide another pass-rushing threat for this defense.
This is a unit that has really grown in the past year for Florida.
Tennessee: For the first time in Tennessee history, the Vols are starting two true freshmen at linebacker in Curt Maggit and A.J. Johnson.
Maggit will certainly be a force at some point in his career, but it's tough to imagine him having a major impact in his freshman season.
The Vols' linebackers also have a mixture veteran leadership as well. It's a diverse group, but one that isn't as explosive as the Gators this season.
Florida: The secondary for the Florida Gators is full of sophomores and freshmen, but they have the potential to be the catalyst for the entire defensive unit.
True freshmen Marcus Roberson and Pop Saunders have been tabbed as starters in the secondary while sophomores Cody Riggs and Matt Elam fill the other positions.
This unit lost a lot of production from the 2010 season after losing players like Ahmad Black and Janoris Jenkins. So the new starters will have to step up quickly in order to give the defense a shot at being productive.
But there is no question that the Gators' have one of the most athletic secondaries in the SEC.
Tennessee: The Vols had a lot to look forward to this season in their secondary. All-SEC safety Janzen Jackson was returning, along with Prentiss Waggner.
But with the dismissal of Jackson from the team in late August, the Vols' secondary certainly took a step back.
Waggner will be forced to step up again this season and the depth of the Vols' secondary will come into the play. Thankfully for Tennessee fans, the Vols have excellent depth in their secondary.
Now it will just come down to who can make the big plays for Tennessee. Others besides Waggner will have to make an impact in order for Tennessee to have a formidable pass defense.
While the comparisons are very close across the board, I have to give the edge to the Florida Gators in this rivalry matchup on Saturday.
I believe the Gators' defense will be the difference maker against the Tennessee Volunteers as it will probably come down to the final quarter.
Tyler Bray is an excellent talent, but in his first SEC game this season, it's tough to know exactly how he will perform. The Gators' have outstanding speed at every defensive position and I think the Gators' defensive line will put enough pressure on Bray to make him uncomfortable throughout the game.
And the Gators' win streak in this rivalry doesn't hurt their chances either. Combine all of this with the game being played in Gainesville, and I think it looks like the Gators will pull out a victory in this one.
Final Score: Florida 31, Tennessee: 18