The Florida Gators (2-0) face off against the Tennessee Volunteers (2-0) in the SEC opener for both teams. The game will be played at 3:30 in the swamp, and will be the first real test for both teams after opening up against lesser opponents.
This marks the 10th straight time the Gators and Volunteers will start their SEC schedules against each other. The Gators currently are riding a six-game win streak against Tennessee, the longest winning streak of either team in the rivalry.
Here are 10 keys for the Gators to come out with a victory Saturday.
Running the football has been a strength for the Florida Gators through their first two games. The duo of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey has been electric and provided most of the Gators offense this season. Rainey has carried the ball 27 times for 297 yards and two TDs. While Jeff Demps, who sat out much of the second game after getting dinged in the first quarter, has 14 carries for 115 yards and two TDs. The duo is averaging 10 yards per carry and they are the focal point of the offense.
Tennessee on the other hand has struggled somewhat against the run in their first two games. The Vols have given up 4.9 yards per carry in their first two contests against Cincinnati and Montana.
If the Gators can run the ball effectively to open the game, it will create more opportunities in the passing game.
The senior quarterback has faced much adversity since he became the starter last season. The offense is new, and more suited to his strengths, but his numbers haven't shown much progression. On the year Brantley is 33 of 49 with 424 yards, one TD and two INTs. Those are not the type of numbers you would have hoped to see against FAU and UAB. Look for the Gators to start off using the run to open the game up and aid Brantley and the passing game. A strong performance in the Swamp to open conference play could be a coming-out party for Brantley and the Gators.
Floyd returns from a two-game suspension for accepting "preferential treatment" while still in high school. Coach Muschamp was less than thrilled with the ruling from the NCAA saying "Sharrif’s life is about triumph, honesty, integrity, determination, perseverance and character. The NCAA stated that he received preferential treatment; there is nothing preferential about his life."
The return of Floyd will bring the defensive front four back to strength. The three Super Sophs along with Jaye Howard will fortify the Gator line which has had trouble getting pressure on the quarterback.
The consensus No. 1 recruit in the class of 2010, Powell played as a freshman and showed scary potential. With coach Muschamp and new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn coming in and installing a new offense and a new position for Powell, many expected Floyd to put up big numbers. Through two games, Powell has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback from his new 'BUCK' position. The Gators will receive help with the return of Sharrif Floyd but will need Powell to play up to his potential and pressure Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray if the Gator defense wants to continue to dominate their opponents.
The Gators have had 12 drives in the red zone converting scores on 11 of those attempts (7 TD, 4FG). While they have had success in the red zone, when you get so close to the end zone settling for three points rather than seven can be a disappointment.
Florida has lacked a true power back to punch in the ball on the goal line, and have used sophomore Trey Burton in multiple positions to score down low. Look for Burton and freshman fullback Hunter Joyer to be used as the power backs to punch the ball in for the Gators.
The true sophomore QB has been on fire to start the season. Completing 51 of 65 passes for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions, he has led the Vols to a 2-0 start. Bray has arguably been the best quarterback in the SEC at this point of the season. This will be Bray's first start outside of the state of Tennessee, and he has yet to start a game in the type of atmosphere he will face in a sold-out Ben Hill Griffin stadium.
The Gators front seven will have to bear the brunt of the responsibility in stopping Bray. The Gators must get to the quarterback and prevent him from getting comfortable in the pocket and pick apart the young Gator secondary.
This will be the best defense Bray has faced this season, and the Gators will need to pressure Bray if they want to come out on top.
The Gators started two freshmen defensive backs for the first time in school history. Freshmen Marcus Roberson and Pop Saunders, along with sophomores Cody Riggs and Matt Elam will face their toughest matchup to date.
Quarterback Tyler Bray is coming in to the game on fire, and his two favorite targets have been the benefactors of his play. Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers are both averaging over 100 yards receiving through the first two games of the season. The 6'4'' Hunter and 6'3'' Rogers size will be a mismatch for the smaller Florida corners. Elam and Saunders will need to provide help over the top. Jeremy Brown is set to return for the Gators and will provide more help to the young secondary.
The Gators will look to create pressure up front and force Bray to get rid of the ball quickly, which will also help the secondary in coverage.
Too many penalties will make your coach look like this.
Through two games, the Gators have been hit with 18 penalties for 120 yards. The team might be able to get away with this kind of undisciplined play against inferior opponents, but as the SEC schedule starts penalties must be cut out in order to win. The Gators cannot afford to give the Vols second chances due to silly penalties.
The Gators have dominated Tennessee in this aspect of the game during their current six-game win streak. In order to find this out just ask Vol fans about Brandon James. The Gators need to continue to dominate this aspect if they want to bring their win streak against Tennessee to seven.
Look for the Gators to continue to rotate Andre Debose, Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Solomon Patton in the return game.
The Gators had their consecutive sellout streak snapped at 107 against FAU in the season opener. The game against UAB was not a sellout either.
The conference opener against hated rival Tennessee is a different story. The stadium is sold out and look for 90,000 plus fans to pack the stands and create one of the most hostile playing environments for any visiting team.
Tyler Bray is a young quarterback and has not had to start a game in the kind of atmosphere that a sold-out game in the swamp will be. Home-field advantage cannot be taken for granted in a rivalry game where the talent of both teams is so close.
The Swamp will be rocking come 3:30 on Saturday, and when your're in the Swamp, only gators get out alive.