Published September 11, 2012 - 11:50am
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The Matchup: #18 Florida at #23 Tennessee
When: Saturday, September 15th
Where: Knoxville, Tennessee
Game Time: 6:00 PM ET
What you need to know about Florida: Florida looked sluggish in their first game against Bowling Green, committing 14 penalties, and they were not able to run at will to pick up first downs on third and short situations. But the Gators looked much better last week against Texas A&M. The Gators looked lost defensively in the first half, but Will Muschamp and his staff made some great adjustments to shut down the Aggies in the second half and escape Texas a winner.
Florida, offensively, made great strides in the first two weeks. They didn’t put up crazy numbers but there is a sense of improvement that hasn’t been there in a few years. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is getting more comfortable in the passing game and in passing situations. He has been criticized for taking too many sacks, but that is all correctible. He has the talent to compete and help this club win.
Florida’s top player on offense is running back Mike Gillislee. He’s rushed for 231 yards on 38 carries and four touchdowns so far, while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. That’s the kind of production Florida is looking for in the running game. He’s a back who has great vision, speed and athleticism, and he can get to the second level in a hurry. He is banged up with a groin injury, but Muschamp says it will not hinder him this week.
The defense has been a work in progress. They lived up to the billing in the second half of last week by only allowing TAMU to 50 total second-half yards. The defensive line will be key this week in helping create chaos for Tennessee’s passing game. Florida’s strength lies in the secondary, but there are depth issues at linebacker with Jelani Jenkins out. Florida will be starting a freshman linebacker Antonio Morrison.
This team has not faced an explosive offensive team yet.
What you need to know about Tennessee: There hasn’t been many teams that have looked better or that have more upside in the first two weeks than Tennessee. The Vols have lit up the scoreboard and the box score the first two weeks by racking up more than 500 yards of offense in both showings.
The lifeblood of the offense is the passing game with Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Bray is the leading passer in the SEC right now with 643 yards and six touchdowns. But he hasn’t thrown any INTs, and he’s completed 73.8 percent of his passes. Hunter leads the SEC in receiving with 17 catches for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Patterson is a stud, too, and both will be utilized heavily against the Gators.
Tennessee’s defense plays multiple schemes depending on the particular situation. They are a base 3-4 defense but show many four-man fronts. The linebackers make this unit go. AJ Johnson, Curt Maggitt, Herman Lathers and Jacques Smith are the four to keep an eye on, although Maggitt and Lathers are questionable due to injuries. But this is a game you play in injured. ‘Nuff said.
The Vols also boast an experienced secondary, led by Brian Randolph, Byron Moore, Justin Coleman and Prentiss Waggner. Several others will work into the mix, too. This group has depth.
What you need to watch: These two teams are almost polar opposites. Tennessee boasts a quick-strike offense, while Florida plays a more ball-controlled offense that eats up clock.
The team that runs the football the bests wins this football game. History proves it. The leading rushing team has won nine straight and 21 of the last 22 ball games.
For Florida: The Gators will ramp up the pressure on Tyler Bray in the pocket. Florida hasn’t really blitzed much in this young season, and Muschamp will try and limit Tennessee in one department. I’m not sure anyone can stop the passing game, but the only way teams can put some limits on it is to get maximum pressure on Bray. The Gators have to hit Bray early and often and make him feel uncomfortable. If no pressure gets to Bray, it could be a long night.
Florida needs to be the better rushing team and sustain longer drives against the Vols’ defense. The best defense against Tennessee’s explosive offense is to limit the amount of plays and possessions. Florida will try and do just that in the running game.
For Tennessee: The Vols have no problem with a quick-strike offense, and why should they? The only downside is that the defense is left on the field for an inordinate amount of time and could wear down late in ball games. But I would be willing to take my chances if I were Derek Dooley.
Tennessee will pass to set up the run, just like the offense has been doing all season. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The offensive line will have to strap it on because Florida will be bringing pressure early and often until Tennessee proves they can negate it. Running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane will need to have production in the ground game and run for at least 100 yards combined.
The Vols know that Muschamp will try and take something away, but what will it be? I think he’ll take away the deep balls that lead to quick scores and make Tennessee sustain longer drives, which includes more of a running game.
Tennessee’s defense hasn’t been overly impressive on the young season, and I don’t look for them to be in this game, either. The defense doesn’t have to be dominant, though, because Florida hasn’t shown the ability to rack up big plays.
This one could go down to the wire.