Position-by-position edge: Tennessee at Florida
Taking a position-by-position look at Tennessee vs. Florida, here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s showdown between the Volunteers and the Gators:
QUARTERBACKS – Tennessee: The Volunteers are 6-2 with Joshua Dobbs as their starter. Dobbs will be making only his third SEC road start, but his first career start was a thrilling 45-42 win in overtime at South Carolina last season. There aren’t many ways to prepare for playing in The Swamp, but this won’t be Dobbs’ first time in a hostile environment.
Redshirt freshman Will Grier has received the start for Florida the last two times out, and UF defeated East Carolina (31-24) and Kentucky (14-9). He got banged up a bit at UK last week, but stayed on to finish the game. Last season, Treon Harris came off the bench as a freshman to lead UF to a 10-9 come-from-behind victory at Neyland Stadium.
RUNNING BACKS – Tennessee: UT RB Jalen Hurd has already logged two 100-yard rushing performances this season against Bowling Green and Oklahoma. JUCO transfer and former Alabama signee Alvin Kamara dazzled in his UT debut against BGSU (144 yards, two touchdowns).
Florida’s top running back is junior Kelvin Taylor. Taylor has yet to provide the consistency the Gators need from the position. Freshman running backs Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett have shown promise early, but are relative unknowns heading into Week 4.
WIDE RECEIVERS, TIGHT END – Tennessee: UT has a wealth of talented pass catchers. Three of the most talked-about Volunteers receivers in the offseason – junior Marquez North, senior Pig Howard and senior Von Pearson – have barely shown up in the box scores so far. In the first three weeks, the yardage leaders for each game have been freshman Jauan Jennings (56 vs. Bowling Green), sophomore Josh Smith (56 vs. Oklahoma) and freshman Preston Williams (98 vs. Western Carolina). UT TE Ethan Wolf had two touchdown receptions in the season opener vs. Bowling Green.
The Gators have one established playmaker in junior WR Demarcus Robinson. Under former coach Will Muschamp – and a different wide receivers coach each season – drops were an issue that plagued the offense. Against Kentucky, junior Ahmad Fulwood and freshman Antonio Callaway both made some impressive catches and held onto the ball.
Tight end is one of the definite offensive strengths for the Gators this season. Even with C’yontai Lewis out, sophomore DeAndre Goolsby and sixth-year senior Jake McGee have both stood out as mismatch exploits.
OFFENSIVE LINE – Tennessee: Both teams are dealing with inexperience on the offensive line, but Florida’s issues against Kentucky with pass blocking and opening up holes for the running backs stand out more right now. Dobbs’ mobility helps mask some of Tennessee’s pass protection issues. The Volunteers linemen have been able to open up running lanes for the UT ball carriers.
DEFENSIVE LINE – Push: Most people wrote off the UF defensive line after the departure of Dante Fowler Jr. Senior Jonathan Bullard anchors a unit getting production from junior Alex McCalister and five-star freshman CeCe Jefferson.
Tennessee’s pass rush underwhelmed against Bowling Green and improved against Oklahoma. The injury to DL/LB Curt Maggitt and suspension of DT Danny O’Brien was a double whammy in the OU game, but the Volunteers will have O’Brien back against Florida. DE Derek Barnett will likely cause the Gators many headaches.
LINEBACKERS – Florida: This is another area where Tennessee is impacted by Maggitt’s injury. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is one of UT’s top players on defense, but it’s tough to carry a position group single handedly.
UF is dangerously thin without Alex Anzalone, but is getting excellent play from Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison. S Marcus Maye’s plays logged at linebacker in the fourth quarter could be a preview of how defensive coordinator Geoff Collins plans to address the depth issue.
SECONDARY – Florida: If any defense shouldn’t feel intimidated by Tennessee’s receiving corps, it’s Florida. Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the nation’s elite cornerbacks, and Jalen Tabor would be the top cornerback on many SEC teams. And it was another cornerback, Quincy Wilson, who made the game-saving interception against Kentucky.
UT’s secondary struggled mightily against Bowling Green (424 yards for QB Matt Johnson) and got picked apart by OU QB Baker Mayfield in the second half. The experience of sophomore S Todd Kelly Jr. and junior CB Cameron Sutton, however, might be enough to contain an unproven Florida passing game.