Tennessee football: 5 reasons the Vols will beat Florida
It’s hard to imagine Tennessee beating Florida on Saturday. Still, stranger things have happened, especially in this rivalry.
The Vols have been an overall disappointment this season after starting the season 1-2 with painful losses to Georgia State and BYU. Tennessee never should have allowed Georgia State to stay in the game in the season opener. The Vols simply blew the BYU game. My, how things would be different if UT were actually 3-0 heading into their annual SEC East rivalry against Florida. Sadly for Vols fans, that isn’t the case.
Perhaps being a 12.5-point underdog and overlooked by the rest of the country could help UT. No one expects the Vols to beat the Gators. It doesn’t usually happen, especially south of the border. Florida has won 13-of-14 in the series and the Vols haven’t won in Gainesville since 2003. Those aren’t harbingers for success this weekend.
Yet it could happen. This rivalry has had plenty of surprises. Here are 5 reasons Tennessee will beat Florida in The Swamp:
Florida coach Dan Mullen went with Kyle Trask in the Gators’ comeback win against Kentucky last week after Feleipe Franks suffered a season-ending injury. Despite Trask’s impressive performance, Mullen said he planned to play two quarterbacks moving forward. Bringing redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones into the fold could be dangerous. With Franks, the Gators had a stable direction at quarterback. Now, there’s much more uncertainty.
What if Jones stars in some sort of a backup role? Does that give Mullen cause for uncertainty? What if Florida’s players don’t respond to Jones as well as they did to Trask? Does that mean Florida’s game slips a bit after the valiant effort against Kentucky? Playing 2 quarterbacks always opens up those possibilities.
Offensive line certainty
After playing almost every offensive lineman on its roster early in the season, the Vols seem to be (mostly) settled on a starting 5 against Chattanooga. K’Rojhn Calbert looks like he’ll be the starter at right tackle with Kendall Wright moving inside to right guard. Brandon Kennedy is locked in at center. Trey Smith should be at left guard against Florida. The Vols have some indecision at left tackle with Jahmir Johnson and Wanya Morris battling for playing time. Both have started this season.
Finally, UT’s line seems to have a direction. However, it would be a shock if the Vols suddenly changed course given how they’ve handled personnel decisions up front offensively this season. If the Vols have finally found their “best 5,” it will be interesting to see just how they can compete in the SEC. They might not be among the league’s best, but playing and practicing together as a unit will help them grow as a group. Have they reached that point?
Tennessee is +2 this season, while the Gators are breaking even. UT isn’t causing more turnovers. Both teams have 6 takeaways. However, the Vols are doing a better job of protecting the ball. That could be key, especially on the road. UT has lost just 4 turnovers this season while the Gators have lost the ball 6 times. Only one team in the SEC has more turnovers than Florida. That would be Kentucky, which seems appropriate given last week’s game in Lexington.
There have been plenty of times in the Tennessee-Florida series in which turnovers undid the team that was perceived to have the upper hand. There’s always a chance that could happen again. If that’s the case Saturday, the Vols will probably need more than just a +1 turnover advantage. The Vols could also use some key turnovers whether that be at a game-changing moment or with either team within scoring range.
Wear and tear from Week 3
Florida had to expend an incredible amount of energy against Kentucky in a comeback victory last week. It was an emotional win that could leave the Gators a bit flat if they overlook the Vols. UT had everything under control in a 45-0 win against Chattanooga last week. There is no reason for the Vols to even consider overlooking the Gators. First, the Gators are a strong favorite and a better team. Second, a win could change the course of Tennessee’s season after its 0-2 start.
Florida beat Tennessee throughout the 1990s when UT had one of the best quarterbacks in college football history, Peyton Manning. The Vols beat Florida in 1998 despite being outplayed. UT beat Florida in 2001 when Florida was a monster favorite. Strange things have happened in this series. However, those odd occurrences have mostly benefited the Gators. Could fate be on UT’s side on Saturday? Maybe, but the Vols could use some help.