The biggest game on the Southeastern Conference’s college football schedule this weekend is the annual matchup between the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers. This year’s edition of the storied rivalry takes place inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as Billy Napier and Co. seek revenge for last year’s loss in Knoxville.
Coming into the game, the Orange and Blue hold the all-time series edge with a 31-21 record stretching back to 1916. Florida had dominated the series for almost two decades, winning 16 of the last 18 matchups — including a series-best 11-game winning streak.
Ahead of the game, Gators Wire and Vols Wire exchanged information for their respective Behind Enemy Lines series. Below is a look at the Q&A between managing editors Adam Dubbin and Dan Harralson, respectively, as the latter divulges the opinions of the opposition this weekend.
Joe Milton has weaved in and out of the starting role in Knoxville for a few years now. How is the fanbase feeling about him entering the Gator game?
This is a big game for Milton and this team. People are behind Milton after becoming the starter for two games in 2021 and then being hurt. He never transferred after Hendon Hooker came in after his injury. Milton has been a great teammate and people want to see him succeed.
Florida's ground attack is a formidable one, despite the Utah game results. Does Tennessee have the beef up front to slow Florida?
Tennessee’s front seven has played well through two games this season. The Vols lead the nation in sacks and are second nationally in tackles for a loss. Austin Peay played with tempo and a mobile quarterback last week and was able to have success moving the ball.
If Graham Mertz can be a catalyst, along with the Gators’ running backs, Florida could have success against Tennessee’s front seven. Tackling in the open field will be key for the Vols on Saturday. Tennessee’s LEO position rotation with Roman Harrison, James Pearce Jr. and Joshua Josephs will need to play well.
Who are some of the playmakers to watch on offense?
Outside of the quarterback position, which has been noted behind Milton, Tennessee is talented throughout its offense. The Vols’ running backs unit has a lot of depth with Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright, Dylan Sampson and Cameron Seldon. Sampson totaled four touchdowns versus Virginia in Week 1 (three rushing, one receiving).
Seniors Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton appear to be the leaders of the wide receiver unit. Sophomore Squirrel White and Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton Jr. are other playmakers in the wide receiver rotation. Tennessee’s tight end position is highlighted by seniors Jacob Warren and McCallen Castles.
Who are some of the playmakers to watch on defense?
Defensive lineman Omari Thomas is the biggest player up front, along with Arizona State transfer Omarr Norman-Lott. Losing linebacker Keenan Pili was a big loss after Week 1, but Aaron Beasley and Elijah Herring are talented players up front.
Freshman linebacker Jeremiah Telander has recorded six tackles in two games, providing depth at the position, along with Arion Carter. Senior defensive end Tyler Baron seems healthy this season and produced six tackles and three sacks in two games. Safety Wesley Walker has played with a lot of energy early on in 2023, moving around a lot and recording 10 tackles, one sack and one pass deflection.
Tennessee has a chance to compete for the SEC title this season. How important is a win over Florida in the hunt for that trophy?
The Florida game is a lot like Tennessee’s game at Pittsburgh last season. A win for the Vols would be a springboard to competing for the SEC East championship. Tennessee’s schedule is favorable in terms of playing at Florida, then UTSA and South Carolina at home before an open date.
The Vols will host Texas A&M after an open date before playing at Alabama. If Tennessee were able to navigate through its schedule 7-0 or 6-1, hosting Georgia in the second to last week of the regular season could have a game of the century-type magnitude. Regardless, Tennessee, behind Milton, needs to take care of defeating Florida on Saturday.
What is your score prediction?
Tennessee 37, Florida 24