After a decade of saying, I have to see it to believe it. I can no longer say it (or use it as an excuse) in making my Florida game prediction.
I have seen it so now what happens on Saturday in The Swamp? Can the Vols get a rare back-to-back win over the Florida Gators?
Florida's best running back and receiver are suspended. The Gators have had a tough week with Hurricane Irma. The last time the Gators plated they were putting up 3 points and looking very challenged on offense. How much improvement can their offense make from Game 1 to Game 2? As for the Vols' defense, can the defensive line hold up? Can they get to the quarterback? Can they contain off the edge and can they tackle in space?
While the Gators are offensively challenged, I still believe the Gator defense is pretty good. They are pretty good along the defensive front and are fast and physical in the secondary. Can the Vols offensive line hold up in pass protection and can they get John Kelly loose? At the skill spots, can Tennessee win at the receiver position against press-man coverage.
Everything on paper points to this being a Vol win. But Vegas has them as an underdog. Why? What do they know?
Special teams appears to be a wash in this matchup. But there are so many unknowns still for both teams. The key to watch: The turnover battle and can the Vols handle the heat.
Nothing about this game suggests it's going to be pretty and while it goes against my entire judgement in this series, I think the Vols can achieve a rare feat: back-to-back wins over the Gators.
Tennessee 24 Florida 20
I've seen this same scenario so many times in the last few seasons in this rivalry. Florida is down and everyone knows it. There is blood in the water, as Tennessee looks to win back-to-back games in this series for the first time since 2003-2004. Florida is without some of its biggest guns and surely the Vols can take advantage. Tennessee has plenty of question marks as well heading into this one. Who are the Vols? I'm not sure any of us know, and we sure don't have a feel for the Gators.
Looking at the offense, you have to think that it's going to be a lot of John Kelly this week. He's seen plenty of run in both the running and passing game in the first two games. Can Tennessee push the ball up the field through the air? I do think we have a feel that Larry Scott wants to make that a priority with him calling the plays. I have a feeling that Josh Palmer is the one who emerges out of this game. It can't always be Marquez Callaway and Josh Smith will surely be a little rusty. The X-factor for me are the tight ends. They need Ethan Wolf to play large and maybe even Jakob Johnson to factor.
On defense, it's going to be more and more Daniel Bituli and Shy Tuttle as the Vols defense tries to still find an identity. Can Tennessee's secondary hold up? That's the biggest question to me as this game looms. I'll be honest, I don't have a feel for this game at all. It's one that Tennessee should win, but I've seen this script before. This one is going to come down to a field goal late, and I'll take Aaron Medley for redemption this time around.
Tennessee 23 Florida 20
UF hasn't started 0-2 since 1971. Tennessee hasn't had a quarterback win their first road start at Florida since 1971.
Coincidence? Totally! But this GataDawg believes we’ll see a repeat of history on Saturday.
Really, this is one of the more muted Tennessee-Florida matchups I can remember. Hurricane Irma dampened the buildup to the game, and Florida’s revenge factor could be mitigated by the mental fatigue of dealing with such a major storm over the last week.
I won’t be surprised if the Gators come out emotionally charged Saturday, but I don’t know how much gas they’ll have left in the tank in the fourth quarter. These teams are fairly even, but with Antonio Callaway and Jordan Scarlett still suspended, the Vols have better running backs and receivers than the Gators. Quinten Dormady is a better quarterback than Feleipe Franks or Maleik Zaire. If Bob Shoop can’t devise a gameplan for UF’s clogged-toilet offense then Tennessee’s defense will be in real trouble the rest of the year. I think he can, though, but the biggest concern for the Vols is that this seems like a kitchen-sink game for the Gators. They're desperate. The coals are starting to simmer around coach Jim McElwain, and just this week, UF linebacker David Reese called this a “do or die game” and “a fork in the road” for the program. That’s a lot of pressure for Week 2.
Vegas has all those big buildings for a reason, but the line seems off here. To me, if Tennessee’s edge players — the offensive tackles and defensive ends — play well, then the Vols go streak-busting for a second straight year and win in Gainesville for the first time since 2003.
Tennessee 24 Florida 20
I may be missing something, but I’m a bit mystified that the Gators are a solid favorite in this one. Yes, both teams have some question marks, but to me, the ones facing Florida are more severe.
Yes, Michigan is a strong opponent and it may not be fair to read too much into that one, but the Gators did not look good on offense and appeared to have taken a step back on defense.
The inexperience at quarterback and the inefficient play there in the opener is a big red flag for me. Combine that with the absence of Callaway and Scarlett and this could be the worst Florida offense Tennessee has faced in recent memory.
In no way did the Gators’ ground game look capable of carrying the offense in the opener, so if you’re Tennessee you do everything you can in this one to put the load on the quarterback to make plays in the passing game. Something Florida just didn’t do much of against Michigan.
Tennessee has had some obvious issues themselves in defending the run, but look for Bob Shoop to be more aggressive this week. We’ll see if that makes a difference. I think it will.
On offense, the key to me when looking at the Vols is ball security. Don’t give this Florida team any cheap points. On that front Dormady’s willingness to put some balls in contested spots on a few occasions is worrisome, but I imagine he’s been coached up hard on that this week.
In John Kelly, I think Tennessee has the best offensive player on the field this week and I imagine he’ll get all the work he can handle on Saturday.
If Tennessee doesn’t hurt itself with turnovers and doesn’t bust and give up a big offensive play or two, I like the Vols to win a close one in The Swamp.
Tennessee 20, Florida 16