While Gator Faithful throughout the week have celebrated a big road test against Texas A&M last weekend, the Gator Football team had little time to celebrate. Florida has yet another big road game this weekend in Knoxville vs Tennessee. Many Tennessee fans think this may be the beginning of a Rocky Top return to glory against Florida.
Vols fans may believe this to be true, but Gator fans are suspect of this claim. As you can see in this Our Two Bits post, Florida has absolutely dominated Tennessee in the last 40 years. You hear that Vols? Forty years. 20 of the last 27 meetings between the two teams have resulted in a Gators victory. Florida is currently holding a seven game winning streak against Tennessee Now let’s break down the matchup this weekend and see if Rocky Top has enough playmakers to get that elusive Vol victory over Florida.
Vols quarterback Tyler Bray comes into this game with 643 yards and six touchdowns in two games. Many analysts were very impressed with his 333 yard two touchdown performance against NC State in week one, but I am very skeptical of the praise given. Last season, NC State’s secondary gave up an average 223.7 passing yards per game, and they finished (4-4) against ACC opponents. Their entire secondary returned this season intact from 2011. NC State also beat UConn by only three last week. Not to take anything away from NC State and that program, but to me that win was not as impressive as many people made it out to be. Bray has not faced a defensive line or a secondary close to what Florida brings to the table. Florida Safety Josh Evans, who was injured against A&M last week is good to go, but cornerback Cody Riggs has a fractured foot and will not play. Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers will take over for Riggs Saturday, and they filled in nicely vs A&M.
The Florida secondary faces some receivers that are capable of making some big plays. Wide receiver Justin Hunter comes into the game with 219 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He averages 12.9 yards per reception. Cordarrelle Patterson has 164 yards averaging 18.2 yards per reception. Zach Rogers had a big 72 yard touchdown reception vs NC State. The Wolfpack secondary is not a very strong unit like I stated earlier, but these stats are concerning for any team preparing for the Vols. Last week in the first half against Texas A&M, Florida’s defense looked lost facing Freshman Johnny Manziel. Much of this I think was due to the postponed Louisiana Tech game- the defense had a very limited idea of what to expect from Manziel and the Aggie offense. The second half adjustments made by Dan Quinn and Will Muschamp were outstanding. The Gator defense held A&M to only 2.8 yards per play, and The Aggies were forced to punt in all six of their second half possessions.
If Florida can defend Bray’s air attack, the game should go well. While Tennessee has 375 rushing yards in 2 games, Florida held Manziel, A&M’s leading rusher last week, to 19 yards in eight carries in the second half. A&M running back Christine Michael had only 33 yards last week. Tennessee’s leading rusher Rajion Neal has 118 yards and three touchdowns, and Marlin Lane has 106 yards. Tennessee’s nose tackle Daniel McCullers weighs in at 360 standing 6-8. If Florida’s front seven can put pressure on Bray and stop the run game, they should be able to prevent Tennessee’s offense from getting going.
*Key Stat: The Gator defense held A&M to only 2.8 yards per play in the second half
Tennessee made a great hire in Sal Sunseri from Alabama. Jacques Smith is an explosive defensive end, and Marlon Walls will play at the opposite end of Smith. Against NC State, the Vol defense held the Wolfpack to just 119 rushing yards. Florida will need Mike Gillislee 100% from his groin injury to get the run game going. Gillislee had a great 12-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to get the lead over the Aggies, but he looked in pain immediately after. Will Muschamp told the media Monday that he is fine and ready to go for Saturday. If Gillislee is not playing to his full potential, Florida may have some problems on offense. Solomon Patton did have 33 yards filling in behind Gillislee last week. The Vols’s secondary picked off NC State’s quarterback Mike Glennon four times in week one. Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel did not have any interceptions last week against A&M, and he completed 81% of his passes. This week Driskel faces a more experienced, dangerous secondary against Tennessee, and he has to communicate with his receivers well this week. Tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Frankie Hammond have emerged as the Gators’ leading receivers, who combined for 105 yards last week. Driskle also has to work on throwing the ball away when he needs to. Last week A&M sacked Driskel eight times. Florida Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease said Driskel could have avoided six of those by throwing the ball away. If Driskel can protect the ball by making smart throws, and throwing the ball away when he has to, the passing game should perform well against the Vol’s secondary. The big key for Florida offensively is definitely Mike Gillislee, Florida’s leading rusher. If he is not 100% Saturday, the pressure will be on Driskel and his receivers to get the offense going.
*Key Stat: Tennessee’s defense has allowed 206 rush yards on two games, Florida has rushed for 362 yards in two games.
All in all, this game should come down to Florida’s secondary play and their rushing attack on offense. If Mike Gillislee is 100%, and our defense plays like it did in the second half against A&M, it could be a long night for Vols fans. But if Gillislee seems to be still hurting and Tyler Bray can attack the Gator secondary, Rocky Top may finally play all night long for the first time in seven years.