I have a hard time understanding why Tennessee has been ranked as high as they have been this season; and why Vol fans are so confident about finally breaking Tennessee’s losing streak against Florida this weekend.
Both teams are 3-0, but neither has played against a challenging FBS opponent yet. Yes, Vols, I acknowledge that you got a trophy for beating Virginia Tech.
Even if Florida’s victories against UMass and UNT were unimpressive, Tennessee struggled mightily to win against Appalachian State (which took the Vols to overtime) and Ohio (which was within 2 points of the Vols as late as the fourth quarter of play). Although the Vols acquitted themselves admirably in their victory over Virginia Tech, the Hokies aren’t exactly a national powerhouse – last year, they went 7-6, with losses to unranked Pitt, Miami and East Carolina.
Let’s look at the numbers, broadly. Offensively, Florida is averaging 466 yards per game (264 YPG passing, 202 rushing). Not too bad – Coach McElwain is doing a pretty good job keeping a balanced offense. In contrast, the Vols are only gaining 351 yards per game (162 passing, 189 rushing) Defensively, the Gators lead the nation in total defense, allowing only 129.7 yards per game. UT has allowed 336.7 YPG. Likewise, the Gators have allowed only 4.7 points per game and the Vols have allowed an average 18.7 PPG.
On the basis of these numbers alone, Florida should come out on top, even in Knoxville. Sure, Florida hasn’t been lighting the world on fire, offensively. The Gators’ red zone offense in particular hasn’t been stellar, scoring touchdowns only 57% of the time against crappy opponents (in contrast, the Vols have come away with a TD almost 82% of the time).
Florida’s defense has been smothering. The Gators held North Texas to SEVENTEEN net yards. That’s insane. Yes, it’s a shitty opponent, but even shitty opponents can gain a couple of hundred yards against most FBS opponents.
Injuries are going to affect both teams – obviously, the loss of Luke Del Rio is going to hurt the Gators’ passing attack. Austin Appleby didn’t look great, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to take care of the football. Florida has four outstanding running backs and can win this game on their shoulders.
The Vols have lost some key defensive personnel, on the other hand, including All-SEC cornerback Cameron Sutton, and middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. I think this will help Florida’s offense more than the loss of Del Rio will hurt it. If Florida can establish a solid running game, the Gators will control the clock and keep the Vols’ offense, as meager as it is, off the field.
My prediction, apart from “pain,” is Gators 28-10. On paper, Florida seems to be the superior team. But that’s why we play the game.