Today's storylines: UF vs. UT
Published: Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 1:11 a.m.
Look what Urban started
One of the first things Urban Meyer did when he took over at Florida in 2005 was put an emphasis on the Gators beating their biggest rivals — Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State. Since Tennessee fell first on the schedule, it started with the Vols. In the first meeting in 2005, the Gators beat UT 16-7 in The Swamp. They haven't lost since, winning a staggering eight games in a row, the latest a 37-20 romp in Knoxville a year ago. UF coach Will Muschamp said what's happened in the past eight years will not be a factor in today's game. Others think the Vols will be motivated to try and end the streak. “We know those guys are going to come down here ready to throw punches. We've beaten them (eight) times in a row. Obviously, they see that and they want to get one on us,” cornerback/safety Jaylen Watkins said.
Gators can be better on 'D'
Florida's defense has put up some impressive numbers in the first two games. The Gators have held both opponents (Toledo and Miami) to less than 215 total yards and lead the SEC in total defense. Perhaps the most impressive stat is how good the Gators have been on third down. Opponents have converted only two of 24 third-down plays (8.3 percent), the best third-down defense in the nation. Despite all this, Muschamp doesn't seem overly impressed because UF is 1-1 instead of 2-0. “Scoring defense is the only thing I care about — and winning the game,” he said. “You've got to do what you've got to do to win games. Third-down conversions, I'm not trying to say it's not important. It is. But scoring defense and winning the game is what I'm worried about.”
UT front a big challenge
The Vols may be struggling in some areas, but certainly not along the offensive line, where UT is big, strong and experienced. Many believe this is the best offensive line in the SEC and one of the elite fronts in college football. It will be a big challenge for the UF defensive front.“Coach (Muschamp) said they're the most experienced and one of the best that we're going to face all season,” sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard said. “But I feel like with leadership like (senior defensive tackle) Dominique Easley, him playing against them so much, he knows little things about them. He's pushing us in practice, the younger guys, to work as hard as we ever have because it's going to be a great matchup up front.”
UF focusing on ball security
Everyone (including the Vols) knows that when the Gators get careless with the football, they lose. That's been the story in UF's three losses over the past two seasons. The Gators better hold on tight today. UT may be a little shellshocked on defense after last week's rout at Oregon, but this is a defense that knows how to force turnovers. Two weeks ago, the Vols came up with turnovers on four consecutive plays against Western Kentucky.
Freshman defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (pictured above) switched his jersey number from 16 to 1 two weeks ago vs. Miami, which seems appropriate because that is the number of interceptions he averages per game. In fact, Hargreaves has accounted for the only two turnovers UF has produced through two games. Coaches have taken notice, and moved him up the depth chart accordingly. Don't be surprised if he makes his first start today.
Blast from the pass
Jeff Driskel had arguably the best passing game of his Florida career against Tennessee on the road last season, going 14 of 20 for 219 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Coming off of a tough loss to Miami in which he had his best passing yardage day as a Gator (291), but committed three turnovers, look for Driskel to attack the UT secondary and put the loss in Miami behind him.
Tennessee made the trip last week to the West Coast to get manhandled by No. 2 Oregon, 59-14. The Vols scored first in the game, then imploded steadily over the final three quarters. Now, they come to Gainesville a week later to face a rested Gator team. Will the trip, and lopsided loss, to Oregon show itself in The Swamp today, or will the Vols be better prepared after their experience last week?
Tennessee has been on a dramatic slide in SEC play, winning only two games since 2011. The Vols had to beat Vanderbilt late in the season in 2011 and Kentucky in last season's finale to keep from going winless in league play. The Vols' 2013 SEC slate is once again brutal with consecutive games against Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. A loss today likely means Tennessee is playing for its first SEC win in November for the third straight year.