Florida at Tennessee: The storylines

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Florida teammates celebrate with David Reese (33) after he made an interception against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the Sept. 16, 2017 game. The Gators won 26-20. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Tonight

Who: Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC) vs. Tennessee (2-1, 0-0)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.

TV: ESPN

Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM

Vegas line: UF plus 4.5

All-time series: Thanks to the success of Steve Spurrier (8-4) and Urban Meyer (6-0), the Gators lead the all-time series 27-20.

Last 10 years: Florida has won nine of the last 10 with the only loss coming in 2016. In those nine wins, Florida’s average margin of victory has been only seven points. 

That’s history: Either Florida or Tennessee won the SEC East each year from 1992 to 2001. This matchup featured two ranked teams every year from 1990-2007. Florida has played in the SEC championship just twice over the last eight seasons (in 2015 and 2016). Tennessee hasn’t reached the SEC championship game since 2007. This marks the third Florida-Tennessee matchup in the last five years to feature two unranked opponents. Both of these teams won just four games last year. Florida is trying to avoid its first 0-2 start to SEC play since 1986. Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC game since 2016. For the first time since 1970, both teams go into this game with first-year head coaches.

Last time they met: Well, we all know what happened there. Tennessee rallied to tie the game at 20 before Feleipe Franks found Tyrie Cleveland behind the defense for a 26-20 win as the clock expired.

Fun fact: Florida vs. Tennessee is a bit of a new rivalry with the two teams playing 28 straight seasons. Prior to that, the two teams faced each other only 19 times. 

Thank you, Gators

Tennessee is going to honor its 1998 team tonight for winning the national championship 20 years ago. At some point in the ceremony, the Vols might want to send out a thank you to the Gators, while they’re there. They played a role in UT reaching that championship game against FSU. Playing at Neyland Stadium that season, the No. 2 Gators and No. 6 Vols waged an epic battle that went to overtime. In the first possession in OT, the Vols took a 20-17 lead with a 41-yard field goal by Jeff Hall. The Gators were positioned to extend the OT, but Collins Cooper missed a chip-shot field goal from 32 yards (wide right) to end the game. After the Collins miss, the fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts. It was a huge win, one that ended a six-game losing streak to Florida and would eventually lead to a national championship for the Vols.

The two Feleipes?

Not only are the Vols and Gators similar in that they are rebuilding under new coaches, they also are being led by quarterbacks who are almost a mirror image of each other. Feleipe Franks and Jarrett Guarantano are both redshirt sophomores who are in similar stages of their development. “(Guarantano) is similar to Feleipe in a lot of ways,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “He’s a talented young player. He’s got a strong arm. He’s got deceiving athletic ability to make plays with his legs and keep plays alive and extend plays. You see him growing within the system that he’s learning. He’s got a really bright future and he’s a very solid quarterback.”

Getting defensive

Franks and the Florida offense are facing a difficult challenge today. Jeremy Pruitt is a defensive coach and his stamp is already present on the UT defense. Since the one-sided loss to West Virginia, the Vols have given up almost nothing in the back-to-back wins leading up to today’s game. In the wins over East Tennessee and UTEP, UT surrendered only a combined three points and just 164.0 total yards per game. The Vols are good on the money down, ranking third in the SEC and eighth in the nation in third-down conversion defense. This defense is probably better than Kentucky’s, and we know what happened in that game.

Special teams

Florida already has blocked three kicks or punts this year, a remarkable turnaround for a team that had a total of four blocks from 2013-17. Florida scored two special-teams touchdowns last week in a 48-10 rout of Colorado State.

Common Threads

Florida tight ends coach Larry Scott and cornerbacks coach Charlton Warren were Tennessee assistants last year on former Vols coach Butch Jones’ staff. Scott was offensive coordinator and Warren was defensive backs coach. Tennessee co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph was on Florida’s staff the last three seasons.

Tonight’s game questions

• How will Florida’s depleted secondary match up against the potentially explosive UT wide receivers?

• There is always adversity on the road. How will the Gators handle it in their first game away from The Swamp?

• Will quarterback Feleipe Franks continue to take small steps in his development or will he take a step back?

• Can Florida’s defensive front hold UT running back Ty Chandler to less than 100 yards rushing?

• Will the Gators win the battle of special teams?

Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers

Andreu’s pick

Tennessee 20, Florida 9

(Season record: 2-1)

KEY MATCHUP

Florida’s pass defense vs. Tennessee’s wide receivers:

The Gators, of course, are depleted in the secondary after losing star cornerback Marco Wilson for the season to a knee injury, and will be tested by the big, fast UT receivers, led by junior Marquez Callaway and sophomore Josh Palmer. Callaway is a consistent playmaker who has caught 12 passes for 149 yards this season. Palmer, UT’s best deep threat, is averaging 24.7 yards per reception. Tyler Byrd, the backup to Callaway, is quickly emerging as a potential star and also will test the thin UF secondary. UF plays a lot of man, so that means true freshman corner Trey Dean III will be drawing Callaway or Palmer or Byrd throughout the game. He held up in his first start last week against Colorado State, but this is a whole different challenge.

Staff writer Pat Dooley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

6 COMMENTS

  1. How about the match up with U.T.’s secondary vs. U.F.’s W.R.s: Cleveland and Jefferson? Or how about the Toney affect? You and Pat have really been burned by the loss to U.K. While I really think Florida has the athletes to win at Neyland Stadium. I guess I am one of the few. Oh well, ”What did the big tomato say to the little tomato?” Watch the movie ”Pulp Fiction” for the answer! GO GATORS!

    • Your comment proved to be pulp nonfiction…Tennessee got beat to a pulp..and they couldn’t “ketchup”.

      I had us safely winning 24 to 21. Oh well.

      I did think Kentucky was better than most people thought.

      Let’s just let this thing play out. We’re not that bad and most other teams we will he playing aren’t that good.

  2. Propping Tennessee’s defense for how they played against East Tennessee and UTEP? Each team has played only one good team so far and both teams got their a** handed to them when they did. Using this season’s statistics at this point in the season is foolhardy. Who knows what’s going to happen in this game? The team with the most fight in them probably wins.

    • Have to agree with MexiGator…..the first three games for both teams only showed that they can handle the lower tier teams, while showed that, at the time, were not ready for the SEC. This has to be looked at for both teams as the true beginning of the season. How both teams play tonight, might possibly define each team’s first year coach’s season. Doesn’t mean the winner is the inside track to Atlanta, like it was ‘once upon a time’, but a bad showing by either team is definitely going to show which program has the furthest to go in it’s re-building process. I’m, of course, hoping that the Gators learned a whole bunch from their loss and even from their following win, and show the improvement and not regression tonight.

  3. Win and you won’t finish last in the division!!! I thinK UF wins this one. UF isn’t great but Tenn won’t really be able to run the ball and their passing game is kind of a joke. They won’t be able to hit Florida where they need to win. The only way Florida will lose is if they turn it over a lot. I don’t see any way tenn can win this game.

  4. If anyone’s interested, the NFC North and East division Champions are beating Texas A&M 45-16. Alabama could beat the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at 1pm, then the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football at 8:30. And yet, here’s the Florida football program that once had a proud tradition of dominance.