Who: Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC) vs. Tennessee (2-1, 0-0)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
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.”
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.
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.
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
Tennessee 20, Florida 9
(Season record: 2-1)
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.