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Five things to know about Florida-Tennessee: What Kyle Trask has to do, and more

John Patton
Special to The Sun
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask throws a pass over Tennessee defensive lineman Matthew Butler during the first half of last year's game in Gainesville.

No. 5 Florida (7-1) at Tennessee (2-5)

TV: 3:30 p.m. today, CBS. Radio: 103.7-FM, 850-AM. Favorite: Florida by 17½ points (according to BetMGM).

The task for Trask

Gator quarterback Kyle Trask ranks fourth nationally in passing with 2,810 yards and Tennessee ranks 79th overall in average passing yards allowed (243.6). Making matters worse for the Vols is that, prior to Trask, they likely have only faced one quarterback (Alabama’s Mac Jones) in line for postseason awards, and Jones lit up Tennessee, completing 25-of-31 for 387 yards in a 48-17 win for the Tide on Oct. 24. Oddly, despite his yardage and Bama’s points that day, Jones did not throw a touchdown pass. So far this season Trask has yet to throw for fewer than the 256 yards he had last week against Kentucky or for fewer than the three touchdown passes he tossed against both UK and Vanderbilt, respectively.

GatorsWire:Ranking college football's best QBs through Week 13: Trask remains at the top

Any Volunteers?

Directly in contrast with Florida’s quarterback situation is the one in Knoxville. The Vols have played four quarterbacks this season (Jarrett Guarantano, Harrison Bailey, J.T. Shrout and Ocala’s Brian Maurer) with subpar results. Guarantano has been the most effective of the bunch, completing 103-of-166 passes for 1,112 yards (158.86 average) with four interceptions and all six of his team’s touchdown passes. Comparatively, Trask has two games this season (Mississippi and Arkansas) where he has thrown six TD passes. If looking for a positive with Guarantano, he threw two touchdown passes against the best team he has faced this season (Alabama) and two more against the second-best (Georgia).

VolsWire:Harrison Bailey 'will definitely play' against Florida

Home sweet home?

Knoxville might be the home of the Vols, but for the most part, the Gators have taken mortgage-free ownership of Neyland Stadium in recent years. Florida has gone 8-2 in Knoxville since 1998, losing the games in 2004 and 2016 by a combined 12 points. One of the big advantages Tennessee often has is the 102,455 who squeeze into Neyland, most of whom know every word to “Rocky Top.” But this is 2020, and the Vols won’t even have that going for them, as the coronavirus has made it so the stadium will be opened to 25-percent capacity (25,600).

Looking to stay unbeaten

Florida’s Dan Mullen is 3-0 all-time as a head coach against Tennessee. He led Mississippi State to a 41-31 home win against the Vols in 2012 and guided Florida to a 47-21 road victory in 2018 and a 34-3 win at home last year. That’s an average of 40.7 points-a-game. He will lead UF against a 2020 Tennessee team that opened 2-0, but has lost five straight since.

Key matchup

Tennessee running game vs. Florida rush defense: The Gators have faced three of the SEC’s top-4 leading rushers this season (only not seeing Alabama’s Najee Harris), and the backs have fared pretty well. The conference’s leading rusher, South Carolina’s Kevin Harris, carried 22 times for 100 yards (4.5 ypc) and a touchdown in a 38-24 loss at UF on Sept. 24. Third-ranked rusher, Isaiah Spiller of Texas A&M, carried 27 times for 174 yards (6.4 ypc) and two touchdowns in a 41-38 defeat of the visiting Gators on Oct. 10. And No. 4 Jerrion Ealy of Mississippi had 16 carries for 79 yards (4.9 ypc) and a touchdown in the Rebels’ season-opening 51-35 loss to UF in Oxford. Those three backs averaged 117.7 yards on 5.4 ypc against Florida. The Vols’ Eric Gray enters Saturday’s game ranked fifth in the SEC with 651 yards. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound sophomore has rushed for at least 100 yards in four of Tennessee’s seven games this season but for fewer than 58 in each of the other three.