Abolverdi's Answers: Gators doing enough

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts makes a catch Saturday against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

Before every Florida game, The Gainesville Sun comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here's Week 9:

1. Following a season-low 256 passing yards against Kentucky, can Kyle Trask have another 300-yard game at Tennessee? 

Kentucky, which has the SEC’s top-ranked passing defense, snapped Trask’s streak of consecutive 300-yard games at five. That ranked second behind Rex Grossman’s school record of nine in a row from 2001. Trask made up for it at Rocky Top by torching Tennessee for 433 yards and four touchdowns on 35-of-49 passing. He became the only quarterback in UF history with three 400-yard outings in a season and his 35 completions ranks second on the program’s single-game record list behind Grossman (36 in 2002). Trask logged his seventh 300-yard game of the season, the most by a Gators QB since Grossman (2001). 

2. After facing a second-quarter deficit to teams with losing records the past two weeks, can UF avoid a slow start in Knoxville?

Nope. For the third week in a row, the Gators found themselves trailing in the second period after a 96-yard touchdown drive by Tennessee. But unlike the games against Vanderbilt and UK, it didn’t take Florida until the end of the first half to get back in front. Trask and the offense answered on the ensuing series to regain the lead, and then found the end zone again before the break to go up 17-7. After that first score by the Vols, Florida’s defense forced a turnover on downs or punt on the next six possessions. 

3. How will Tennessee’s quarterback situation shake out, and can UF take advantage of the youth behind it?

As expected, senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano did not play Saturday due to COVID-19 contact-tracing protocols. That paved the way for true freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey to make his first start, a performance he will not remember fondly. Bailey was sacked five times, including three times on third down, and threw for just 111 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-21 passing. Bailey was benched in the fourth quarter for J.T. Shrout, who led the Vols on two late drives of 90-plus yards and finished with 121 passing yards. Ocala’s Brian Maurer also made an appearance, completing his only pass attempt for eight yards. 

4. How will Florida fare against Tennessee running back Eric Gray? 

After facing three of the SEC’s top-four leading rushers this season, giving up 100 yards to South Carolina’s Kevin Harris and Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller, Florida fared much better against Tennessee tailback Eric Gray. He had eclipsed 100 yards in his last two outings and entered Saturday’s game ranked fifth in the SEC in yards per game (93.0). The Gators held him to half of his average, with Gray gaining just 47 yards on 12 carries (3.9 yards per rush). It marked his third-lowest rushing total of the year. Gray did make some plays in the passing game, catching seven balls for 46 yards and a touchdown. 

5. Can UF exploit a Vols offense that ranks dead last in the SEC in third-down conversions?

UF dominated this category early and often against the Vols, whose third-down offense ranked 115th nationally heading into this matchup. They didn’t improve their standing Saturday. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham saw his unit open both halves with a three-and-out and allowed Tennessee to convert just four of 15 third-down attempts, including 0-for-4 in the third quarter. Florida’s third-down defense, which was last in the SEC after three games, is now ranked No. 4 behind Missouri, Texas A&M and LSU. 

Up next

Who: LSU (3-5) vs. No. 6 Florida (8-1)

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV:ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Florida's Lorenzo Lingard makes a tackle Saturday against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.