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Gators Gameday: Three questions as Florida faces first road test of 2022 at Tennessee

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
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Three questions for the No. 22 Florida Gators heading into Saturday's matchup at the No. 12 Tennessee Vols.

Can the Gators' defense handle Tennessee's tempo?

Under second-year coach Josh Heupel, Tennessee runs plays at an average of 18.5 seconds. The net result is an offense that averages more than 77 plays per game and ranks third in the nation in total offense.

"What we're seeing on tape is that Tennessee is running plays before the chains can even get lined up," Florida linebacker Amari Burney said. "That's what we've been working on in practice. I mean, their tempo is one of their biggest strengths. Just how fast they're running plays. Their run-game. They got good receivers out there. Really, their tempo is like crazy fast."

Second and third-down defense will be important to get the Vols off the field. Florida is allowing its opponents to convert at close to 50 percent (48.78 percent) on third down, a statistic that needs to improve on Saturday.

More on the Vols:Florida Gators' next opponent: Scouting report on the Tennessee Volunteers football team

2023 schedule:Florida Gators 2023 football schedule is out! Here's a look at next year's opponents

Storylines to watch:Five storylines to watch as the No. 22 Florida Gators visit No. 12 Tennessee Volunteers

Can Florida establish the run early?

 Running the football and controlling the clock will be the best way to keep Tennessee's high-powered offense off the field. The Gators rank fifth in the SEC in rushing offense at 212.1 yards per game but will face a Tennessee defense that ranks 4th in the conference stopping the run at 83.33 yards per game.

Florida's offensive line, led by preseason All-American right guard O'Cyrus Torrence, has opened holes in the run game.

"Throughout the game, I feel like we get a feel for what plays are working, and if it's run plays, we know we can feel the defense getting tired," Torrence said.

Can the Gators affect Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker?

Gators linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. (1) celebrates stopping South Florida Bulls running back Michel Dukes (2) on a third down in the second half against the Bulls at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Sept. 17, 2022.

Hooker has been strong with his decision-making, throwing 37 TD passes to 3 interceptions in two seasons at Tennessee. The best chance to affect Tennessee's passing game may include getting pressure on Hooker.

 "It's always a goal to affect the quarterback every week, no matter who it is," Florida defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. said. "Tennessee's real big on running tempo, so just getting back to the ball, getting lined up, keep getting after it, reacting and running to the ball. That's going to be real big for us to be successful this weekend."

Florida has recorded three sacks on the season, with all three coming against Kentucky

KEY MATCHUP 

Florida defensive linemen Gervon Dexter Jr. and Desmond Watson against Tennessee left guard Jerome Carvin and center Cooper Mays

It always starts up front in the SEC and Dexter and Watson are going to need to occupy blockers and come up with big plays to keep Tennessee's high-powered offense in check.

The 415-pound Watson will make his first career start against UT and has shown the ability the generate pressure up the middle.

Mays has allowed just one career sack in two seasons as a starter at Tennessee, while the 6-foot-5, 321-pound Carvin, a projected NFL draft pick, has surrendered just one sack in 33 career starts since 2019.

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