Tennessee Volunteers scouting report

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun
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Tennessee (2-1) vs. Florida (2-1)

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

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

TV: ESPN. Radio: 103.7-FM, 850-AM

Last week: Tennessee's latest rebuilding project (Where have you gone, Phil Fulmer?) continued with a 56-0 beating of Tennessee Tech at Neyland Stadium. No shock there. In three meetings since 1951, the Vols have outscored Tech 179-0. It was a get-well game after a disappointing 41-34 loss to Pittsburgh the week before. That was the real debut of Josh Heupel’s hurry-up offense. It was effective at times, though starting quarterback Joe Milton suffered a lower-leg injury and was replaced by Herndon Hooker. Both QBs are first-year transfers and have had accuracy problems with deep passes. Milton is expected to be back for Saturday’s game, though it’s unclear which QB will start.

Best offensive player: Velus Jones Jr. is a big play waiting to happen. He returned the opening kickoff 89 yards (though a penalty wiped out the play), had a 25-yard punt return and turned a short pass from Herndon Hooker into a 45-yard score. He was slowed the first two games with a bad hamstring, but Jones looks like the key receiving piece in Heupel’s pass-happy attack.

Best defensive player: Based on their one competitive game, the award might go to no one. Pittsburgh pretty much had its way with the defense, scoring on five consecutive possessions at one point. But the most dependable guy is cornerback Alontae Taylor, a preseason All-SEC pick and fan favorite. He has an NIL deal with a Knoxville cookie company that said it would give fans a free cookie if Taylor intercepted a pass against Tennessee Tech. Taylor came through, though it’s unclear whether he’ll make the same offer against Florida.

Fun fact: In the 1977 game, the Vols faced a 3rd-and-10 on their 1-yard line. Johnny Majors called a simple off-tackle run to try to buy his punter some room. Tailback Kelsey Finch took the handoff, found a hole, cut right to the sideline and took off for a 99-yard touchdown. The Gators still won 27-17, but Finch and the run will never be erased from the Florida/Ben Hill Griffin record book unless the NCAA lengthens the field.

Series: Tennessee won the first 10 games in the series, which began in 1916. Things haven’t gone so well lately for the Vols. They’ve lost 15 of the past 16, including last year’s 31-19 loss in Knoxville. Overall, UF leads 30-20.

Quote: “We’re in a race against ourselves to get as good as we can as fast as we can. We’ve got to get better quickly. Big opponent, as far as a test, next week down in Gainesville.” — Josh Heupel.

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