A once proud rivalry, Florida vs. Tennessee still bears grudges from yesteryear. Although Florida has won thirteen of the last fourteen meetings, and the game hasn’t held championship implications in fifteen years or more, something about this particular rivalry still makes blood boil.
The Gators enter Saturday’s matchup as fourteen-point favorites over the embattled Volunteers. Since the SEC expansion in 1992, Tennessee has defeated Florida just six times. Of those six wins, none of them came when Tennessee took on a nationally ranked Florida team while they, themselves, were unranked. In fact, the last time an unranked Tennessee team bested the Gators was in 1955.
History doesn’t bode well for the Volunteers, as they will travel to Gainesville to take on the ninth ranked and unbeaten — even if not always pretty — Gators. Florida will feature a new look as redshirt junior quarterback, Kyle Trask, will make his first career start.
Trask filled in admirably after starting quarterback, Feleipe Franks’ season came to an abrupt end late in the third quarter, last Saturday night. Trask led the Gators to nineteen unanswered points and a come from behind victory in Lexington.
With a full compliment of very talented receivers, I am looking for Mullen to give Trask some high-percentage shots early, to establish a rhythm. Florida’s offensive line has — for the most part — done well in pass protection, so I expect Trask to be able to set his feet in the pocket and make the throws that will propel the offense.
Although he’s a willing runner, Trask doesn’t quite have the wheels that Franks did. To supplement that portion of Mullen’s offense, we should see a healthy dose of Emory Jones. The upside to this is that he will get valuable in-game experience and it could, potentially, ignite the running game that has been so stagnant thus far this season.
The downside to the Jones package is that — at least for a little while — it will be predictable. Jones must become a legitimate threat to pass the football, and to do so with accuracy. Until then, defenses are going to load the box and key in on Jones and the option.
Jarrett Guarantano has been very inconsistent throughout his career but is coming off of a three touchdown performance against UT-Chattanooga last week. The competition takes a massive step up this week, as the Gators boast one of the best defensive fronts in the nation.
If Grantham sticks to his modus operandi and dials in blitz after exotic blitz, it could be a very long day for Guarantano. Add to that, the fact that Florida will likely have All-SEC cornerback, CJ Henderson back in the fold and things could get dicey in a hurry.
I don’t want to sell Tennessee short, however. They have some very talented players that could — and should — factor in to Saturday’s game. Jauan Jennings, and Marquez Callaway are big and physical receivers that will challenge Florida’s secondary. Vols running back, Ty Chandler is averaging a very respectable 5.9 yards per carry, as well.
Despite this, Florida has home field advantage, they have the coaching advantage, and they still have more weapons than Tennessee. I like Florida to win this one and to cover the spread during a hot and humid noon kickoff.
Florida hosts the Volunteers on Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kickoff is at noon EST and will be televised on ESPN.