Tennessee (2-1) at (19) Florida (1-1)
Saturday, September 21, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: After using their off week to help re-energize following a disappointing loss, the 19th-ranked Florida Gators get back to the grind on Saturday afternoon as the open SEC play against the visiting Tennessee Volunteers.
The Butch Jones era of Tennessee football got off to a strong start, as the squad won each of its first two games at home against Austin Peay (45-0) and Western Kentucky (52-20), but it experienced a rude awakening traveling out west to face No. 2 Oregon last week, falling in blowout fashion, 59-14. The Vols are currently in the midst of a six-game stretch where they will play five ranked teams.
"Florida is not going to feel sorry for (us)," Jones said. "We knew at this juncture of the season, against the most difficult schedule in the history of college football, it's going to take perseverance and it's going to take resilience."
Florida kicked off its season with a win on Aug. 31 at home versus Toledo, but it was far from a dominating performance (24-6). The Gators traveled south to Miami on Sept. 7 and repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, committing five turnovers in a 21-16 loss to the Hurricanes.
"Alignment, communication, assignment, you name it," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. "We didn't do it very well (versus Miami). We gave them way too much momentum early. That was disappointing."
Florida leads the all-time series with Tennessee by a 23-19 count, including an 11-5 mark in Gainesville. The Gators have beaten the Vols every season since 2005.
The Tennessee offense has been largely impressive this season, putting up 37.0 ppg, but the unit struggled last week against Oregon, amassing just 316 yards and 14 points.
The primary focus of the offensive attack is the ground game, which accounts for 244.3 ypg. Rajion Neal (257 yards) and Marlin Lane (198 yards) split the workload rather evenly, and the duo has a nose for the end zone with a combined seven TDs.
Despite a sub par effort against the Ducks, Justin Worley (13-of-25, 126 yards) is still off to solid start in his first season as the Vols' starting quarterback. He's completing 61.4 percent of his pass attempts, and has tossed five touchdowns paired with only one pick.
Worley has hooked up with 13 different receivers, but no one has more than eight catches or 100 yards. Josh Smith has just five receptions, but they've gone for a team-high 96 yards.
The Tennessee defense got torched by the Ducks last week to the tune of 687 yards and 59 points, but the unit was so strong in its first two games that it still has a respectable scoring defense of 26.3 ppg.
The Vols are one of the nation's leaders in takeaways with nine (seven INTs, two fumble recoveries). Brian Randolph has a pair of interceptions, A.J. Johnson leads the squad with 17 tackles and Marlon Walls has 3.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks.
Florida's offensive output has been a big disappointment through two games. Despite putting up 414.0 ypg, it only scores 20.0 ppg thanks mostly to its turnover problem (four fumbles, two picks).
Jeff Driskel has been mostly impressive this season, completing nearly 71 percent of his passes with three total touchdowns, but he's been the primary culprit in the giveaway battle, throwing a couple of costly interceptions in the red zone in the loss to Miami. The signal caller suffered a minor knee injury in the defeat but is listed as probable for this matchup.
The bright spot of the UF offense is the rushing attack, which racks up 192.0 ypg and allows the team to hold nearly a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession. Mack Brown has taken to the featured back role nicely, turning 35 carries in 141 yards and two touchdowns.
Trey Burton has a team-high 11 receptions for 133 yards. Solomon Patton (139 yards, TD) and Quinton Dunbar (120 yards) have also been reliable targets for Driskel, although Patton is questionable for this tilt with an undisclosed injury.
The offensive struggles for the Gators have overshadowed the great play of the defense, which is allowing just 13.5 ppg and 208.5 ypg (third in FBS). In fact, some members of the defense have even gone so far as to take a few backhanded shots at how the offense's inefficiency cost the team a win over Miami.
"I'm not going to be bold and say that nobody should beat us," linebacker Mike Taylor said. "But if we don't beat ourselves, we have a really good chance to beat a lot of teams we play."
Ronald Powell is an outstanding pass-rushing linebacker, racking up 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and four QB hurries. Vernon Hargreaves III has recorded a pair of interceptions, and Loucheiz Purifoy has a blocked kick. Because the unit hasn't been on the field that much, no player has reached double-digit tackles yet.
Florida better be careful in this game. The ball-hawking Tennessee defense could be in for a big day if the Gators continue to show a propensity to turn the ball over. The good news is that there's no discernable concerns about the UF defense, and it should be able feast on the Vols' inexperienced quarterback. It's bound to be a low-scoring affair, but expect the Gators to pull it out at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida 20, Tennessee 13
09/18 10:35:15 ET