Hurricane Irma couldn’t stop one of the biggest rivalries in the SEC from taking place this week with Tennessee headed to Gainesville for a 3:30 PM kick off as originally scheduled.
On Tuesday, the SEC and each school announced the game would go on as planned as the Vols will play their third game in thirteen days and the Gators will play their first since a season opening loss to Michigan on September 2nd. The Gators’ second game was cancelled due to the hurricane and they also still have several players suspended due to fraud issues with university issued credit cards.
Let’s take a look at how the teams stack up against each other.
This game will feature a similar situation for the Vols that they had last week against Indiana State. Quinten Dormady is going to get the start while Jarrett Guarantano may or may not come off the bench at some point. Dormady has been up and down some through the first two games, but you can slowly see his confidence growing as he gets used to being the primary starter. Guarantano did not put up the amazing numbers or highlights people expected when he got into the game, especially against a low tier opponent. As with last week, it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Butch Jones handles his quarterbacks in a rivalry game on the road.
Florida’s quarterback situation is a bit more murky. Feleipe Franks earned the start against the Wolverines, but Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire came in for the second half. Neither were impressive, going a combined 14 of 26 for 181 yards. It is unknown who will get the starting nod on Saturday, but the Vols get the edge due to Dormady being the only established starter thus far.
John Kelly has established himself as the Vols top running back, but Carlin Fils-Aime and Ty Chandler made cases for themselves against Indiana State that perhaps they should get a couple more touches as well. Florida, as of now, will be without their top returning rusher in Jordan Scarlett due to suspension. Their top rusher against Michigan was Mark Thompson, who rushed for 13 yards on five carries. As a team, Florida had 11 yards on 27 carries.
Wide Receivers vs Defensive Backs
Jauan Jennings is still out for the Vols, but they should see the return of Tyler Byrd and Josh Smith. Marquez Callaway continues to show they he is a threat when the ball is in his hands. Due to suspension, the Gators will be without star Antonio Callaway. That said, Florida always has loads of talent at receiver just waiting for their chance.
Tennessee has question marks at corner as Justin Martin continues to struggle. Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior have shown to be big time playmakers at the safety positions. Florida’s defensive backfield is always solid, especially when you take into consideration they scored more points than the offense against Michigan, recording two interceptions for touchdowns. Lots of youth will be on display for both teams.
Offensive Line vs Defensive Line
For several years now, Florida’s front seven has been the most important part of a team, especially with the offense continuing to struggle despite having an offensive minded head coach. Do not look for that to change in this week’s match up. Tennessee’s offensive line has been stable, keeping Dormady off the turf, however they did allow Guarantano to take a couple hits against Indiana State. Keep an eye on left tackle Drew Richmond, who is still likely getting into the swing of things after missing the opener against Georgia Tech following a suspension for a violation of team rules.
Last season, the Vols’ defensive line was the talk of town, led by Derek Barnett. Unfortunately, he left for the NFL, but did leave physical freak of nature Jonathan Kongbo to pick up where he left off. Tennessee’s front four has been somewhat underwhelming, only sacking the quarterback once in two game. In their defense, the Yellow Jackets and Sycamores were not exactly dropping back to pass every other play.
The big question will be how close the Vols line up to the line of scrimmage. Fans and former players noticed how far back the line was from the ball, prompting Butch Jones to defend it by claiming that has been part of their scheme for years. Evidence points to the contrary, so let’s watch to see if Jones sticks to his guns or moves the guys up a little bit. EDGE: Florida
Hurricane Irma did heavy damage to the state of Florida. Will the Gators be able to rally around their community and focus on the task at hand or will it just be too much for them to handle? At the same time, they have nine players suspended, but have had time since the Michigan game to possibly make the proper adjustments.
Whether you buy into the excuse/fact/logic/whatever or not, this will be the Vols’ third game in 13 days. Jones has been in similar this situation before, three times exact when he was the head coach at Cincinnati. They will also be playing in the Swamp, which is never an easy time. Tennessee is going to need to rely on their veteran leaders to keep the team focused and the energy high. EDGE: Tennessee
Depending on who you ask, both coaches could be coaching for their jobs in this game. Florida fans have been frustrated by the lack of offense since McElwain’s hiring, despite winning the East in his first two seasons. Expectations are always high on Rocky Top and with Florida’s suspensions and the unique situation caused by Hurricane Irma, Vol fans are expecting a win in Gainesville.
The biggest coaching matchup will be between Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Nussmeier has to find an identity for his offense while Shoop has to find a way to stop giving up large amounts of yardage, something that has carried over from last season. The Florida OC is moving up to the press box this weekend, where he called plays his first season.
This tweet should sum it all up.
— Patrick Murray (@PatMurrayWBIR) September 13, 2017
OVERALL EDGE: Tennessee
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @AWDarago