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The matchup between (11)Tennessee and (20)Florida has all the makings of an instant classic in Knoxville on Saturday. The two heated divisional foes square-off for the 52nd time in the series' history, with this weekend's game garnering more excitement and anticipation than any game in the last 10 years. There's a reason for that.
Tennessee is off to its first 3-0 start since 2016, which is coincidentally the last time the Vols topped the Gators, with that game also being played in Knoxville. Also worth noting, this is the first time since 2016 that the two come into the game ranked in the top-25. For the first time in series history, the Vols are favored by two possessions.
Florida looks very vulnerable right now. With questions looming around quarterback Anthony Richardson, who has yet to throw a single touchdown pass through three games, the Gators' offense is floundering. On the inverse, Tennessee bolsters the nation's third-ranked offense, and seem to be on pace to replicate its offensive productivity from last season.
As previously mentioned, this game has all the makings of an instant classic, or an absolute dominant performance from Tennessee. The Vols seem to have the much better team. Can they get over the mental block, and take down one of their most heated rivals for only the second time in 18 attempts?
It's now or never for Tennessee. This is a big game for the team, and possibly an even bigger game for Josh Heupel. After being named the Tennessee head coach prior to last season, many Vol fans weren't sold on the hire. However, seeing the offensive explosion from the team, and clear development and growth has reinvigorated the Tennessee fan base. This will be the second sell-out game in a row.
I expect Tennessee to come out fast. When I say "fast," I mean faster than they've started any other game under Heupel; which is a scary thought. Expect to see the Vols without star wide receiver Cedric Tillman, which will allow guys like Bru McCoy, Jalin Hyatt, Ramel Keyton, and others to step up.
I also expect Tennessee to keep Richardson in the pocket and force them to try to beat them over the top. If the Vols can take care of business in run defense, they should have no problem handling the ailing Gators. I think the Vols win this game, starting a winning streak against Florida of at least four games straight. I will also add this: I do not expect Billy Napier to ever defeat a Josh Heupel coached Tennessee team, no matter how long each respective coach is at his university.
Prediction: Tennessee - 45 | Florida - 17
Senior Staff Writer
Tennessee hasn’t been this big of a favorite in the history of the series, according to oddsmakers. Casual college football fans may look at this matchup and think Florida has the upper hand. But the fact is, this is the biggest mismatch the Vols have had against the Gators in quite some time.
Tennessee’s rushing defense has been among the best in the conference thus far, which is really the only way the Gators’ offense has found rhythm through the first three weeks. Anthony Richardson is thought to be a high-end NFL draft prospect and had some early Heisman buzz after his performance against Utah. Since then, he has nosedived to put it lightly.
Tennessee will contain Richardson and the Florida rushing attack enough to allow Hendon Hooker and the Volunteers’ offense to win the 2nd-half. This has the potential to be the biggest and best atmosphere on campus and in Neyland Stadium ever. Cedric Tillman will likely be out. However, Hyatt has come on strong and Bru McCoy certainly has the potential to make explosive plays. We’ll see how the run game does for the Vols against a rather thin Florida defensive line. I look for Tennessee to start evening up this series Saturday, where the Vols will win with little to no late game drama in front of a wild and ruckus Checkered Neyland.
Prediction: Tennessee - 38 | Florida - 27
Junior Staff Writer
This is the 52nd meeting between Tennessee and Florida with the Gators winning the last 15 out of 16. However, this is not the Florida team of old. After starting the season with a win over No. 7 Utah, the Gators have shown little consistency. Their QB, Anthony Richardson, has more tackles (3) than passing touchdowns (0), and their rush defense is ranked 113th out of 131 FBS schools.
Richardson is an athlete that can beat you when breaking the pocket and Florida’s offense relies heavily on his ability to do so. The most important thing for Tennessee to focus on for this game is containing and applying as much pressure on him as possible. On the flip side, Tennessee could possibly be without star wide receiver Cedric Tillman as it’s unclear if he will play due to an injury he suffered during last week's game.
However, Tennessee has one of the deepest WR corps in the country and shouldn’t see much drop-off if Tillman is a no-go. I think Tennessee will be too much for the Gators to handle this season. If the Vols can build a 14-point lead in the first it could get ugly. Still, this is Tennessee vs Florida and we all have seen our fair share of wacky games between these teams over the years. I believe the Vols keep rolling and will head into the bye week 4-0.
Prediction: Tennessee - 38 | Florida - 17
Junior Staff Writer
I wrote a feature article about the significance of this game for Tennessee, which can be found here: [https://www.allvolcallinshow.com/post/will-heupel-s-team-succeed-where-others-have-failed]
This critical East showdown figures to be a clash of styles and strengths. The up-tempo Vols offense wants to speed up the pace and force Florida to throw by going up multiple scores early, if possible. The Gators would prefer to slow the game down and grind their way to lengthy drives that will keep Tennessee’s potent offense on the sidelines and out of rhythm. In my opinion, the single most important matchup of the game is the Tennessee rushing defense vs. the Florida rushing offense.
If Florida can run effectively and control possession, they can give themselves a chance to steal this game, as they’ve done against UT before. I really like this matchup for Tennessee. The Vols have been an excellent first quarter team in the Heupel era, and this Florida team isn’t built to come back from double-digit deficits since they have an anemic passing offense. Maybe I’ll eat my words, but I chose before the season not to believe in the “Florida curse” affecting the 2022 version of the Volunteers, and nothing I’ve seen through three weeks has made me change my mind. Tennessee jumps out 14-0 early against an inexperienced Gators team and rides the momentum to a big win. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.
Prediction: Tennessee - 48 | Florida - 20
Junior Staff Writer
September: when the deep south turns its eyes to fall and the relief from the oppressive heat that has choked the region for months on end. Another right of September is the annual match up of Tennessee vs Florida.
Florida has dominated this series since all the way back to when Bill Clinton was in office. But these are not the 90's grunge music era Gators. Florida comes into this game ranked in the bottom half of the country on offense AND defense. The Gators opened the season with a massive win over a top ten ranked Utah. Since that game they've lost at home to Kentucky, and almost lost to South Florida.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson has looked lost at times passing and indecisive on when to leave the pocket. This is a stark contrast to what Tennessee has done. The Vols are much improved on defense and have a high-powered offense again this year. There's a lot of talk of curses and voodoo and things like that when it comes to this game for Tennessee.
I don't think all the curses in the Swamp are going to help Saturday. Jalin Hyatt is going to go off on this secondary. Maybe even a first play touchdown à la Joey Kent in 1995. Tennessee has a true leader at quarterback in Hendon Hooker and that will be a massive difference all game long. Vols roll Saturday and move to 4-0.
Prediction: Tennessee - 34 | Florida - 20
Senior Staff Writer
On paper, the Vols have the better team coming into this matchup. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker is out-performing Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, throwing six touchdowns to Richardson’s zero through three games.
Florida has a psychological advantage by beating Tennessee 16 of the last 17 games.The Vols have struggled against the Gators, losing by a single point in 2006, 2014 and 2015. Adding to the slump, Tennessee blew a 2nd-half lead in 2012 and lost on a 63-yard pass in 2017 (SDS).
The Gators linebacker Ventrell Miller may give it a go after being injured. Miller is the quarterback of the defense and will help when Neyland Stadium begins to rock. The depth on the Florida defensive line, heading into the second half, is concerning because of the drop off in talent. Relying on senior defensive lineman Gervon Dexter, who’s played 150+ snaps this season, won’t last playing all the snaps against Tennessee’s up-tempo offense.
Florida’s defense is just as good or even better than Pitt, but Tennessee has depth at wide receiver to counter. Cedric Tillman’s injury is day to day, which means Bru McCoy and Jalin Hyatt will need to step up. In the second half, Tennessee’s running game will open up if Florida’s defensive line gets gassed and falls apart.
Defensively for Tennessee, slowing Florida’s ground game and not allowing wide receivers space to make big plays is key. If Richardson has time to target his receivers and scramble on third downs, Florida will make it a close game and pull off an upset.
Prediction: Florida - 24 | Tennessee - 35
Senior Staff Writer
This game will come down to a few key questions, can Tennessee contain Anthony Richardson, make him become a passer, and don’t let him break off big plays with his legs?
Additionally, can the Tennessee defense force the Florida offense into third-and-long situations? The Vols are currently the eleventh-ranked team in the country at third-down defense, only allowing conversions at a 22.2% rate.
Tennessee is currently 29-1 as double-digit home favorites. That improves to 30-1 on Saturday.
Prediction: Tennessee - 34 | Florida - 17