When the Vols take on the Gators this Saturday afternoon at 3:30 in Gainesville, it will be the first time since 2005 that the Gators are looking for revenge. Not that it matters, really. Being motivated by the prior season’s disappointment didn’t help Tennessee much for over a decade. What helps is actually being able to do something about it.
It’s well-documented that Florida’s offense has been staggering around like a blind drunk with an Uzi for at least a couple of seasons now, and this year’s opener against Michigan did nothing to sober it up. They managed only three points (14 of their 17 points came on two pick-sixes), and they played two quarterbacks, neither of whom looked very good at all.
On the other hand, most aren’t especially confident in Tennessee’s defense, either. After a terrible season last fall, they gave up 535 rushing yards to Georgia Tech and then played a middle-of-the-road FCS team that provided no sure answers to the all-important question of whether the opener was a fluke or the beginning of a repeat of last season. Questions (and not entirely comforting answers) about where Bob Shoop has his defensive linemen lining up are not helping to quell the anxiety.
But don’t fret just yet. VFL Daniel Hood says that it’s just too early to draw any hard and fast conclusions either way about the defense at this point:
“I just do not think there is anything you can really tell about them now,” Hood told Saturday Down South of the defense through two games. “We do not know if they are good, and we do not know if they are bad.”
The linked article does provide some glimmer of hope by noting that Alabama gave up 302 rushing yards to Georgia Southern’s triple option back in 2011. That’s reaching pretty deep in the diaper bag for a pacifier, but sometimes you just need your binky.
Whatever the case, it is almost certainly a good thing that the Vols expect to be able to return to a “regular defense” against the Gators this weekend. Plus, there are some very positive bits of data emerging for the Tennessee defense, including the fact that defensive end Kyle Phillips looks like he’s beginning to live up to high expectations and the fact that the defensive backs are both showing off a new (for them) technique in defending the deep pass and expecting graduate transfer Shaq Wiggins to finally be healthy enough to contribute this weekend.
And while the Gators offense versus the Tennessee defense may be a contest of who can find themselves first, the Vols’ offense will face a stout challenge going up against an always-good Gators defense.
Whatever happens, expect a typical Vols-Gators showdown, even as players on both teams find some solidarity in the common opponent of Hurricane Irma. After some uncertainty, the game is in fact going to be played as and where scheduled, and Tennessee’s campus police will be on hand to assist with gameday efforts in and around the stadium. Good for both of them. Priorities matter.
But pulling in the same direction will end there and at kickoff, and will probably include some good old-fashioned football malice. Tennessee wants to “start fast and hit them in the mouth,” and the Gators almost certainly have similar plans.
As offensive coordinator Larry Scott told media the other day, Tennessee-Florida is a “why” game:
“All I can say is, really in a nutshell, these are the reasons, these are the games that you come to Tennessee for,” offensive coordinator Larry Scott said. “It’s why you want to be a Tennessee Volunteer. The conference season has begun, and it just so happens that the opener is in Gainesville against the Florida Gators. That’s why you do it. That’s why you come here, that’s why you coach here, that’s why you play here, that’s why you’re here.”
Vols. Gators. It’s your why, and it’s this Saturday at 3:30.