Kyle Phillips and Colton Jumper

Vols defense vs. Gators offense: first to find itself wins


We’ve spent a good couple of weeks now evaluating Team 121, and most of our angst has been in the form of fretting over the various warts of the Vols’ defense. We probably won’t know for a few weeks still whether the run defense actually hasn’t improved from last season or whether the early season performance can indeed be chalked up entirely to the triple option. But somehow, numbers that would normally be alarming headed into a rivalry game with Florida don’t seem so frightening this time around.

Because Florida’s got their own problems.

Florida Gators Offense


Observations. When I first loaded this up, I was looking at the most current stats, and they showed Florida’s offense as the absolute worst FBS team in the nation in four categories and in the bottom four in three more. I knew they’d been bad that first week, but had they actually been the absolute worst? Please tell me that it’s so.

It was only then that it dawned on me that the rankings compare teams with one game (Florida, for instance, who had to cancel their game last week) to teams with two, and that those numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of how the team really compares to others.

So, I re-did everything from scratch looking just at the first full week’s stats.

Guess what? Florida’s offense is actually terrible. Maybe not the worst, but still rotten poultry rancid bad.

Bottom three in rushing offense. Bottom eight on first down and third down, as well as in sacks allowed and total offense. Not much better in the red zone or at allowing tackles for loss. Still in double digits in scoring and passing efficiency. Barely out of the gutter in completion percentage and passing yards.

They haven’t yet thrown an interception, so if you’re giving participation trophies, that’s what you tell the engraver.

Yes, all of this could change against Tennessee, especially with the Vols’ defense looking similarly inept in its first game. But, goodness, Florida’s offense looked woeful against Michigan.

Florida Gators Defense


Observations. Much of this was actually surprising to me. Florida has accomplished what it has the past couple of seasons on the strength of its defense, and everyone knows that it was the defense that scored 14 of the team’s 17 points in the season opener. So, I expected to see some good numbers here.

There are, indeed, some good numbers. There’s the #1-ranking in defensive touchdowns you expected, and there’s the interceptions to go with it. There’s also the behind-the-line havoc stats in sacks and TFLs, which will provide a major challenge to Tennessee’s offensive line Saturday.

But after that, the Gators defense don’t look up to its usual standards, at least based on its first game stats. Rushing defense, in particular, looks suspect, which should keep Tennessee running back John Kelly’s smile on full power this week.

Basically, it looks like somebody’s scoring when the Gators are on defense. It might be you, but it might be them. Exciting!

Florida Gators Special Teams


Observations. Special teams stats are especially wonky early in the season, so don’t make too much of any of this. The main takeaway here, I think, is that they had four touchbacks on four kickoffs, so one of the Vols’ advantages (the kickoff return team) is probably already gone.

Florida Gators Turnovers and Penalties


Observations. With two pick sixes, you’d expect to see better numbers in overall turnovers, but no. They’re also not especially disciplined, as measured by penalties. But again, it’s one game’s worth of stats.

Florida Gators Players to Watch – Offense


Observations. As you’d expect, there’s nothing too frightening here, except the appearance of two defensive players on the list of offensive players to watch. It appears that Malik Zaire was maybe a tad bit more efficient than Feleipe Franks, but I wouldn’t conclude that that means he’ll play more than Franks on Saturday.

Note the glaring absence of any running back on that list at all. If there are any go-to guys in the passing game, they appear to be sophomore wide receivers Josh Hammond and Tyrie Cleveland. Combined, they had seven receptions for 127 yards against Michigan.

Florida Gators Players to Watch – Defense


Observations. The defensive guys are the ones to watch out for as potential game-changers Saturday. Defensive backs Duke Dawson and CJ Henderson are the guys who had pick sixes against the Wolverines, and defensive lineman Jordan Sherit had two sacks. DB Nick Washington led the team in tackles with nine. If you want to conclude something about the linebackers based on that stat, feel free.

Florida Gators Players to Watch – Special Teams


Observations. Kicker Eddy Pineiro hit only one of two field goal attempts in the first game.

Conclusion and prediction

As we discussed on our podcast last night, the key to this game is going to be which of Florida’s offense and Tennessee’s defense finds itself first and best. Apart from that, the Vols should lean on John Kelly running angry and hope the offensive line can hold its own against Florida’s defensive line. Be careful in the passing game, as Florida’s DBs are ball hawks, but don’t be too careful, as there are opportunities in the passing game as well.

The lines and the computer models all have Florida in this one, and I usually trust those things. But I just don’t understand either of them on this one, and I’m going with the Vols not just to cover but to win outright, 24-17.

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