Kentucky Review / Tennessee Preview

As hoped, the Gator defense came up big on the road, leading Florida to a 14-9 win at Lexington.  The score was closer than the game itself, as a young Gator offense with a freshman QB and middling OL kept this one from being a fairly easy win.  What is important, though, is the confidence gained with the win, the toughness shown by Will Grier with little protection most of the night, and the signs that this staff does have a plan on offense, despite the small number of points.  The TEs played well again, and there were some tough receptions made by the WRs.  However, there is still no deep threat, and defenses are going to start squeezing down towards the LOS.

Other than a few missed tackles and some untimely breakdowns allowing the Mildcats to gain a few first downs on long down-and-distance plays, the entire defense shut down Kentucky, never losing control of the game.  The DL was able to pressure the pocket most of the night, and did not let UK establish a consistent running game.  Jon Bullard again was a force on the inside, making plays and taking up so much attention that the other linemen were able to create havoc.  The secondary looked very good, with the return of starters VH3 and Keanu Neal solidifying things.  This unit can be one of the best in the country if it stays healthy, and will be heavily relied upon going forward.

The special teams aren’t so special right now.  Another blocked FG for Austin Hardin, poor punting by Johnny Townsend, so-so-kick coverage, and even a couple of penalties, one of which cost the Gators 3 points.  There’s a lot to be desired right now, and this unit will contribute to a few looses against the quality opponents coming up unless they turn things around.

The Gator offense was what I’m afraid it will be in the SEC this season – only occasionally effective, with the OL performance pretty much determining the overall success.  The offense will need to improve it’s efficiency, and take advantage of any trips inside the red zone.  This unit simply isn’t good enough to overcome mistakes, whether they are turnovers or penalties, against quality opponents.  Tennessee’s defensive strength lies in it’s D-Line, which presents to toughest matchup for Florida’s offense.  The OL has to figure out how to protect Grier better.  He won’t last the season taking the beating he took at Kentucky, especially having to run so often when the pocket broke down.  The passing game has shown some flashes, but no consistent threat downfield can be established yet due to the shaky pass protection.  Getting Martez Ivey back from injury should help the rotation at tackle, but the interior of the OL has to improve it’s run blocking to give the offense some balance and not cause Grier to force the issue in the passing game.  The TEs have done a fine job so far helping out the QBs, but it’s time for the WRs to do their part.  Demarcus Robinson needs to be used as a downfield and red zone weapon, taking advantage of his size and athleticism.  Antonio Calloway looks like a real find as a true freshman, and hopefully he can continue to make some plays in the middle of the field.  He also looks to be the punt returner for now, and had a big return to set up a short field last week.  Brandon Powell and Ahmad Fulwood need to step up their game and become more reliable options.  I believe the Vol front seven is only average, and the Gators can find some success – but can they consistently find that success?  The offense has to be very opportunistic and make clutch plays in plus territory going forward.  The ability is there to be an adequate unit, but now it may be a question of confidence, and showing themselves they can perform in a big game against better competition.

The Gator defense will face it’s toughest challenge by far this season.  The Volunteers have playmakers with RB Jalen Hurd and WRs Josh Malone and Preston Williams.  QB Joshua Dobbs is a dual-threat player who can hurt defenses with his running.  The Florida DL has to maintain discipline in setting the edges and not allowing too many scramble opportunities.  If they can force Dobbs into becoming a passer, then that plays into the strength of the defense overall and can lead to some turnovers.  The DL is establishing some quality depth, keeping the players fresh, and that will be very important now.  Bullard continues to make big plays, and has to continue his high level of play.   At LB, Jarrad Davis and Tank Morrison will have to play strong run defense this week.  It looks like the defense will continue to play a lot of nickel packages, with Marcus Maye, Marcel Harris, or Neal dropping down into run support as needed. The CBs will be relied upon in man coverage, and this week will be a good challenge.

On offense, Florida has to show some new schemes to help out Grier, and the OL has to elevate it’s play.

Tennessee comes into this game with confidence, despite it’s meltdown loss at home to Oklahoma 2 weeks ago.  Again, they feel it’s long overdue to beat Florida and end their current losing streak to the Gators at 10.  They are talking a big game, but I still don’t see Butch Jones as a solid game day coach.  He talks a lot about how the Vols are back and how they are recruiting so well, but where are the results on the field?   This will be a tougher test than Kentucky, as the difficulty of the schedule continues to increase each week.  To really start changing the culture of the program, it starts with taking back the Swamp.  If the Gator offense can be functional, efficient, and opportunistic, Florida should be able to win.  But can the offense rise to the occasion?  Coach Mac and OC Doug Nussmeier have to continue to build the confidence of the offense and scheme ways around the deficiencies and inexperience.  The Swamp will be alive for this one – I just hope the players don’t get overhyped and make mistakes that can’t be overcome.

Prediction: Florida 24      Tennessee 21