Tennessee Preview

It’s been a long off week, as fans and media have been relentless in their criticism of the coaches and players after getting run off the field in the second half at Alabama.  Losing the way it happened really left a sour taste in the jaws of Gator Nation.  That being said, the timing actually was best for the team to refocus and get back to fundamentals in practice, with all that needs to be worked on.  If reports from insiders are true, at least some of the problems and criticisms will be answered this week, as change is in the wind at multiple roster spots, especially the sieve that has been the secondary and the underachieving play at QB.

Tennessee surprisingly stayed close to Georgia throughout their game last week, which leaves some doubt as to the ability of each of those teams.  On offense, Justin Worley looks to have improved at QB, and has a group of good WRs with nice size, including Marquez North, Pig Howard, and Josh Smith, which will prove to be a challenge to the revamped Florida secondary both physically and schematically.  Still, stopping the running game comes first, which makes pass defense that much easier when the opponent is in obvious passing situations.  Freshman Jalen Hurd is a big back similar to Alabama’s Derrick Henry, and must be shut down.  The rotation at DT for the Gators  has been OK, but at this point it’s obvious that Darius Cummings, Leon Orr, and Jonathan Bullard simply aren’t elite DL, and rarely make significant plays.  Younger players such as Caleb Brantley and Gerald Willis have already shown the ability to make some plays, and likely will see more time starting this week.  The Florida defense will face a Tennessee O-Line that replaced all of it’s starters from last year.  Despite their seemingly good performance at Georgia, I feel the Gators can dictate the LOS and get pressure on the QB without having to resort to extensive blitzing.  If that happens, then it could be another brutal day for them.  Dante Fowler has been very good off the edge, and Alex McCalister is starting to show flashes.  The revamped secondary should have freshmen Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor seeing more time at CB opposite VH3 – this should allow Brian Poole to move back to the slot, where he is more effective.  Duke Dawson will get his chance at safety, where Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye have really struggled.  Keanu Neal, while doing a great job of generating turnovers,  has been burned too many times peeking into the backfield and biting on head fakes – he needs to improve in this area immediately.  The linebacker play has been spotty as well – decent against the run, but poor in coverage.  Jarrad Davis hopefully is healthy enough to go, while Michael Taylor and Tank Morrison simply have to play better, or risk seeing the bench in favor of inexperienced guys like Matt Rolin and Alex Anzalone.  The recruiting at this spot the past 3-4  years in terms of talent and quality depth has suffered, and is being reflected in the performance of this unit.

Overall, DC DJ Durkin, Secondary Coach Travaris Robinson, and Muschamp may have to simplify the schemes just to get players in the proper positions, which limits the amount of blitz and cover packages and makes it an easier day for the Vol offense.

Now, on to the offense, which has it’s own set of serious concerns.  Jeff Driskel will be under tremendous pressure to improve his performance, and may face a quick hook if his accuracy doesn’t improve and he isn’t able to extend drives if forced into obvious passing situations.  I wonder if OC Kurt Roper will decide to go with more running plays to try and take advantage of a weak Vol front seven, including even more zone read keeps for Driskel.  Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor may be relied upon heavily to pound away and hopefully lessen the need to rely on Driskel’s passing.  The long-term problem with this strategy is that it really takes away from the Spread concepts that Roper prefers to stretch the field.  I do expect to see Treon Harris get some meaningful snaps this week, both to develop him under live game conditions, but also as the starter if Driskel continues to struggle.  The O-Line is tasked with taking charge of this game, and the WRs, while improved as a unit overall, have to make the simple catches and avoid the critical drops seen too often so far this season.  Quinton Dunbar has regressed this season to date, while no other WR has stepped up to help Demarcus Robinson, who will continue to see double-teams until others start making an impact.  Ahmad Fulwood and Latroy Pittman need to play better or go sit on the bench.  Andre Debose apparently can’t be relied upon to run routes consistently or catch the ball with regularity, but is still being underutilized on sweeps to stretch the defense horizontally.  There is one area that could be exploited, and that is using the RBs more in the passing game, which potentially could help Driskel relax while actually doing some damage to Tennessee.  Jones is a very good receiver, and even Taylor and Valdez Showers have shown they can be effective.

I’m sure it’s been a very tough week for the entire team and staff to listen to all the negativity.  Will the coaches rein everything in and go conservative, or let it rip and hopefully see the players not play too tight and actually have some fun?  Here’s hoping that the players find their way and respond to a very tough mental challenge.  A loss to the Inbreds would really turn up the heat on Will Muschamp and possibly expedite Jeremy Foley’s “evaluation” of his coaching.



Prediction – Florida 27      Tennessee 23