Tennessee Preview

This week’s game turns out to be an early season crossroad for the Gators.  Any SEC game is important, especially the conference opener.  But after dealing with the fallout of the debacle against Miami and having 2 weeks to hear about how bad the offense is, it’s time to see if there is any leadership in the offensive ranks, and also to see if the coaching staff has made adjustments to both schemes and the depth chart to get things moving in a positive direction.

Tennessee comes to the Swamp after getting blown out at Oregon.  Their first 2 easy wins were exposed as fraudulent, as their overall lack of talent, especially on defense, was made evident.  Other than some returning starters on the OL and 2 good RBs, their offense is a total change from last season.  There will be some serious growing pains experienced this year, and it will take new head coach Butch Jones years of recruiting before he even has a chance to compete at the upper-echelon of the SEC.  QB Justin Worley has played it safe with short throws to prevent turnovers, and RBs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are solid SEC backs, but they haven’t played against a quality defense like Florida’s yet.  No single WR has emerged yet, and the passes have been spread out among many, including the RBs and TEs, but no one real threat exists right now.  I expect a heavy dose of running to try and shorten the game as long as the score is manageable.

It’s all about the performance of the Gator offense this week – starting with the health of the OL.  D.J. Humphries will play with a sore knee, and Kyle Koehne will start at RT in place of injured Tyler Moore.  Jon Halapio may return to start at RG (which may or may not be a blessing given his struggles with pass protection), and the fact is he will likely be less than 100% due to the torn pectoral muscle he sustained in August.  The OL is not the best shape right now, and Tim Davis has a lot of coaching to do.  If this unit struggles this week against a mediocre at best Volunteer defense, it’s gonna be a long year in Gainesville.

The passing game will again be scrutinized, to see if Jeff Driskel can continue to improve on reading defenses and getting rid of the ball quickly to eliminate mistakes.  He is under a LOT of pressure to lead the offense to better success in scoring.  The running backs, with Matt Jones supposedly back to 100% health, should be fine.  The real question remains who will consistently perform at WR?  Quinton Dunbar had a big game at Miami, and Solomon Patton made some big plays……but can they do this on a regular basis?  Trey Burton needs to re-focus, both on ball security and also reading the defense if he is in the Wildcat formation.  It’s about time to let one of the freshmen WRs get the chance to show something – either DeMarcus Robinson or Ahmad Fulwood have to step up and start to show the ability they flashed during fall practice.  Expect zero production form the TE position, unless Kent Taylor or Colin Thompson are given the chance to show something – they can’t be any worse than Clay Burton catching (or not catching) the ball.  Finally, where are the throws to the RBs?  Matt Jones drew raves in fall camp, but wasn’t really utilized in this way against the ‘Canes.

The Gator defense has played exceptionally well so far, and again will lead this team.  They should not have too much trouble controlling Tennessee’s offense, as they have a decided advantage in talent and experience.  The real worry (other than injuries) is whether this group can keep producing at a high level if the offense continues to struggle, and if eventually a rift develops between the offensive and defensive players.  All the talk of teamwork and supporting each other is nice, but in a situation like that, it doesn’t matter what level of football you are talking about – eventually problems crop up in the locker room, and internal strife starts to tear a team apart.

I expect an inspired, fast start, from the Gators, as they will have 2 weeks of frustration to take out on the Vols.  What I’m more interested in is seeing solid OL play and better utilization of the talent by the coaches as the game and season progress.  A majority of team goals are still out there for Florida despite the disappointing loss in Miami, and that drive starts now.  Time to see if this group of Gators has what it takes to overcome adversity and move forward.

Prediction:  Florida 31              Tennessee 13