Tennessee Review / LSU Preview

Another big-time SEC atmosphere in Knoxville, heightened by the checkerboard pattern in the stands, and the anticipation that Tennessee would finally end their 9 game losing streak to Florida……NOT.

It took way too long, but the Gator offense finally put some drives together in the 4th quarter to win 10-9.  You know it’s a tough loss when the opponent’s fans are so stunned they can’t even yell at you after the game!  Not sure how much easier the Gators can make it for the Vols, with no passing game, a turnover machine at QB, AND a short field twice to start the second half.  Let the Inbreds chew on that for a long time……if they have any teeth.

Sadly, still more issues need to be addressed after being thatclose to having the entire season unravel and possibly dealing with a dead-man-walking head coach.  Another terrible performance by Jeff Driskel finally led Will Muschamp to pull the plug and insert Treon Harris.  And the kid came through in a bad situation.  Harris looked calm and under control, even with a limited playbook to choose from.  He hit a few key passes to extend the 2 scoring drives, and also looked good running the ball.  The real offensive player of the game (and season to date) was Matt Jones, who wore down the Vol defense with tough runs and was a steadying influence on Harris and the entire offense.

The defense was the star of this game.  Time and again these guys went onto the field knowing they had to bail out an ineffective offense, and also likely having to generate some turnovers in order to set up scores.  And sure enough, they came through in the clutch time and again.  Early in the 3rd quarter they were called upon twice inside their own 25-yard line after Driskel interceptions, and each time they stood tall.  VH3 came up with a huge end zone interception, and then with the Vols starting at the Gator 13-yard line, the defense stoned Tennessee, forcing a field goal.

Obviously there were many individual players that contributed on defense, but special mention needs to be made of VH3, Jalen Tabor (thrown in as a true freshman CB against a quality WR corps), Dante Fowler (who was in the backfield all afternoon terrorizing Justin Worley), Jonathan Bullard (who made a lot of plays stuffing the run), and also Bryan Cox, Jr. (who had 3 sacks).  It’s extremely difficult to keep going to that well, knowing it takes only one crack to lose the game.

It really was an unnecessary escape against a team with frankly a weak O-Line and D-Line, but that’s what ineffective QB play and turnovers can do.  I am still struggling to understand Muschamp’s stubbornness in making the change to Harris.  It was obvious that both the offense and defense rallied and were energized after he came in.  Usually, there’s no going back after that decision has been made, but……

……in the latest episode in the tragicomedy that has been Gator football the past 4 1/2 years, Harris is now suspended indefinitely after being accused of sexual assault.  Whether the accusations prove true or not, he will now miss at least a few weeks, if not the balance of the season, completely away from team activities.  That means Driskel is the default starter, with zero confidence from perhaps anyone other than himself and Coach Muschamp in his ability to lead this team.

LSU comes in to this game with a lot of problems of their own – including QB play.  Anthony Jennings started the season, but was benched in favor of true freshman Brandon Harris late in their bad loss at home against Mississippi St.  Unfortunately, Les Miles may have learned the hard way that starting a true freshman on the road in the SEC is almost always a losing proposition, as the Tigers were pounded at Auburn last week.  I’m afraid Miles will go back to Jennings, whereas I’d like to see Harris struggle against the Gator defense.  The Tigers will rely largely on their running game – I expect to see a heavy dose of Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette.  Eventually they will look to break some pass plays with quality WRs Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural.  The Gator secondary again will need to stay disciplined and keep everything in front of them.

On offense, I have no clue as to how Kurt Roper will decide to attack LSU, now that Driskel is starting.  Maybe it will be an ugly running affair to keep the game close and see which team blinks first and makes a crucial mistake.  What I simply can’t comprehend is why some back-shoulder and fade route throws aren’t attempted more often – these are low risk throws, and often result in completions or penalties to extend drives.  These throws are not difficult – especially since Driskel has not shown any touch on dump offs or deep throws.  I’m not going to put all the blame on his shoulders, though.  The WRs are still having too many drops, and I sure as hell hope it’s not because they are upset about who the QB is – that is unacceptable.  Demarcus Robinson and Quinton Dunbar need to get their minds right and start playing SEC-level football, consistently.  I hope Matt Jones isn’t getting used up too early, as he’s carried a heavy load early this season.  Kelvin Taylor has not looked anything like he did at the end of last season, and has to improve.  It hasn’t been all doom-and-gloom for the offense, though.  The O-Line actually looks competent this season – thanks to a great coaching job by Mike Summers.  The pass protection has been good, and it’s nice to see blitzes actually get picked up for the most part.  There were some communication breakdowns, but when the opponent knows your QB can’t pass effectively, they can jam the box and take lots of chances.

Just when there was a spark of hope and something for Gator Nation to be excited about and get revved up for a huge game Saturday night in the Swamp against LSU, another kick in the groin to the program and fan base.  I don’t know how the staff can rally the players to support Driskel at this point, as his performance has been awful the last 2 games.  Somehow the players (and fans) need to support him, dig down deep, and do what extra they can to make plays and scratch out some wins going forward.  Hopefully the shock of the Harris suspension will have worn off by Saturday, and the Swamp will be rocking to try and help the Gators get a critical SEC win.  As long as Florida avoids turnovers, I think that enough plays can be made in all 3 phases of the game in order to pull out a tough win…….but it could be ugly in the process.

Prediction:  Florida 20        LSU 17