Florida at Tennessee
When and Where: Sept. 22, Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn., 7 p.m. EDT.
Tennessee’s revamped defense gets a real challenge Saturday when it tries to beat Florida in a clash of East Division teams from the Southeastern Conference.
Gators try to kick on after steamrolling Colorado State
Florida (2-1, 1-0 SEC East) silenced its critics by bouncing back from its stunning home loss to Kentucky to open conference play by stifling Colorado State 48-10 last Saturday.
The Gators’ special teams shined with two touchdowns, scoring once on a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by Tyrie Cleveland and on an 85-yard punt return by Freddie Swain early in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.
Feleipe Franks only threw for 119 yards, but he had two touchdown passes to augment a Florida defense that limited Colorado State to 240 passing yards after it entered the game averaging 369.0 in its first three contests.
“Special teams, I would say from my perspective, is more important than any offensive play or defensive play,” Swain told the team’s official website “Once we get special teams down and we win special teams, we’re going to win the game.
“It just shows. Everybody’s working. Everybody’s trying to get key blocks. Everybody’s trying to take one to the house. Everybody’s just buying in.”
Franks continues to be a work in progress under center. On the plus side is the fact he has thrown nine touchdown passes, but it is balanced by completing only 53 percent of his 77 passes while totaling 570 yards.
Jordan Scarlett has not fully gotten going yet, though his 30-yard scoring run gives him 105 on the season. Backup freshman Dameon Pierce leads the Gators with 162 yards after a 68-yard scoring run late, and Franks is third with 103 rushing yards.
Vols take step up in class after lopsided wins
Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 East) struggled to contain Jeff Grier and West Virginia to start the season in a 40-14 loss in Charlotte, but first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt spent the past two weeks building up his defense against lightweights.
The Vols followed up their 59-3 thrashing of FCS foe East Tennessee State with a 24-0 waxing of Texas-El Paso last Saturday. They held the Miners to 134 total yards in recording their first shutout against an FBS school since blanking North Texas 24-0 in 2015.
“I think our guys have worked hard. I didn’t think what we put on the field the first game was probably our best,” Pruitt said. “I think the other team had something to do with that. We’ll see as we go from here. We have a long ways to go, but I think our guy are working. They’re trying to improve, but we have to do a better job creating some turnovers.”
Offensively, Tennessee ran early, ran often and ran successfully. Tim Chandler had a career-high 158 yards, highlighted by an 81-yard scoring run, and the Volunteers rolled up 345 rushing yards at 6.9 per carry. First-string back Tim Jordan chipped in 48 yards and a score and leads the Volunteers with 232 overall on the ground.
Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was effective, completing 12 of 16 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown as six different receivers caught a pass. Pruitt sounded pleased about his sophomore quarterback’s season thus far, saying, “Jarrett has played within the system, and he’s been pretty accurate. He has to play with what he sees out there.”
Tennessee has seen plenty of losses to Florida in this rivalry of late, losing 12 of the last 13 games between the teams. The lone win for the Volunteers came in their last home game versus the Gators in 2016 when they rallied for 21 fourth-quarter points in a 38-28 victory.
- 2-8 ATS in its last 10 home games.
- 1-7 ATS in its last eight games as a home underdog between 3.5 and 10 points.
- 5-15-1 ATS in its last 21 games following a straight up win by more than 20 points.
- The under is 8-2 in its last 10 home games.
- The under is 6-1 in its last seven games as a home underdog between 3.5 and 10 points.
- The under is 4-1 in its last five games after a straight up win.
- 4-1 in its last five road games vs. Tennessee.
- 4-1 in its last five games as a road favorite between 3.5 and 10 points.
- 6-2 in its last eight games as a favorite between 3.5 and 10 points.
- The under is 8-1 in its last nine games as a road favorite.
- The under is 7-1 in its last eight games after an ATS win.
- The under is 14-3 in its last 17 games after scoring more than 40 points its previous game.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Both teams have been inconsistent on offensive, but one gets the sense Franks is further along to mastering Florida’s offense than Guarantano is for Tennessee. Franks was also effective enough in the Gators’ 26-20 win over the Volunteers last year, throwing for 212 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Florida also seems to be developing depth at running back behind Scarlett, but this is also a game where one back will get the majority of the carries.
While the Volunteers should be praised for an improved defense the past two weeks after being taken apart by a Heisman Trophy candidate, it really needs be stressed they beat up a FCS opponent and an FBS one that has the longest active losing streak and averaged 11.1 points in 2017.
Like the Gators, the Vols feature backs who could be rotated, but Jordan should be the workhorse in this contest.
Three of the last four games have been decided by six or fewer points, and without any game-breakers offensively for either team, a single-digit margin is the most likely outcome once more. Florida, thoguh, looks to have more on both sides of the ball to avoid an 0-2 start in conference.
Prediction: Pick: Florida -4.5
Full-Game Total Pick
Florida’s offense has been hit or miss, and special teams accounted for 17 of its 48 points against a Colorado State defense that played to form, which is allowing more than 40 per game.
But the real key to the under has been Tennessee’s defense, which is equally inconsistent and was held to 24 points by one of the worst overall teams in FBS. Florida has a beat-up secondary, but its run defense answered the ball in holding the Rams to 70 yards and will be key in keeping the points down in this one.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 47 points
Full-Game Prop Bet
While the Gators did give up 27 at home to Kentucky, it should also be noted the Wildcats had a battering ram of a running back in Benny Snell and a dual-threat quarterback in Terry Wilson when they were gashed for 303 rushing yards two weeks ago.
Florida sufficiently regrouped against one of the best passing offenses in the country in Colorado State and is facing a Tennessee team that went 4 for 12 on third downs versus UTEP. The Gators defense is a step up for the Volunteers, and Florida should be able to control the ball offensively behind Franks as well to limit Tennessee’s scoring chances.
Prediction: Pick: Tennessee UNDER 20.5 points (-125)
Half-Time Side Pick
Tennessee has scored just 17 first-half points in its two games versus FBS opponents, while Florida had 27 alone against Colorado State. The Gators also got points from their special teams and a ball-hawking defense that created short fields. They should be able to grab a lead beyond a field goal.
Prediction: Pick: Florida -3 (-110)
Half-Time Total Bet
This will be close because Tennessee’s defense really has not been tested since the loss to West Virginia. Franks figures out a way to make plays — he has nine TD passes in 77 attempts — and if Florida’s defense can force turnovers, this could go sideways quickly. The hedge is that the Volunteers have one time-consuming drive that does enough to pull the under through.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 22.5 points (-110)
Half-Time Prop Prediction
Both teams have hit this threshold in two of their first three games, and Florida is the more viable team of the two to make it happen in this contest. While the teams did not score in the opening 6:30 last season, they did so in the previous two meetings.
Prediction: Pick: YES to score in first 6:30 of game (Even)