The Florida Gators play host to the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday night from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in a crucial SEC East matchup. One of the best rivalries, not only in the SEC but across the country, looks to have some flair to it as both teams continue to regain their past. The Gators seem to already be at a high level mimicking some of their best years, especially after being able to take Alabama down to the wire last weekend. For Tennessee, the program is still a work in progress, especially after losing to Pittsburgh two weeks ago. In the series overall, the Gators have 30 wins to lead the way, with the Volunteers having 20 wins. The Gators have won four in a row though and have made it look easy of late. Last year was only a 12 point win, with a 31 point Florida win and a 26 point Florida win in the two years prior. Being at home, Florida will certainly be a heavy favorite, especially after last week's performance, but if the Volunteers can even keep it competitive, that'll be taken as a huge win and point of improvement for the program. Regardless, SEC fans will be locked into Gainesville on Saturday for the much-anticipated game.
Vols Eyeing First SEC TestTennessee has fallen on hard times since their dominance in the late 1990s and finding a solid head coach has been the biggest issue. The Volunteers are hoping Josh Heupel is the answer after hiring him from UCF at the start of the calendar year. It's been so far so good for Tennessee and even though the fanbase was surely disappointed to drop the home game to Pittsburgh, still easily took down Bowling Green and Tennessee Tech. While winning those games is the standard, it hasn't always been the case over the last few years. The injury list is one point of interest heading into Saturday though. The Volunteers have four players questionable, with Joe Milton III (lower body) and Jabari Small (undisclosed) both questionable to give it a go on the offensive side of things. LaTrell Bumphus (knee) is questionable on the defensive line and he would be a welcome addition to the defensive front against Florida's size and speed. Tennessee won't be expected to grab a win but to stay competitive is what the fan base is eyeing.
With Milton's injury in week one, the Volunteers seem to have settled on a new starting quarterback in Hendon Hooker. The experienced redshirt senior barely saw the field against Bowling Green, but has five touchdowns in the last two games through the air and has been efficient as well. Small will be a welcome addition back into the fold if available, after rushing for 117 yards in the opener against Bowling Green. Adding him to Tiyon Evans in the backfield should allow for a backfield that can complement each other and get the most out of trying to wear down the Gators. Tennessee ranks 15th in FBS in points per game and has been consistently getting off to hot starts this season. While Florida has struggled to start well, that leaves an opportunity for Tennessee to jump out to a lead and try to not only take the crowd out of it but to instill some confidence in their own group.
Defensively, the Volunteers rank 21st in points allowed per game but with an easy schedule thus far, remain somewhat unknown. Pittsburgh doesn't have an elite offense and still was able to put up 41 points against Tennessee. Given Florida's success this season, Tennessee could have their hands full in their first ranked test of the season. Tennessee is only allowing 54.33 rushing yards per game and with Florida's emphasis on the running game, something will have to give there and if Tennessee can stand the test on Saturday in stopping the run, they could be in great shape to pull off the upset. Theo Jackson is the leader of the defense, adding 25 total tackles and five pass breakups, along with a sack. As a team, Tennessee has eight sacks this season and the pass rush will be crucial to keep Florida off-balanced, and success there is likely the only way for the upset to be sprung.
Gators Looking To BouncebackSince Dan Mullen arrived in town, expectations have been quickly rising for the Florida Gators football team. An SEC Championship Game appearance last year was inspiring but last week's loss to Alabama has the fanbase excited. Only losing by two, on a failed two-point conversion, shows how close Mullen has this team to potentially overtaking Saban for the first time in a number of years and establishing themselves with Georgia and Alabama as the most consistent teams in the SEC. Beyond just the Alabama game last week, the Gators haven't had any trouble scoring and making quick work of opponents in their other two games on the season. The main question mark on the injury list is the status of Anthony Richardson (hamstring). Richardson is questionable but his athleticism would be welcomed back for the rivalry game. Offensive lineman Jean Delance (leg) is also questionable for Saturday but besides himself and Richardson, the Gators should enter with the depth needed to potentially make quick work of Tennessee.
Florida's offense has been consistent but not overpowering this season but given they have already played Alabama, the offense could flourish in games like Saturday's. They rank 44th in FBS in points per game but need to become more efficient in the Red Zone, only scoring 75 percent of the time they get in there. Against Tennessee, that might be good enough but won't work over the course of the entire season. Emory Jones looked sharp against Alabama but it's still unknown if he is the long-term answer at quarterback. He's tossed two touchdowns compared to five interceptions and is averaging 77 yards per game on the ground. Richardson's availability remains the key question. After missing last week, he still leads the team with 275 total rushing yards, averaging 137.50 a game. He seems to bring a different dynamic to the offense and Tennessee isn't at a point yet with the athletes on the defensive side to slow him down. Regardless of who gets the majority of the snaps at quarterback, Mullen finally has built out this offense to a level where they will be able to take care of the Tennessees of the world with relative ease, especially at home. This offense won't have any trouble moving the ball on Saturday and the Gators will continue to show why they believe they're a top team in the country.
Florida's rush defense is elite, allowing only 92.67 yards per game on the ground. Tennessee has their own success on defense in terms of the rushing attack but the Gators have done it against Alabama and some other impressive groups of athletes. Passing-wise, they're still only allowing 229 yards per game through the air, and Tennessee isn't built to take advantage of that. Florida's pass rush will be a major difference on Saturday, as they already have eleven sacks on the season. Zachary Carter has 3.5 sacks on his own and the team speed is too much for most SEC teams to keep up with. Florida should have their way on the line of scrimmage defensively and Tennessee struggles against the gators look to continue into Saturday night.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Tennessee might have a winning record heading into Saturday's game but the strength of their record is a far different story. A win over Bowling Green and an FCS foe are far from impressive, while a loss to a mediocre Pittsburgh team at home is a concern. There are still injuries to worry about for the Volunteers at key positions, such as quarterback and running back, and until those are settled, Tennessee will continue to be a work in progress. For Florida, they showed last week that with or without Richardson, Jones has it what it takes to lead this Gator offense and he'll continue to show that on Saturday. Florida dominated both lines and the trenches, which never happens to an Alabama team. Tennessee will be the next victim and without the same talent upfront, as Alabama had, will have an even rougher day. Florida should be able to exploit that rush defense of Tennessee's that ranks so high and they have talent on the outsides to expose Tennessee all over the field. The home-field advantage will prove to be massive as well, just as it was last week, and the Volunteers' new staff and makeshift offense, will have a hard time finding their composure early on. Expect Florida to literally run away with the game and to use their defense speed and size to stop Tennessee at every turn. The Gators should win with ease at home and Tennessee will be stuck bak at the drawing board come Sunday morning.
Full-Game Total Pick
Scoring nearly 63 points is quite a number considering the blowout nature of this game. With the game not expected to be close, Florida might not play their starters much beyond the third quarter. There's no doubt that Florida can move the ball but their style of a heavy run-first attack this year, doesn't bode well for a total number that seems like a shootout potentially. For Tennessee, their offense doesn't stand a chance against Florida's speed and advantage at nearly every position. They've scored well this season but given their schedule, the Volunteers will be shell-shocked early on against the Gators. Additionally, according to covers.com, for Tennessee, the under is 5-0 in their last five games after allowing less than 170 yards passing in their previous game, is 6-0 in their last six games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game, is 10-1 in their last 11 games after allowing more than 40 points in their previous game, and is 7-1 in their last eight games following an ATS loss.