Tennessee is looking for their second win against the Gators in the last 18 tries. The Vols enter Saturday’s match up as double digit favorites as the college football world ascends to Neyland Stadium and Rocky Top. The Volquest staff offers up their game picks.
Josh Heupel says there is no mental hurdle for his team to overcome regarding this game. That’s good because there are plenty of us out there who have seen this match up for years who do have that hurdle.
Why? Because Tennessee has lost this game seemingly almost every way imaginable. From Gaffney’s no catch/catch to 4th and 19 and hail Mary’s to lose 10-9 to a team with no real quarterback play. Tennessee has found a way to not get it done.
Even in 2016, the Vols had to rally from a double digit half time deficit because they played so poorly to start the game.
Can Tennessee get out of the gates? Josh Heupel’s history is his teams start fast. A fast start would put a ton of pressure on Florida and Anthony Richardson and it would send a rabid fanbase into an utter frenzy.
My guess is that Florida plays their best game of the year to date because that’s what history says, but it will be enough.
The Gators missed Ventrell Miller greatly in the middle. Can the Vols take advantage with their still somewhat unproven running game and a running back group that’s banged up.
Tennessee has been here before. The stage is set. The world watching. Gameday in town. They have delivered and they have failed as well. In 2012, Derek Dooley with his high powered offense couldn’t do it. Butch Jones rallied in 2016 to do it.
The Vols are the better team in 2022. They are better at quarterback which is huge and that is why Tennessee is favored and everyone expects them to win.
The truth is Tennessee should win, but you know me, I gotta see it to believe it.
If you have ever seen Men in Black 3, you might remember there is a character named Griffin who sees all these different scenarios of events in advance. It’s how Vol fans feel in my opinion. They have seen all these different scenarios for the outcome of tomorrow’s game. Why? Because they have seen a number of different endings in this wild and crazy rivalry.
Cedric Tillman is not going to be available tomorrow so others will have to step up. Bru McCoy is the natural fit for an expanded role. Jalin Hyatt needs to keep playing well. Tennessee also has to run the ball well in this one just to take pressure off Hendon Hooker. I think that also works with Hooker playing running back himself.
The crowd has to play its role but honestly that’s on Tennessee to give them a reason to be there for the entire game. Florida has never been more obtainable, but Tennessee has been the better team a few times in the last decade and found ways to lose.
So which scenario plays out tomorrow? I know Rob sees it as a blowout. I certainly think it could be but a win is a win.
Vols 35 Florida 27 and nobody will complain if the Gators cover.
We’re all aware of Tennessee’s struggles in this series. The Vols have (in)famously lost 16 of the last 17 in this series and haven’t won since 2016.
Some feel like a mental hurdle exists for Tennessee in this series. I don’t buy that. This is a new day for the program in Josh Heupel’s second year and I don’t think Tennessee is carrying any emotional baggage into this one.
Similarly, this Florida team is in year one with a new head coach playing just his fourth game in a new system. Some may disagree, but I don’t think history counts for much come Saturday.
Josh Dobbs was under center for the Vols that day in 2016 and he threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns while running for 80 more yards and another score. Incidentally, that’s the last time that Tennessee had competent, consistent quarterback play until Hendon Hooker took over the job last fall.
Hooker is the difference for me in this game regardless of who else is available on offense. Tennessee has a huge advantage at quarterback. Yes, it will be a blow if Tillman can’t play, no way around it, but Hooker still has weapons. If Small is limited or out that’s mostly about depth in my opinion as I don’t see a huge drop off from him to Jaylen Wright.
Defensively it’s all about not letting Richardson go crazy. Tennessee’s coaches have talked repeatedly about maintaining integrity in their rushing lanes and that has to be a priority. Don’t let him get loose and hurt him with his legs. Kentucky pretty much sat back and dared Richardson to beat them with his arm and he couldn’t do it. That’s a blueprint that everyone in the SEC is likely to follow until he makes someone pay for it.
The Vols are going to be playing in what should be an absolutely insane atmosphere this weekend. Neyland Stadium is going to be a powder keg waiting to explode on Saturday afternoon. If Tennessee can give that crowd something to get excited about early Rocky Top will be rocking in a way it hasn’t been in years and it could be a long day for Florida.
TENNESSEE: 38, FLORIDA 20
This is a big one. When was the last time there was this much confidence in favor of Tennessee – against Florida? It’s been a minute. Actually, it’s been a few minutes. But that’s what this week has been. Tons and tons of confidence.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Understanding where you are in this series (five-game losing skid and 16-of-17), but also knowing the past does not dictate the future. There are new players on the sidelines. There are new coaches on the sidelines. You’ve got two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of confidence.
Florida is better than the two MAC teams Tennessee smacked this season. That’s why I feel like the Pittsburgh win was so important. The Vols found a way to win late in that ballgame (well, I guess in overtime) when nothing was going their way offensively. It prepared this team for days like tomorrow when things won’t always go their way.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying this, but Tennessee has a good quarterback and right now, Anthony Richardson is not a good quarterback. The sky is the limit for the 6-foot-6, 235-pound athlete, but he’s having some serious issues with the forward pass at the moment and has virtually no confidence.
If Tillman can’t go, that’s a blow. But I still like the Vols with Jalin Hyatt and Bru McCoy. I’m intrigued to see what this rush defense looks like against a team that is running the ball well with three different backs. Can Tennessee follow Kentucky’s blueprint and keep Richardson in the pocket?
I think he’ll play better tomorrow and I think this game will turn out to be a dogfight. It is never easy with Florida. But Tennessee is the better football team and has the better quarterback. Let’s see if I’m a fool come Monday, but give me the Vols.
TENNESSEE 35, FLORIDA 27 (hello, the under)