Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers Preview
By: Robert Craft
TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services
Neither team is in the top 10. In fact, only one of them is ranked. There are no Heisman favorites playing. But make no mistake, Saturday’s Florida Gators-Tennessee Vols game at the Swamp is big. Always expect a sellout crowd.
Tennessee looks to win back-to-back games over Florida in the rivalry for the first time since 2003-2004 and to win in The Swamp for the first time since 2003.
The Vols are coming off an exciting 38-33 win over the Gators at Neyland Stadium a season ago, a victory that sparked the 11-win campaign.
Josh Heupel’s bunch looked out of sorts against Austin Peay last week, thus getting back on track and having proper communication is key as this matchup will be the first true road game of the season for the Big Orange.
It’s a massive game for both parties involved. The contest will be the ‘tempo setter’ for the Vols and the first challenge ahead of a grueling SEC schedule.
For the Gators, this is a critical rivalry game with Billy Napier, this is the biggest game in his coaching career. Both squads are trying to find themselves early in the season, but the game slows down for no one.
Florida is eager to make a statement under Napier. They want to show that they’re going to take a step forward in Napier’s second season. Beating Tennessee, especially after losing to the Vols last season, would certainly send a message that Florida is moving in the right direction under Napier.
For Tennessee, the Florida game is the first real obstacle in their quest for a SEC East division title. With Georgia looking like a good bet to run the table until their late November matchup with the Vols, Tennessee knows that a loss to Florida on Saturday in the Swamp will make winning an SEC East title significantly tougher, if not impossible.
Through two games, this typically high flying Tennessee offense—or more specifically the passing game element of that offense—hasn’t been racking up the explosive plays like fans are accustomed to seeing.
Heupel understands that there’s frustration about Tennessee’s performance on Saturday in a game that most expected would be well in hand by halftime.
The Vols are running the ball great at the moment, averaging 6.1 yards per carry on the season. The aforementioned SEC-worst 6.67 yards per passing attempt is holding the offense back.
Tennessee is converting just 32% on third down, which ranks 13th in the SEC. That’s also a concern but the Vols haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of defenses in the first two weeks.
Florida has potential to surprise people this season but could struggle to reach bowl eligibility.
I side more so with the latter. I am not a believer in Graham Mertz and don’t see Florida having a good pass rush.
The receiver’s youth won’t help Mertz, and shaky offensive line play will prevent Florida’s run game from reaching its potential. With that, the Swamp will impact The Vols offense. That should go without saying.
Gainesville is a house of horrors for Tennessee, no question about it. And if there is one must-win game for the Gators in 2023, it’s Tennessee.
With the game being in week three, Florida needs to set the tone for the rest of their season.
Florida 27 Tennessee 24