It’s Tennessee week, which means Gator Country is going behind enemy lines to bring you an in-depth look at the Volunteers before they travel down to The Swamp to take on the Gators.
Vince Ferrara is a sports talk radio host from WNML on FM 99.1 and AM 990 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Vince also has experience doing play-by-play and has hosted shows on ESPN Radio, Vol Radio Network and IMG College. He’s tuned into this Tennessee team and will give you a comprehensive breakdown of Florida’s opponent this weekend.
Gator Country: Vince, Tennessee hasn’t announced a starting quarterback yet, what have you seen from the quarterbacks so far and who do you think will start on Saturday?
Vince Ferrara: Butch Jones said this week that there is going to be an open competition at quarterback and whoever has the best week of practice between Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson, will be the starting quarterback. I think it’s just motivation for Justin Worley. I think he will still start. He has the best grasp of the offense; command of the offense and of that team, he’s the most experienced. He needs to be much better and much more accurate than he has been and as Butch Jones has said, just let it loose, just play almost with arrogance at the quarterback position.
The other guys, Nathan Peterman had an opportunity to beat him out and the freshmen did in camp, they did not. Butch Jones talks about having more runs out of the quarterback position. I think Worley will start, even though he said it’s an open competition supposedly. But I think they will have a package for one other guy and I the competition will be to see who can be that one other guy to run some of those special packages. They want to see how it works during the game, maybe run more of it if it does work. Regardless, the opportunity will give someone game experience running with the ones for the rest of the season should Worley not succeed and continue to struggle. You have the South Alabama game the following week to work in a new quarterback if need be. I think the starter will be Worley but I think you’ll also see one other quarterback on Saturday.
GC: After giving up over 600 yards of offense and more than 50 points last week, where is the confidence level of the defense heading into the game this Saturday?
VF: The players aren’t telling you that there is but naturally, you would think that it makes you wonder. A lot of these guys are veterans and have been around a lot, I could see how you could go back and say here we go again, new scheme, new excitement but yet we’re still getting gashed, we’re still having blown assignments and we’re still on the wrong end of a bad score.
But the players are saying all the right things, so far. They had been really good, probably better and more improved than anyone thought going into the first two games. It’s only the first two games but they created seven turnovers against Western Kentucky. They had turnovers on four consecutive plays, which had never happened in NCAA history. So they were feeling really good going into that Oregon game. Injuries are a part of it too. They still haven’t had their dynamic defensive playmaker in Curt Maggit, who could play this week against Florida, but we’ve also heard that he’s been really close every game this season. He still hasn’t recovered from offseason knee surgery, at least fully; he’s practiced and done some things but just hasn’t been ready to go for the games. They really need him and they miss him a lot. They just got back Jacques Smith, who’s one of their starting ends, he returned last week, he’s back in the starting lineup this week. Their most impressive freshmen defensive lineman, Corey Vereen, has yet to play and he had an injury in fall camp that set him back. He may still be another week away from returning but he’s a guy that gives them speed off the edge.
They have veteran guys. Their best linebacker, A.J. Johnson, at times has struggled covering guys in the pass game in space. Oregon and even Western Kentucky exploited him in that area.
In the secondary, you had things that you hadn’t seen before in the Oregon game. Is it the competition? Is it just them reverting back to bad habits? I think you need a game like the Florida game to really see that because they have some players with ability there but they’re just not deep at all. They have a true freshman in Cameron Sutton starting at corner. He’s been good but he struggled against Oregon. Its ‘TBD’ on how they react against a more traditional Florida team, which I do feel like they match up better against than a team like Oregon who spreads you out with all that team speed. It was so many different and confusing things for them to deal with last week.
I think the defense is better than last year. It’s probably in between what we saw against Western Kentucky and Oregon.
GC: Last year, fans were more excited and confident than they had been in a long time about this game. Is some of that tampered because of a new coach, new offense, not winning a game in eight years, or is it a typical Florida week?
VF: People are up for it, there’s no doubt. Last year it got carried away early in the year. They had a terrific start against weak non-conference opponents.
I remember watching the Jon Gruden quarterback special before the draft with Tyler Bray. They showed how excited the fans were for ESPN’s GameDay and the Florida game, the great crowd and excitement and Tyler Bray said, ‘Yeah, we thought we were going to win. We didn’t think we were going to lose. We were already thinking about Alabama.” That’s just amazing to me that any player, and maybe that’s just what he and a few of his friends thought and not what the team thought, but just the fact of that thought crossing anybody’s mind when you had that losing streak to Florida and you really hadn’t done anything last year to even think that, is alarming. But I think this is a more mature group and they understand that better. I don’t think it’s the players, I think it’s the fans that still jump the gun. They jumped the gun going into the Oregon game where there was some confidence. Going into the season, the wins kept rising up and going higher and higher into the year. I think when you get the excitement with a coach, you tend to get unrealistic and you tend to hope. I think Oregon tampered that some but I think there’s still some people who have looked at Florida, seen them struggle on offense and see that as an opportunity for Tennessee. There is still a feeling that Tennessee can win this game. If they beat Florida, snap the streak and beat their hated rivals, then they will easily be able to flush the Oregon game to, hey, bad matchup, good team, we still have a shot to win the East. It would get that out of hand if they beat Florida.
GC: What would it mean for Butch Jones to come in and do something that Lane Kiffin didn’t do, Derek Dooley never did and Phil Fulmer did a couple times but not enough for Tennessee fans liking and beat Florida?
VF: It would be absolutely massive.
Just like when they lost to Kentucky under Dooley, how that took away a year of what he had to work with in terms of patience, that really sped up his firing process. A win over Florida would almost certainly add a year guaranteed to it. There has been such frustration in losing to Florida. You hear the team ‘signature win’ all the time, Derek Dooley was not able to get it. But if you snap everything, you snap the streak against ranked opponents, on the road and against Florida. They’re already excited about what Butch Jones is going to bring. It will get out of hand in terms of the fan base excitement. It would just be absolutely massive if Butch Jones wins this game. And if there are any people still on the fence about him, I’m sure there are some silent fans out there that have done that; they’re not fully buying in, the skeptical ones. If he beats Florida, I think they’ll come over. There’s a great opportunity there for Butch Jones against Florida.
GC: What’s your prediction for the game?
VF: I said on Sunday when I was asked to make a prediction on a TV show that I fill in on, I was forced to make a prediction, so I’ll stick with that and say Florida 27-10. I think it’s going to be so incredibly difficult for Tennessee to move the ball on Florida’s defense. Their defensive line is just so good and the corners are so good. The true freshmen, and frankly all the receivers, have had problems getting off on man and bump and run coverage on the line. Florida is so good at that with their corners, I think it’s just so difficult not having a passing game threat. Florida will load the box and make it difficult for Tennessee to run the ball.
They’ll probably score, maybe on a Florida turnover, with a short field. But I think Florida’s defense is going to smother Tennessee. I think the line is pretty accurate, it’s up to 17 now. So I’ll go with 27-10 Florida.