KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Florida-Tennessee game has served as a barometer for both teams in past. The winner of the game typically would take the drivers’ seat in the east while the loser was — more times than not — out of the race completely.
The East won’t be won on Saturday but a second conference loss is at stake for both teams and a loss would be devastating not only in the rankings but mentally for both teams.
With that in mind, the Gators need to come away with a big road win this week. The players needs the confidence boost and Will Muschamp needs a win to cool down a fan base that is grabbing pitchforks and making their way to Gainesville to run him out of town.
Here are five keys to the game.
1. Pressure Justin Worley
The Tennessee offensive line has been offensive this season. The Vols are dead last in the SEC with 12 sacks allowed and the Georgia defense repeatedly hit Worley last week, even forcing him out of the game for some time with an elbow injury.
The Gators need to put pressure on Worley early; hit him even if you’re not going to come up with a sack. Let Worley know that you’re going to be making a home in the backfield and that you’ll see him again soon. The Vols are confident. Neyland Stadium is sold out. The Florida defense needs to take Worley out of that comfort zone and rattle him early.
2. Make the big play
In both of Tennessee’s losses you can point to one play that stood out as either a turning point or a nail in the coffin. A 100-yard pick-six against Oklahoma ended any chance of an upset in Norman. Last week it was a botched handoff in the end zone that Georgia recovered for a touchdown that doomed the Vols.
Florida needs to come up with their own big play this Saturday.
3. Be special on special teams
Speaking of big play potential, the Gators needs to get their kick return and punt return games going. Brandon James made a career out of killing Tennessee on special teams and Andre Debose and company need to get moving.
Florida is currently 12th in the SEC averaging just 21 yards-per-return. The Gators are second in the SEC in punt return average (19.6). If Florida can run one back this week they’ll come away with the win.
4. Run the football
Jeff Driskel is coming off of one of the worst performances of his career. The Tennessee defense is dead last in the SEC.
This isn’t rocket science. Your quarterback is struggling, you have two very good running backs, an offensive line that is playing well and you’re opponent hasn’t been able to stop anybody on the ground. Tennessee’s defensive line only has one player above 300-pounds so there is also a distinct size advantage for the Gators. Use it. Abuse it.
Run the football early, run it often and run on back to Gainesville with a win.
5. Manage down and distance and get into the red zone
This is two part. The Tennessee defense is ranked No. 1 in the country on third down. The Vols are only allowing opponents to convent on third down 20.75% of the time.
Florida can’t get into third-and-long scenarios against this defense. The Gators need to pick up decent yardage on first and second down to be able to create third-and-manageable situations where they can utilize more of their playbook on third down.
The second part is getting into the red zone. Tennessee is tied for third in the SEC only allowing teams to get into scoring territory nine times this season (Florida leads this stat with just seven attempts given up). However, the Vols have given up points on all nine trips (7 touchdowns, two field goals).
The Gators need to get the ball down into the red zone and exploit a glaring weakness in the Tennessee defense.