Each week, Gator Country will stop to recap all of the news and notes from the week leading up to the game. Today we recap everything that has happened leading up to Florida’s game Saturday against Tennessee.
We provide you with an overview of all the Gators news stories we’ve published in the past week with links to each, as well as three key questions, a look inside the enemy camp and more.
|Florida vs. Tennessee – Sept. 17, 2011|
|Florida knocked off UAB 39-0 last week, earning its first shutout in nearly five years. Head coach Will Muschamp still wasn’t thrilled with the way his team played, though.|
While quarterback John Brantley has already come a long way since last season, there are still some things offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and Muschamp would like to see him improve on. Florida’s red zone offense was suspect last week, as the Gators settled for field goals on three of their first four drives of the game.
Brantley and the rest of the Florida offense will be looking to clean that up this week against Tennessee with the first conference game of the season hanging in the balance. Brantley said the issues simply boiled down to a lack of concentration, and that’s something Florida has worked on all week in practice.
Communication is another key on offense for the Gators, and Florida can’t afford some of the procedural issues that stalled drives in the red zone last week.
Even with the red zone issues, the Florida offense already looks much improved over last year’s unit, as Brantley has grown with the new pro-style attack and looks more comfortable and confident in the pocket. The offensive line has had plenty to do with that growth.
The unit has yet to give up a sack in the 2011 season, the only team in the Southeastern Conference yet to do so. Brantley has rewarded his offensive line for their hard work in the offseason, and treated them with some candy once again Thursday afternoon.
The addition of Notre Dame transfer Dan Wenger has been a welcome surprise for the Florida offense. The Gators up front didn’t expect him to contribute right away as a starter, but that’s exactly what he’s done. Not only that, but Wenger has been named Florida’s top offensive lineman in each of the first two games.
Florida’s offense resembles the New England Patriots’, Weis said, and the Gators will be looking to pass the ball more downfield this week in the event Tennessee steps up to take away some of the short and swing passing to the flats.
Should Tennessee challenge Florida closer to the line of scrimmage, how Brantley responds and passes down the field will be a real key to the game against Tennessee.
Defensively, Florida should get a boost from the return of Sharrif Floyd, who sat out the first two games of the season serving an NCAA-mandated two-game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits in high school. Floyd is expected to step into the starting role for William Green at defensive end, and he should boost Florida’s pass rush off the edge.
Muschamp hasn’t been particularly pleased with the pass rush off the edge through the first two games, and the first-year head coach wants more out of Ronald Powell. Through two games, the Gators have recorded just two sacks, both coming in the season opener against Florida Atlantic.
With Floyd back and Dominique Easley dancing his way to stardom on the interior of the line, the Gators should be at full strength on the defensive front for the first time this season. Getting pressure and hurrying Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray will be necessary to protect a young secondary that will go against one of the top wide receiver duos in Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers.
Florida could be without backup linebacker Dee Finley, who was arrested and charged with resisting arrest earlier this week after being pulled over on his scooter with a suspended license.
Florida’s secondary will face its toughest test so far this week, and how the Gators opt to defend Tennessee’s passing attack will be interesting. With two big, physical receivers like Hunter and Rogers, the Gators will need to tackle well near to prevent the big plays the Tennessee offense is capable of producing.
In any case, Florida will face its first true test of the season against a Tennessee team the Gators aren’t taking lightly.
|Three Key Questions|
|1. Will Tennessee be able to challenge the flats? So far this season, the Gators have made a living on offense getting Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps the ball on the outside, where the speedy duo can use their speed to blow by defenders for big chunks of yardage.|
Much of Florida’s success on the outsides can be directly tied to the impressive blocking on the perimeter by Florida’s wide receivers. However, neither Florida Atlantic nor UAB had physical corners who could really fight through those blocks to make a play on the backs in the open field.
Tennessee’s cornerbacks will give Florida’s receivers their first true test on the perimeter, and if the Volunteers can play well in the flats, it will challenge Florida to adjust on offense and work more down the field and up the middle.
|2. Will Jeff Demps and Jordan Reed be able to play, and how does Florida adjust if they can’t? First off, let’s make it abundantly clear that Muschamp has said a couple times he expects both Demps and Reed to play. Demps suffered a shoulder injury and left in the second quarter against UAB, while Reed went out with what Muschamp called a hamstring “twinge.”|
However, Reed was sighted on campus this week on crutches and wearing a brace on his right knee. While that could be strictly precautionary, Florida needs to have a backup plan ready in case either of the two aren’t 100 percent or get dinged up during the game.
If Tennessee challenges the flats, it could open up space in the middle and over the seam for Reed to make some big plays. If Reed isn’t healthy, Florida will need someone else to step up to fill the void in the middle.
|3. How will Florida’s secondary defend the Tennessee passing attack? For most of the first two games, Florida’s strategy in the secondary has been to give the receivers a little bit of a cushion and prevent anything deep. That’s likely what the Gators will do again against Hunter and Rogers this week.|
But how much will Florida rely on its cornerbacks to cover the talented pair and how much will the Gators shade additional coverage to the sidelines to help them with such tough matchups.
Or will Florida pin its ears back on the defensive line and count on Marcus Roberson and the rest of its cornerbacks to hold up in man coverage as the Gators try to get past a shaky Tennessee offensive line to hit Bray?
|Eying the Enemy|
|Florida will have its hand full defensively trying to contain a Tennessee passing attack that features one of the biggest, most talented receiving tandems in the league in Hunter and Rogers. The Volunteers think their size at receiver gives them an advantage against a Florida secondary that doesn’t have as much size.|
Quarterback Tyler Bray has been electric through two games this season, and after giving up three sacks in the opener, the Tennessee offensive line gave Bray plenty of time against Cincinnati a week ago. One of the real challenges for Florida will be putting pressure on Bray to keep Tennessee’s deep passing game from getting into sync. Tennessee could be without its starting left tackle, though, as Dallas Thomas went down in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati with a mildly sprained knee.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tennessee will be counting on defensive lineman Jacques Smith to disrupt the Florida passing attack. Smith has recorded 2.5 tackles for a loss already this season and his movement on the line has given other teams some problems.
The Volunteers are a little nicked up on defense, with Prentiss Waggner and Curt Maggitt both in red no-contact jerseys for most of this week, though both are expected to play against Florida. Banged up or not, the Volunteers know it will take a team effort to stop Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.
|What We Think|
|Each week, our staff runs a number of previews and predictions to get you ready for the upcoming week. With this weekend’s SEC matchup looming for Florida, Adam Pincus takes a closer look at the Tennessee Volunteers.|
Our own Derek Tyson goes a little more in-depth and gives his 10 keys to the game against Tennessee, to give you a heads-up on what to look for this weekend. Derek and I also stopped to give you a brief video preview of Tennessee and what we think are the keys to look for Saturday.
Crawford also tackles the Top 25, previewing all of this weekend’s matchups, including a Top 5 showdown for in-state rival Florida State. Finally, the Gator Country staff picks all of the SEC and Top 25 games on this weekend’s schedule.
|Kickoff Time – 3:30 p.m. ET|
|TV – CBS|
|Radio – GRN | Sirius 91 | XM 91|