The Florida Gators are set to face off against No.11 Tennessee in front of a sold-out crowd in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night. I recently reached out to Chase Thomas, the Host of the Chase Thomas Podcast, to learn more about the Volunteers as they make their way to Gainesville in week three. The Chase Thomas podcast covers a variety of sports topics including Tennessee football.
Here’s our Q&A.
Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the 2023 Tennessee Volunteers?
CT: Strengths is definitely the run game led by lead tailback Jaylen Wright. Last year, the offense passed to set up the run, this year the offense runs to set up the pass. It’s a very different look for Josh Heupel’s team to be sure, but it is still effective. The Vols are 4th in the nation in rushing through two weeks and Wright is averaging around 10 YPC to this point with an increased workload likely on the horizon. The run defense is excellent once again, and sophomore James Pearce has popped at the LEO spot behind Roman Harrison. The front-seven is much improved, but the deep ball has not been there this year and the veteran, but average, secondary has not be tested to this point.
Q: How do you expect QB Joe Milton to fare against a much-improved Gators’ secondary?
CT: I think it’s the biggest game of the year for Joe. If he performs well, Vols win and win big. If he’s bad, they likely lose. He talked about not losing in the state of Florida, and performed well in Miami in the Orange Bowl vs. Clemson. The passing game hasn’t been there for two weeks, and it has to pick up to calm Vol fans nerves a bit. Biggest thing is the first quarter. I expect Joe and Tennessee to be aggressive to get Milton going early with a lot of fireworks similar to the LSU game last year. We’ll see if it works.
Q: Tennessee enters the game 2-0 with home wins over Virginia and Austin Peay. How are you expecting the Vols to handle their first road game of the 2023 season in a sold-out Swamp?
CT: I think they roll, honestly. They should, anyway. The Vols have the advantage just about everywhere you look, outside of the Florida secondary vs. the Tennessee secondary. Vols should be able to run on this Florida team and Florida should not be able to run on Tennessee. This team would likely be looking at being 5-0 heading into their date with Texas A&M following a bye week in mid-October. This is a critical point for the Vols and Joe Milton. They all know that and Vols fans know that. The history has not been kind to Tennessee in Gainesville of late, but all the signs point to a Tennessee victory and if not this year than when?
Q: Florida has struggled to get to the QB through two games, how do you expect Tennessee’s offensive line to hold up against Florida’s front seven? Should Gator fans be worried about Joe Milton escaping the pocket?
CT: That’s huge and another positive for Tennessee. Vols play with a an extremely fast tempo, obviously, so offensive line play has never been a major concern. Center Cooper Mays has been out the first two weeks, but it looks like he might be back for this game. If that’s the case I’d expect this Vols front to do just fine both in pass protection and run blocking. Especially the latter. I don’t think you have to worry about Joe leaving the pocket like Hendon did a year ago. Milton is going to remain steadfast in the pocket, we’ll see how that plays out on Saturday night.
Q: The Gators will be looking to get the run game going early, how does Tennesse match up against the run? Give us a few players to look out for on defense.
CT: They’re a top-tier run defense again led by Aaron Beasley at the LB spot. He’s the Vols’ best defender and the leader of the defense. Look out for him, James Pearce, Tyler Baron, and Omar Norman-Lott to make their presence felt in this game and Tennessee to make Graham Mertz beat them deep.
Q: The Vols come into Gainesville as a seven-point favorite. How do you see Saturday’s contest going and what’s your score prediction?
CT: I think Tennessee comes out strong and takes the crowd of the game with early fireworks similar to LSU vs. Tennessee a year ago. I’ve got Vols 41, Florida 17.
You can check out Chase Thomas’ podcast at The Chase Thomas Podcast on Spotify and follow his Twitter (X) @Chase_Thomas for more of his work.