The Florida Gators (1-1) are set to kick off SEC play against No. 11 Tennessee (2-0) as the Volunteers make their way to Gainesville for this week three showdown.
The Orange & Blue boasts a 31-21 record in the series featuring victories in 16 of the last 18 matchups. The Gators have not lost a home game to the Volunteers since 2003, owning nine-straight home wins in the series.
Gator Country previews Florida vs Tennessee by providing our roundtable discussion.
What are the keys for Florida’s offense against Tennessee?
AS: Florida was successful in running the ball against McNeese State but struggled mightily against Utah, if the Gators want to win this game, they must be able to run the ball. Tennessee is giving up less than 100 yards a game on the ground but if the Gators can top 100 yards then I think the Gators have a decent shot in this game. When the running game gets going, it allows for Mertz to take advantage of the play-action passing game.
NM: The offensive line play is the key to the Gators’ success week in and week out. If the big men up front can get the running game going, it will open things up a little more for Mertz and the passing offense. If Tennessee is stacking the box, pass protection becomes just as critical.
GH: The run game needs to be efficient and the offensive line can’t look the way they did against Utah. When this offensive line isn’t playing well, it’s hard for the running game to have any success and it puts way too much weight on the shoulders of Graham Mertz. Having Kingsley Eguakun back this weekend will be a huge help in both those aspects, they just have to capitalize.
What are the keys for Florida’s defense against Tennessee?
AS: Tennessee is averaging 484 yards a game and over 257 on the ground so the first key is to control the line of scrimmage. Florida has done a decent job of stopping the run so far this year and their depth on the defensive line has been a big key here. The Gators must continue that but they must get pressure on Joe Milton. Milton will turn the ball over if he’s pressured and that’s something the Gators need to be able to do. Force Milton into difficult decisions.
NM: The key for Florida’s defense against Tennessee is to get set and prepared to make a play. Josh Heupel’s hurry up offense is going to be a challenge for the Gators’ defense. If Florida is prepared for what’s coming, they have the talent to limit the Volunteers.
GH: The defensive line can’t let Joe Milton escape the pocket and find ways to extend plays. Last year, the front four did a decent job applying pressure in Knoxville, but it was never enough as the unit constantly struggled to finish plays. Whichever team plays better in the trenches will win the game, and the Gators can’t afford to have a repeat of last season. The defense as a whole unit has to pick up right where they left off last weekend and consistently get off the field on third down.
Graham Mertz is set to make his first start against an SEC opponent. What does Mertz have to do to secure a victory?
AS: Protect the ball is the biggest thing for me, Mertz has done a good job of protecting it so far this year but against a Tennessee team that likes to get after the passer, that will be put to the test this week. Florida doesn’t need Mertz throwing 30 times a game but they need him to be effective when called upon.
NM: Mertz is going to need to continue to take what the defense is giving him in week three. He needs to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers, specifically Ricky Pearsall and Eugene Wilson. Taking a couple shots down field to take the top of the Tennessee defense wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
GH: Mertz needs to keep doing exactly what he’s been doing so far for the Gators. Take what you can get from your offensive line and continue to make it easy on yourself while not forcing anything. If the offensive line continues to improve along with the run game, I expect Mertz to do what’s needed to give this team a chance to win. Through two games, Mertz is 45 of 61 for 526 yards and three total touchdowns with a 73.8 completion percentage.
Who would you like to see get more snaps in week three?
AS: If the offensive line struggles in this game in particular on the right side then I wouldn’t mind seeing Knijeah Harris get some reps there. Harris is a nasty run blocker who likes to get to the next level and that has shown through two games.
NM: I’m going to go with true freshman Kelby Collins. In just 24 defensive snaps, Collins has generated three tackles, two pressures, one QB hit, and three stops, which is defined as a tackle made before the line to gain. Florida’s defense has struggled to generate pressure through two weeks, and Collins might just be the spark the Gators are looking for.
GH: I’d like to see Jamari Lyons get some more snaps on the defensive line. The redshirt freshman has five total tackles through two games for the Gators and could be a problem for opposing teams.
Other keys to victory?
AS: EUGENE WILSON. Yes I put it in all caps because I think Tre needs to get the ball and get it close to 10 times a game. Wilson is the most electric player on the team and he needs to touch the ball.
I have to cheat for a second and give a second key. And that’s a simple one…. Special Teams, this unit can’t cost this team possessions and points.
NM: Get off the field on third downs. Keeping Tennessee’s offense off the field as much as possible will keep Florida’s defense fresh for four quarters. The Gators have held opposing teams to just five third down conversions on 23 attempts, which ranks 7th in the FBS.
GH: A lot has to go Florida’s way if they want to win. First, I think this team needs to set the tone and set it fast. The Swamp needs to be rocking from start to finish on Saturday and make it hard for Tennessee offensively. I also think it’s important that Billy Napier and this staff try and dial things up downfield in the passing game. Not that it’s been awful the last two weeks, but it needs to increase. The short concept routes and screens won’t be enough to beat this Tennessee team. Offensively, there were miscommunication issues last weekend from a personnel standpoint that I’d like to see get cleaned up. It’s going to be important for this team to get those things in order against Tennessee.
Give us your prediction on how this game will turn out?
AS: This hurts me badly to say… Heck no, I’m not going with Tennessee, give me that Gator head. I have Florida winning 24-21 as Napier and his team know how important this game is.
NM: I picked Florida to beat Utah and Tennessee to beat Florida before the season started. I haven’t seen enough from the Gators’ offense against FBS competition to change my mind. I think Tennessee pulls it off in a close game 24-17. The Volunteers haven’t looked great through two weeks, but their up-tempo offense is dangerous and something that many of the young players on Florida’s defense haven’t seen.
GH: I think the Gators get the win 24-20 in a very close football game. I’ve been back and forth with this game, but I think the Utah loss was a good wake up call that this team needed. The Gators will win this game if they limit the mental errors and play better in the trenches.