Florida Gators vs. Tennessee Volunteers – 2016 Preview

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Eleven in a row.

That’s what the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers have on the line this year. The Gators can make it a full dozen on the Vols or Butch Jones can claim that signature victory that has escaped him thus far at Tennessee. Here’s the Florida Gators vs. Tennessee Volunteers – 2016 Preview.

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 20: A general view of Neyland Stadium before the start of the Florida Gators versus Tennessee Volunteers on September 20, 2008 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 20: A general view of Neyland Stadium before the start of the Florida Gators versus Tennessee Volunteers on September 20, 2008 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Jones is 3-13 against opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 during his tenure at Tennessee. He just hasn’t been able to get that big win that people use to denote a program turning the corner after a coaching change. The problem is, he’s four years in at Tennessee, and this Saturday against the Gators will be his second-to-last opportunity, with a game against Alabama looming in three weeks.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain shared an interesting thought after beating the Vols last year to extend Florida’s win streak to 11 years:

“I think down deep, [Gators] just don’t lose to Tennessee.”

McElwain may be right but playing in Neyland Stadium, starting a new quarterback will show just how deep that inability to lose to Tennessee really goes.

Let’s take a look at a few impact players and what to expect when each team has the ball:

Impact Players

Austin Appleby – UF Quarterback

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Luke Del Rio sprained an MCL in Florida’s game against North Texas last week, so he’ll be out against the Vols. Austin Appleby will need to play better than the abysmal 47 QBR he posted last year at Purdue. Lucky for him, he’s now under the wing of reigning SEC Coach of the Year and quarterback guru Jim McElwain. Appleby is more mobile than Del Rio, so expect a few wrinkles in the game plan to utilize his feet and keep Tennessee’s tough front seven honest. Through the air, he’ll need to be crisp on the quick throws that are a staple of McElwain’s offense, while keeping the ball safe when airing it out. In Florida’s spring game, he went 8-11 for 80 yards and he’ll need to post similarly efficient numbers without turnovers to keep the Gator streak going.

Josh Dobbs – UT Quarterback

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JACKSONVILLE, FL – JANUARY 02: Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers attempts a pass during the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes at EverBank Field on January 2, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Dobbs balled out against the Gators last year as the Vols’ leading rusher and receiver. He had 136 rushing yards along with a touchdown on a 58-yard reception. Dobbs’ ability to run the ball and avoid pressure in the passing game with his feet will undoubtedly give Tennessee a boost this Saturday. However, he was 10-17 through the air for just 83 yards last year against the Gators. At a few points in this game, Dobbs will have to drop back and deliver passes to his receivers against a secondary that will send four guys to the NFL. If Dobbs can’t make plays in the passing game or turns the ball over, the Vols will be singing Rocky Top about as much as Lane Kiffin ever did.

Alex Anzalone – UF Linebacker

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 10: Alex Anzalone #34 of the Florida Gators celebrates a sack during a game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 10: Alex Anzalone #34 of the Florida Gators celebrates a sack during a game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The dominant Gator defense employs two linebackers. First, it’s Jarrad Davis, who will be a force on Saturday. Davis is on the Butkus Award watch list and recorded seven tackles in this matchup last season. The real question is, can Alex Anzalone step up and help shut down Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara? The trio rushed for 254 yards against the Gators in 2015. Anzalone’s last two years in Gainesville were cut short by injury, and this will be his first real SEC test as a starter. He’ll need to prove his worth for the Gators to stop Tennessee’s ground game and force Dobbs to throw the ball.

When Tennessee has the Ball

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers rushes during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 26: Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers rushes during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Tennessee put up big numbers on the ground against the Gators last year. Dobbs, along with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, will need to give their all for Tennessee again this year. Last season, the Vols surprised the Gators with the zone read, something they hadn’t shown in their first three games of 2015. They’ll need to get creative again this year. Their O-Line has looked bad in 10 of 12 quarters this season, and the Gator front seven is the nation’s best defense in terms of yards per carry. Look for the Vols to get tight end Ethan Wolf involved in the seam and other coverage gaps to avoid throwing at Florida’s talented defensive backs. Dobbs will need to deliver a few big passes to Josh Malone, otherwise Butch Jones will have to manufacture points through some trickery for the Vols to be productive.

When Florida has the Ball

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The Gator O-Line has struggled almost as much as their Vol counterparts. McElwain has tested them in the first three games, going for it on fourth and short numerous times and they just haven’t come through enough. They also haven’t played a front seven like Tennessee’s, featuring Derek Barnett and a banged up Jalen Reeves-Maybin. However, the Vols will be without their other starting linebacker, Darrin Kirkland Jr., which will make things a little easier on the Gators. Florida will also try to give the running game a boost by keeping fresh legs in the backfield and running toward Kirkland’s replacement at middle linebacker Colton Jumper. They will use four running backs to do so; that’s right, FOUR. Mark Thompson, Jordan Scarlett, Jordan Cronkrite, and Lamical Perine will all get opportunities on Saturday. If one or two of them get hot, expect McElwain to ride them. The Gators’ Air Raid offense will look pretty similar under Appleby. McElwain will rely on a strong ground game, quick hitch and curl routes, and tight end Y-options to move the ball methodically.

Special Teams

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Florida’s net punting average is six yards better than the Vols, who will be without starting corner back and punt returner Cam Sutton’s services after he suffered a broken ankle against Ohio last week. If the game turns into a defensive struggle, the Gators will have an edge in the field position battle. Such an advantage would be big for Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro. Pineiro has a big leg, making a 54-yard field goal against Kentucky and this 77-yard bomb in practice, he’ll be playing in his first college road game. Conversely, Aaron Medley could be left kicking longer field goals. Medley is 0/4 from 50 yards or more in his time at Tennessee.

 

Wrap Up

Saturday in Neyland Stadium is going to get nasty. Both defenses are the strong suits, and these teams really don’t like each other. Third and long situations will be abundant, and turnovers and field position will be critical, likely deciding factors.

Unfortunately for the Vols, they bear most of the pressure this Saturday as 7.5-point favorites. They came into the season ranked in the AP Top 10 and have underperformed. It’s time to #CheckerNeyland again, and the team will don their Smokey Grey uniforms, neither good omens for the Vols. Tennessee has lost repeatedly — recently in heartbreaking fashion — to the Gators, and another loss here would throw Butch Jones onto the coaching hot seat after game one of their four-game SEC gauntlet.

Meanwhile, Florida began the season with an unconvincing win over UMass before destroying Kentucky and North Texas. They’ve climbed into the AP Top 25 and want another SEC East title. They know beating Tennessee would be a great start to their title defense. The Gators have little outside pressure or expectations to consider. With the injuries to Sutton and Kirkland, the Gator defense is easily the most talented unit in the game, and Florida will rely on them to make things easy for Appleby and the offense. The Gators may be without Luke Del Rio, but they’ve got the edge here with a superior defense and head coach. Ducks don’t pull trucks and the Gators just don’t lose to Tennessee.

 

Prediction: Florida 27, Tennessee 17

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