Gators Vs. Vols: The O &D Matchups

It is the conference opener for Florida and Tennessee and as it has been in recent past the two big rivals get to square off in game one of the conference schedule. Both squads come in still trying to answer some questions simply because neither has had an SEC level test yet. A lot will be determined Saturday by the play at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Who will prevail?

According to Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the big game with Tennessee this week is all about the Gators' own preparation for the match and not necessarily what Tennessee brings to the table. That can be argued all day, but Quinn follows in is head coach's footsteps in saying it. Regardless, he is anxious to see what Florida Field and The Swamp is all about on Saturday. "I am certainly looking forward to it," Quinn told the media Wednesday about his SEC debut as a coordinator in the 92,000 seat capacity stadium. "That is obviously a reason you come to a place like Florida, the opportunity to play in cool games like this. You definitely feel a buzz about the opponent, but I think when we talk about the nameless and faceless opponents, it is about us and how hard we prepare, and our technique, and making them prepare for us."

With that in mind, here is how I think Florida has prepared for this matchup…


Florida Run Game vs. Tennessee Run Defense
Florida has the second best rushing offense in the conference right now (248 yards per game) and only behind the spread option attack of Mississippi State. Tennessee counters with a rushing defense ranked eighth in the conference and allowing 138.5 yards per game to FCS Montana and a pass happy Cincinnati team.

Florida starts two veteran senior tailbacks that combine to be the fastest tandem in the country. Throw in sophomore sensation Trey Burton as a bigger more powerful but highly skilled runner, and you have a complete backfield that is athletic and versatile.

If UT senior defensive end Ben Martin is out because of injury, the Vols will start three sophomores and two true freshmen in the front seven. Florida's offensive line is sort of inexperienced, but much more veteran than that and have a distinct size advantage up front as well.

I think Florida will run at ease on Tennessee and this could allow yet another week where Florida would be vanilla on offense.
Advantage:Florida in a big way.

Florida Passing Game vs. Tennessee Pass Defense
Florida has the fifth ranked passing offense in the conference while Tennessee has the 11th ranked passing defense in the SEC. Florida shut down the passing game in the second half of both games so far this season with a commanding lead in each.

Two freshmen linebacker are going to be key here for the Vols. Florida will try and exploit them. The Gators will also try and exploit true freshman Justin Coleman at one of the cornerback spots. The Vols are very vulnerable and also have only one sack on the year so they are supplying much pressure.

Florida has been able to rack up passing yardage okay, but has only found the end zone through the air one time early in the season. That has to improve starting Saturday.

Despite the inefficiency so far in the passing game, Florida should do well here on Saturday.
Advantage: Florida


Dan Quinn feels like his defense has an advantage on Saturdays because of the athletes his defense sees every day in practice and the coaching they receive. He believes that advantage will translate well on Saturday when Tennessee presents an offense that runs and passes the ball a great deal.

"That is what has been great about going against our offense," Quinn said. "One of the things that is good about our team is there is good competition at practice. Whether you are a linebacker that has to cover Chris Rainey, or a safety covering Jordan Reed, or are going against an offensive tackle like Nixon and those guys, that competition prepares you for what you will face down the road. We certainly enjoy going against our offense and hope they feel the same way. I think that is a valuable part of what we do."

Tennessee Run Game vs. Florida Run Defense
Quinn thinks the guys up front for Tennessee are improved from the film he watched from 2010.

"When you look from last season and their group and compared to this year that is one group that really improved," he said. "They are young like us, but talented. They play hard, physical, and tough and I think ours do too, so I am looking forward to that match up."

The Vols are big up front. 324, 330, 308, 309, 305 are numbers that can bury you. Senior starter Dallas Thomas may miss all or part of the game at left tackle and that would mean true freshman Antonio (Tiny) Richardson (325) would start in his place and would be an issue for the Vols. They are talented, but very young up front.

"Although their stats are very high, they do have a good running game too," Quinn said. "I have coached against their line coach before and have a lot of respect for the way they run the ball. They will try and establish that too."

Senior running back Tauren Poole is a real talent and is fourth in the conference in rushing, but has also run the ball 47 times for a 4.4 yard average, hardly stellar.

Florida counters with a rush defense that is third in the conference and has not allowed a touchdown in its first two games. Florida also has the most size in its front seven than it has had in years. The speed is the same or faster.

The Gators are also rejoicing in the return of star defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd after a two game NCAA suspension. The sophomore was regarded as maybe the best returning lineman on the squad and should be a bonus as a run stopper at defensive end.
Advantage: Florida

Tennessee Passing Game vs. Florida Pass Defense
Quinn knows what the Vol passing game brings to the table and is excited to see how the fans can help his defense on Saturday.

"This is a good match up for us and a team that is really efficient at throwing the ball," Quinn said. "They certainly have some talented guys both outside and pulling the trigger at quarterback. I am looking forward to another game in The Swamp and getting our crowd fired up and into it too. That helps our rush too to affect the (quarterback).

(Tyler Bray) certainly passes efficiently like an NFL quarterback. Starting the season off it is one thing that really jumps out at you when you put their tape on, how efficient they are when they throw the ball. You can tell they are starting to get together as a quarterback and receivers. You guys know that is an important thing when those get together and you can see it with these guys."

Bray leads the nation in passing efficiency and has 698 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions in two games. His favorite two targets are Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers who have combined for more than 500 yards receiving in those two games. It is a very dynamic trio to say the least and all will likely be playing in the NFL in a few years.

Poole is also a very good pass catcher, but only has three catches so far in this young season. I expect him to be utilized more in the passing game against the Gators.

Bray is immobile and the Vols have allowed three sacks on the year to overmatched teams, so that should be a concern. Florida counters with only two sacks by the defense, but looks to improve with Floyd in the mix and finally opening the playbook a bit.

Florida's linebackers are built to stop the run and the secondary is young and quite inexperienced. Even if Jeremy Brown returns as the most experienced player in the secondary, this unit needs a lot of seasoning. This is going to be a big game for them.

In the end, the key matchup will be up front for Florida and can they put pressure on Bray. If they can without sacrificing an extra rusher, this game could get ugly in a hurry in Florida's favor. If they can't, then it will remain close. I think the outcome lies in between somewhere. Both the UT offense and the UF defense have some success against each other, but Tennessee gets some points out of their passing game.
Advantage: Tennessee (in maybe the most lopsided matchup of the bunch)

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