The Volunteer offense is a pro-style attack and a pass happy one at that. While their total offense is ranked 15th in the country racking up 541 yards a game, their passing offense is all the way up to 9th at 354 yards per game. The Vols have four scoring drives of 34 or fewer seconds in their first two games after accomplishing the feat only once in 2011, in The Opening drive of the opening game vs. Montana.
Having beaten a really poor NC State team and a worse Georgia State squad, the Volunteers are ranked 15th nationally scoring 43.0 points for the opening two contests. The offense has allowed only one sack in the two games.
The Passing Game
Tyler Bray (6-6, 215, Jr.) is the point man and he has all the tools as a big armed, tall, and quick release quarterback. He has thrown for over 300 yards I both games this season and is ranked fifth nationally in passing efficiency. He is a big play quarterback with big play receivers.
As for those pass catchers, it really is a three headed monster with X-receiver Justin Hunter (6-4, 200, Jr.), Z-receiver Cordarrell Patterson (6-3, 205, Jr.), and tight end Mychal Rivera (6-3, 244, Sr.).
Hunter tied UT record with 3 receiving TDs vs. GSU and with his 17 receptions he tied a UT record (Johnny Mills in 1966) for most catches in first two games of a season (8-146 vs. GSU, 9-73 vs. NC State). It changed the complexion of the game last year when Hunter went down early with an ACL tear.
Hunter is a great athlete that had to miss most of last season
Patterson was the number one player coming ou of the junior college ranks this past recruiting cycle and he has unique skills for a guys his size. So far he has 360 all-purpose yards (180.0 pg) in his first two games at UT, 195 all-purpose yards (71 rec/18 rush/106 KR) vs. Georgia State, and 165 all-purpose yards (93 rec/72 rush) 2 TDs (41 rec, 67 run) vs. NC State. He has great speed for his size.
Don't forget about Rivera who is was named to the John Mackey Award Watch List in both 2011 and 2012, he is the leading returning receiver after finishing second on the team in receptions (29) and receiving yards (344) in 2011. He had 2nd-career TD on a 19-yd reception; had 4 catches for 70 yards vs. GSU. The Runners
The Vols will complement their passing attack with a three headed attack at tail back. Rajion Neal (5-11, 211, Jr.) is the likely starter with Devrin Young (5-8, 172, So.) and Marlin Lane (5-11, 205, So.) providing depth. Neal has tallied 118 yards and two touchdowns in two games this season and has the ability to catch the ball as he started three games at receiver a year ago. Young is the scat back and had a career-high 46 rushing yards vs. Georgia State and also had 11 receiving yards. Lane is the most experienced of the backs and has gained 106 yards on 17 carries in the first two games this season. As a true freshman in 2011 he ran for 280 yards and had 17 catches for 161 yards. Lane may be in the dog house after fumbling the ball last week. Ben Bartholomew (6-2, 252, Sr.) is the starting fullback and he is more blocker than anything. He has yet to rush the ball and didn't last year after starting seven games at the position. He did have six catches for 54 yards in 2011 however. A seasoned offensive line…
As Florida returns a veteran offensive line with 80 starts among the group, Tennessee returns an even more seasoned offensive line with 106 career starts among the unit before the start of the 2012 season. Left guard Dallas Thomas (6-5, 310, Sr.) and right tackle Ja'Juan James (6-6, 323, Jr.) each have 27 career starts to their name. Thomas is a preseason first team All-SEC selection and started the last two seasons at left tackle. James is a preseason 2nd team all-SEC selection.
Thomas is a very talented lineman that switched positions
Right guard Zach Fulton (6-5, 324, Jr.) earned offensive lineman of the week honors in the SEC last week and has started 19 of the last 21 games at right giard for the Vols.
Center James Stone (6-3, 310, Jr.) has 17 starts to his name. He had a rough game snapping the ball a year ago in the Florida game. He now snaps the ball right handed and shotgun snaps left handed (his natural hand).
Left tackle Antonio Richardson (6-6, 329, So.) is the least experienced of the unit and started his first game two weeks ago. He was able to come in and take the left tackle position and allow them to move seasoned LT Dallas Thomas to guard.
Bottom line on the Vol offense…
It is a high octane passing attack with real athletic weapons and an offensive line that is adapt at pass protection. They can beat you big and fast in the passing game.
However, the running game at Tennessee is suspect. None of the runners scare you and the offensive line as big as they are, are better pass blockers than they are run blockers.
The Florida defense is built to stop the run, but their secondary is also big and physical and I believe is a great matchup against this offense. Even with a limited number of sacks, Florida has shown they will get to the quarterback against two teams that actually were quick throwing teams and not really easy to get sacked.
The key really is going to be if Florida can get to quarterback bray and force him to do some things he doesn't want to and they need to do it with four or maybe five man rushes. This will set the tone for this side of the ball.
As big as the Vols are on offense they may be comparatively bigger on defense. They have size at all levels of the defense and are built much like the Gators, to stop the run. They will run a 4-3 or a 3-4 and have the athletes to run both.
Defensive has size, lacks major college experience…
Both defensive ends, Darrington Sentimore (6-2, 288, Jr.) and 44 Maurice Couch (6-2, 295, Jr.), are junior college transfers and are all about size. Nose guard Daniel McCullers (6-6, 377, Jr.) is a massive talent that is there to totally eat up space. Scary to look at, this all JuCo line has to scare the Volunteer staff until they get some game time under their belt.
Linebackers are the strength…
The JACK is manned by Jacques Smith (6-2, 244, Jr.) and is the Vol answer to the BUCK position at Florida. The JACK will play at the line of scrimmage some and rush the passer or the position will be called to play in space as a linebacker at times.
A year ago Smith finished ninth on the team in tackles including 7.5 tackles for loss and started eight games at defensive end. With a change in coordinators, he is playing the new position.
Florida and Tennessee were in a real recruiting battle for SAM linebacker Curt Maggitt (6-3, 240, So.) a couple of years ago. Maggit was a huge player for the Vols in his freshman year in 2011 starting eight games in a very productive rookie year. He played big in the season opener against NC State, but missed last week with a toe injury. Maggitt is expected back for the game against the Gators.
The Gators and Vols also tussled on the recruiting trail for middle linebacker A.J. Johnson (6-3, 240, So.). Johnson is on the Butkus Award Watch List and a Preseason All-SEC Third Team linebacker. Johnson led all SEC Freshmen in tackles with 80 in 2011 and that is the second-most by a UT frosh all-time.
Johnson is a big time player at linebacker.
Weak side linebacker Herman Lathers (6-0, 230, Sr.) is expected to start against the Gators after he missed last week with a shoulder injury. He missed all of the 2011 season with an ankle injury and made five tackles in return to action vs. NC State before injuring his shoulder.
Secondary coming on strong?
The Vol pass defense currently has a Pass Efficiency ranking of 13th nationally. Of course that is with two opponents of the caliber they won't face the rest of the year. Still, the group has great size at cornerback with Marsalis Teague (5-11, 182, Sr.) and Prentiss Waggner (6-2, 182, Sr.) the latter being a 2nd team Preseason All-SEC Team member. They also have two safeties that lead the team in tackles so far in 2012. Free safety Brian Randolph (6-0, 195, So.) has 15 tackles in two games and leads the team and right behind him is strong safety Byron Moore (6-0, 193, Jr.) with 13.
Teague had his first career interception in the season opener after starting eight games a year ago. Waggner had his eighth in the same game. Randolph was a freshman all-American a year ago. Moore had his first interception as a Vol in the season opener as well.
Bottom line on the Vol defense…
Something doesn't add up with such a huge front seven and the safeties making all of the tackles and collecting five interceptions in the first two games. It tells me the Vols are big but not all that athletic and fast up front.
The top three players on defense are probably Johnson, Maggitt, and Waggner and all three are pretty seasoned by now even though the first two are just true sophomores. If Mike Gillislee is good to go for the game I think the gators can really do some damage against the Vols. If he isn't a lot of Trey Burton in the ‘wildcat' and Driskel getting into the running game should likely be in the play rotation.
The secondary seems like a strength, but it was a liability last year and until the first two games this year. Florida is still in the process of growing in the passing game, but may just have to test this secondary to see what they are all about.
Place kicker Derrick Brodus (5-11, 188, Jr.) has won the job over scholarship kicker Michael Palardy. Brodus has a unique story in that he is the kid that Tennessee called at home a year ago when they were playing Middle Tennessee State because they needed a kicker and he wasn't on the active roster before the game. He proceeded to kick a 21 yard field goal and three PAT's in the game.
Punter Matt Darr (6-1, 213, So.) doesn't wow you with his 38.6 yard average. A year ago he averaged 38.1 yards but landed 10 inside the 20 yard line.
Kick returner Devrin Young (5-8, 172, So.) has been busy since last season. He returned 27 kicks a year ago which means teams were scoring a lot on the Vols, and he racked up 673 return yards on the 27 kicks. The Vols actually put two guys back and include Cordarrelle Patterson in the mix. He does scare with his size and speed and already has a 61 yard kick return against Georgia State this season. He finished with 106 kick return yards in the game.
Young is also the punt returner and has returned all of eight punts in his one year plays on campus. His long was 46 yards last week against Georgia State.
Bottom line on the Vol Special Teams…
Plenty of experience on special teams but Patterson is really the only one that should scare you. They split the deep kick offs, so I would kick away from him.