The Volunteers have played more freshman than any team in the country, and even the returning players look better this season.
Quarterback Justin Worley hasn’t been much of a threat in the passing game during the previous years. This one has been a completely different situation. The senior threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia on Saturday and looked comfortable making throws to all levels of the field. He had nine touchdowns and three interceptions while throwing for 985 yards through the first four games this year.
Worley exited the game with an arm injury, but he returned and should be fine for the Florida game baring any setbacks.
On the ground, freshman Jalen Hurd has wasted no time taking over the backfield. Marlin Lane started the year with the first team, but Hurd is out-carrying Lane 72-39 after the first four games. The freshman rushed for 119 yards and added a touchdown against the Georgia defense on Saturday, taking 24 carries to just five for Lane. The Florida defense needs to tackle much better against the powerful Hurd.
Worley’s group of receivers are deep, boasting six different players with at least 100 receiving yards. Marquez North leads the team with 188 yards and three touchdowns, but Alton Howard, Ethan Wolf, Josh Smith, Josh Malone and Jason Croom all have between 106 and 135 receiving yards on the season. Von Pearson would likely also be in that group if not for an ankle sprain that has kept him off the field, but he could return against the Gators.
With improvement at quarterback, running back and receiver, the Tennessee offense has only been as successful as its offense line. Replacing all five starters has been tough for the inexperienced unit, and Georgia had three sacks on Saturday. Tennessee’s opponents have 12 sacks in the first four games this year.
On the other side of the ball, the lack of sacks has been an issue. However, three of the Volunteers’ eight sacks this season came against Georgia, including two from Curt Maggitt.
Senior linebacker A.J. Johnson anchors the middle of the Tennessee defense, leading the defense with 46 tackles, 11 more than second place Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Through four games, Johnson has 3.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, three pass deflections, two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and one blocked kick. He is the heart and soul of the Volunteers’ defense and can make plays all over the field.
Cornerback Cameron Sutton is also one of the best in the Southeastern Conference. He added his second interception of the season against the Bulldogs and is fifth on the team with 19 tackles. He’s also handling punt returns for Tennessee.
The Gators will head to Knoxville with plenty of questions about their kicking situation, but the Volunteers have gotten production from freshman Aaron Medley. He’s 5-7 with a long of 46 yards through the first four games.