No-passing zone

Throwing an errant pass into Florida's secondary is kind of like throwing a juicy T-bone into a pack of Dobermans. You know it's doomed; you just don't know who'll wind up with it.

The Gators have intercepted eight passes through the first two games of 2010. That's two more than anyone else in college football and twice as many as anyone else in the Southeastern Conference. Moreover, Florida has returned two of its interceptions for touchdowns.

This has to be a huge concern for a Tennessee team that trailed Oregon just 20-13 last Saturday until a third-quarter "pick six" opened the floodgates to an eventual 48-13 loss.

Vol quarterback Matt Simms, who threw that fateful interception, knows he must show better judgment vs. the ball-hawking Gators than he did against the Ducks.

"Obviously, my turnover really hurt us a lot and started turning the tide over to their side," he said. "Hey, that's my fault. I've got to learn from that mistake. If I take a sack in that situation, maybe we kick a long field goal and we're only down four points.

"That's something I've got to learn from, and I've got to learn quick."

Truer words were never spoken.

Senior safety Ahmad Black has three of Florida's eight interceptions thus far. Junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins has two. Sophomore cornerback Jeremy Brown, sophomore linebacker Jonathan Bostic and senior defensive end Justin Trattou have one each. Jenkins has a 67-yard touchdown return and Trattou a 35-yard touchdown return.

The talent and speed of Florida defenders is so imposing that Simms isn't at all surprised by their eight interceptions.

"It's the Florida Gators," he said. "They're going to do stuff like that. My job is just to prepare as much as I can and make sure I don't turn the ball over like that."

Although Florida's secondary talent is superb, the Gators also have a front four that can collapse the pocket and linebackers who excel in coverage. That makes for a strong pass defense.

"It's all of those things put together," Simms said. "They've been winning for so long that they just find ways to make plays. That's something they've learned over time from all the victories they've had. They're not used to losing, and that's probably why they're able to make big plays when they need to."

Derek Dooley faces quite a dilemma this weekend. The Vols' head man said following the Oregon loss that his team must "hit some plays throwing the ball" to relieve the pressure on its ground game. Throwing the ball is not an attractive option, however, when a Florida defender is more likely to catch it than the intended receiver.

"What the other team does affects our game plan every week," Dooley conceded, "so we're going to be seeing why they're creating those interceptions and what we can do to not put ourselves in that position."

Tennessee had better than a 2-to-1 ratio of runs (23) to passes (11) in the first half of the Oregon game. Because the Ducks grabbed a 14-point lead in the third quarter, Tennessee relied on more passes (18) than runs (13) after intermission.

Given Florida's penchant for picks, Dooley might be inclined toward a 5-to-1 run/pass ratio this weekend. Then again, maybe not. The coach says he respects the Gators' pass defense but does not fear it.

"It'll affect us but it's not going to affect us to where we're scared to do anything," Dooley said. "It's really more about being sound in what you're doing, not being reckless and making dumb mistakes."


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