Through two games Florida has gotten precisely two-thirds of its points (48 of 72) following takeaways. Clearly, ball security will be Job 1 for Tennessee when the Vols host the 10th-ranked Gators today at 3:30. If the Big Orange throws interceptions it is doomed. If the Big Orange coughs up fumbles it is doomed.
Tennessee has surrendered two interceptions and one fumble through its first two games. The fumble came on special teams and one of the two picks was thrown by a backup quarterback at mop-up time. The one turnover committed by the first-team offense was a killer, however. Matt Simms threw a Game 2 interception that Oregon returned for a back-breaking third-quarter touchdown.
Simms must make sound decisions for Tennessee to have a chance to beat Florida. Although the Gator secondary is enormously gifted, the team's NCAA-leading eight interceptions can be traced more to offensive blunders than defensive brilliance.
"On all of the Florida interceptions I saw the quarterbacks made poor decisions," Tennessee quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said this week. "You can't do that, just hand the ball up to a team like Florida and give them turnovers like that."
Another huge key to today's game will be Tennessee's kickoff and punt coverage. That's because Florida excels in the return game.
Vol opponents are averaging 28.0 yards on punt returns, thanks largely to an 80-yard return by Oregon's Kenjon Barner last weekend. This weekend the concern will be Florida's Janoris Jenkins, who had a 30-yard punt return in Game 2 vs. South Florida.
Tennessee is doing a fine job on kickoff coverage, allowing just 15.9 yards per runback. The Vols can't get complacent, however, because the Gators boast two of the NCAA's most dangerous kick returners in Jeff Demps (37.8-yard average) and Mike Gillislee (32.5-yard average).
Bottom line: If Simms makes good decisions in the passing game and Tennessee's coverage units make good tackles in the kicking game, the Vols could spring the upset.
If not, Florida's five-game winning streak in the series will stand at six by nightfall.