Devil's advocate

Check out this season's third edition of InsideTennessee's Devil's Advocate series in which two staff members break down why their assigned team will win on Saturday.

We at InsideTennessee.com love a good debate. That's why we believe you'll enjoy Devil's Advocate, in which two staff members take opposing sides on each Tennessee football game. Each week one staffer will present evidence showing why the Vols should win/beat the spread, while the other will offer a spirited rebuttal.

Here are the Game 3 arguments:

WHY Florida WILL PREVAIL

by Randy Moore

I was at The Swamp in 1995 when Tennessee played the finest 29 minutes of football I've ever witnessed. Peyton Manning and the Vols rolled to a 30-14 lead and appeared ready to crush fourth-ranked Florida. Steve Spurrier's Gators scored a touchdown mere seconds shy of halftime, however, that got the fans fired up. Then, spurred by the noisiest crowd I've ever heard, Florida scored touchdowns on its first six possessions of the second half and rolled 62-37 over a UT squad that followed 29 minutes of the best football I ever saw with 31 minutes of the worst football I ever saw.

I was at The Swamp again in 2001. Tennessee got off to another hot start, jumping to a 14-0 first-quarter lead. The fifth-ranked Vols went on to dominate the trenches for 60 minutes, outrushing the Gators 242-36 yards. Even so, Tennessee had to thwart a two-point conversion pass in the final minute to hold on for a 34-32 victory.

I offer this history lesson for those who insist, "Tennessee just needs a good start in Gainesville to take Florida's fans out of the game."

The Big Orange had a great start in '95, playing 29 minutes of brilliant football, but still suffered a one-sided loss. The Big Orange had another great start in '01 but still won by a mere whisker.

My point is this: You can take Gator fans out of the game for a while but not for a whole contest. One miscue by the visiting team or one big play by the home team raises the Florida Field decibel level to that of a highway crew employing a dozen jackhammers at once.

And, should Tennessee get off to a poor start Saturday in Gainesville, things could get really ugly really fast. Florida bolted to a 28-6 first-half lead in the 2007 meeting and annihilated the Vols 59-20.

Granted, Florida isn't as invincible at home as it used to be. LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina all won at The Swamp in 2010. It should be noted, however, that all three were superior rushing teams who kept the Gator crowd relatively subdued by playing run-oriented, ball-control football.

The 2011 Vols are not a superior rushing team. They are not even an average rushing team. They must throw the football to win. Tyler Bray will throw for a bunch of yards Saturday in Gainesville but, eventually, he'll throw an interception. And, when he does, the noise at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will become deafening and the Gators will become energized.

I've seen this movie before, and I know how it ends.

WHY BRAY & CO. WILL PREVAIL

Crowd noise doesn't put points on the board. Having an offensive coordinator with Super Bowl rings won't put Florida in the end zone. Tim Tebow is out of eligibility. Steve Spurrier coaches at South Carolina.

All facts. All are irrelevant factors used by those picking the Gators.

The facts that Tennessee hasn't beaten its divisional rival since 2004 and hasn't won in Gainesville since 2003 … you guessed it … also irrelevant.

To get to the most obvious cut-and-dry of this one, all Tennessee has to do is score more points than this Florida team.

So, looking into present day, predicting the outcome of this one is no simple task with so many freshmen and sophomores being asked to contribute on both sides.

When that's the case, take a look at the more dominant aspects of both and the kicking game.

Is it a concern that Tennessee kicker Michael Palardy's career long field goal is 39 yards? Yes. Is it a concern that he and Matt Darr are averaging just 36.8 yards per punt this season? Definitely.

Florida has one of the more dominant special teams units in the country and has the advantage in that department on paper.

Watch out for that.

However, in terms of dominance, the Vol passing game is just that — dominant.

No sense in being a hypocrite in pointing at statistics from quarterback Tyler Bray's 6-1 record as a starter, but the sophomore has chemistry with wideouts Justin Hunter and Da' Rick Rogers and it's extremely hard to defend unmatched athleticism when the ball is in the air and arriving on time and with precision.

Look for those factors to get points on the board for the visiting team and carry it past Florida.


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