There’s a recipe for winning college football games, and it can vary with its ingredients depending on who’s cooking.
When it comes to the Tennessee-Florida rivalry, the winning concoction usually boils down to turnovers, field position and running the ball. Since Butch Jones took over in the midst of a decade of dominance by the Gators, the Vols have given the ball away nine times and failed to gain traction on the ground in two losses to extend Florida’s winning streak to 10 games.
The Vols need to look no further than Game Maxim 1 for the first step in claiming Tennessee’s first win since 2004.
"It's absolutely critical,” Jones said of the turnover battle. “It all boils down to Maxim 1: The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. We talk about that every day.”
In last year’s contest, Tennessee split the turnovers with Florida at three apiece but failed to capitalize on those takeaways for points. In a 31-17 shellacking in Gainesville in 2013, the Vols turned it over six times after freshman Nathan Peterman entered the game and threw three interceptions in a 17-minute span.
In this game, where Tennessee matches up to Florida in talent and takeaway ability, the key will be in forcing mistakes from starting quarterback Will Grier to give the offense field position it can work with against a skilled Florida defense.
“We have to be able to be opportunistic, take the football away, but then also on top of that is what you do once you generate the turnover,” Jones said. “There's also sudden change offense and that was an area last year where we struggled in. Football's a game of momentum and I always talk about momentum plays. Every game comes down to two to three plays that can make the difference, but there's also momentum plays. What do you do with the momentum plays?”
Punching the ball in the end zone is obviously critical, and it starts with a solid rushing attack that eats up yards on the ground and sets the tone of the game. This will be one of the more interesting subplots in a game that has many, as Tennessee brings in a bruising run game averaging 246 yards a game — good for No. 17 nationally — against a ferocious Florida run defense ranked No. 7 in the country, giving up just 55.33 yards per game.
"Our confidence continues to gain each and every week. It's over a body of work and a period of time,” Jones said about his run game. “We have great confidence in running the football, but it is also having great patience in running the football. We are playing a very deep and explosive defensive front. Sometimes, a 2-yard gain is a good thing or the dirty yards of getting back to the line of scrimmage is good.”
Jones wants to eliminate the negative yardage plays that have haunted his team in this game and use his weapon at punter to flip field position and force Florida’s struggling offense to move the ball from as far away from its end zone as possible.
Tennessee’s Trevor Daniel is averaging 47.63 yards per punt so far in 2015 and will be a key factor in the contest.
“Field position is very, very important,” Jones said. “We started from day one of training camp of really trying to stress the importance of field position and the percentages of scoring based on field position. In a game like this, field position is critical."
Jones and his staff have laid out the recipe for success for Team 119. Now it’s up to them to create a sweet-tasting victory.
“We have a formula for winning with this football team,” Jones said. “That is why every football team is different. The formula in terms of playing winning football may not change, but the formula adapts to the personality and style of your football team."