(1) THE RUN:
Stopping it and establishing it are the most important keys to Saturday's outcome. It's no secret that 12 of the last 14 games have gone to the to ground leader in this contest. Tennessee to put the game in the hands of its backs to take pressure off it's young quarterbacks.
Tennessee needs to gain at least 150 yards on the ground to balance the offense and open the play-action pass. Play-action is the fulcrum from which UT's gets it's lift but it only works when the run does.
Taking the run away from Florida will force the Gators to pass their way into the end zone, a feat that becomes exponentially more difficult the closer one gets to pay dirt. If 80 percent of the Gators' offense is through the air, it means they aren't controlling the ball, field position or the clock.
In short: Leak could pass for 300 yards and it won't likely be enough without 110 yards on the ground. Tennessee was 6-0 last season when holding teams to under 110 yards rushing, beating Fresno State, Marshall, Florida, Miami, Mississippi State and Kentucky.
In UT's three losses, the defense gave up an average of 201 yards per game on the ground. The Vols were also forced to go into overtime twice for wins last season after surrendering 217 yards to South Carolina and 258 against Alabama. Marshall passed for 294 yards in its loss while Florida passed for 281 yards, but they rushed for only 88 and 73 yards, respectively.
(2) KICKING GAME:
There's no getting around the hidden yards of the kicking game when calculating a team's chances for victory. The Vols have the best collegiate punter in America and a very talented field goal kicker that can keep the Gators backed up and forced to play a long field.
Many breaks come in the kicking game as well because players are flying around the football full force and from every angle. The more hang time Colquitt and Wilhoit get the better because Vols can get numbers around the ball and pressure returners into mistakes.
UT has had a tendency to get out of its lanes on kick coverage in recent years and has given up a ton of return yards. This has to be corrected and putting it in the end zone eliminates the problem all together.
The Vols hope to spring at least one big return against Florida. A long punt return creates a huge momentum change following a stop on defense. Ditto for kickoffs, as it is an immediate response to a score or a great way to grab momentum at the beginning of a game or a half. Jonathan Hefney displays the ability to be an exciting and productive return specialist.
Getting pressure on the passer is critical. If the Vols can get push up the middle it will open a lot blitz opportunities which can be well disguised and effectively deployed. Because UT will see a lot of shot gun formations with quick reads and short passes, the corners ability to play press coverage is an equally vital component to the pressure package.
The more pressure Tennessee can get with its four down linemen the less it will need to rely on the blitz and the more defenders it can have in coverage.
Another under appreciated aspect of the pressure package is CROWD NOISE drowning out the quarterback's signals. If forced to go without a count the offense loses a lot of it's advantage and the more antsy the O-line will be picking up the rush ends and blitzers.
It also makes it very tough for the quarterback to audible effectively.
Coming out on the plus side of this stat is a hallmark of championship teams. Coming out of the minus side is the trait most common to losing teams. Enough said.
(5) GET PHYSICAL:
Tennessee shouldn't squander a single chance to send this message to the Gators. In 1999 at Gainesville, Florida hit Tee Martin late in the first series of the game and picked up a 15-yard penalty, but the Gators also established a tone that prevailed throughout the game. Likewise, the crushing shot landed by Vol linebacker Eddie Moore in 2001 established UT's edge as the game's aggressor.