Vols vs Gators

For the ninth time in the last 12 years,Tennessee and Florida enter their line in the-sand rivalry game ranked in the top 10.

Tennessee is tied for No. 4 in the coaches' poll. Florida is No. 6.

The story lines abound.

Tennessee has the dean of coaches in Phillip Fulmer going against the hot-shot newcomer, Urban Meyer. Fulmer likes to pound the rock. Meyer is known as an innovator with his spread-option offense.

Tennessee is trying to become the second team since LSU (1978-82) to win three in a row in Gainesville. Florida, which has lost seven home games in four years at home, is trying to reclaim The Swamp.

The starting quarterbacks are the younger brothers of former UT quarterbacks.

Two difference makers, UT cornerback Jason Allen and Florida receiver Chad Jackson, are rivals from Alabama.

How important is this game: The winner has captured the East Division title nine times in 13 years.

Two key matchups: Tennessee?s running game against Florida's front four and Florida's passing game against the Vols' secondary.

Add to the equation a prime time kickoff on CBS and you've got all the makings of a great college game and atmosphere.

Here are the keys for Tennessee:

Guard play. Cody Douglas and Ramon Foster weren't physical against UAB. Douglas seemed to protect against injury. Foster played too tall. With Richie Gandy back at center and UT and Rob Smith at left guard, look for better guard play which will lead to a better running game. UT's offensive line outweighs Florida's front four by 50 pounds per man. That should account for some rushing yards.

Tennessee has won three of the last four games against Florida and has averaged 182 rushing in those three games. Travis Stephens had 226 in 2001. The Vols had 139 in 2003, 171 in 2004. Two years ago, the Vols' run game wore down the Florida defense. Last year, Tennessee had an 80-yard scoring drive, running on each play.

Tennessee's magic number: 175 rushing.

Tennessee's secondary. UT ranked last in the SEC in pass defense last year and is 11th after two weeks this season. But you can't put too much stock in early ratings. The litmus test is Saturday night at The Swamp.

The Vols still have an issue as strong safety. Antwan Stewart was benched at halftime after making mistakes against UAB. Florida will throw more formations at you. A bust or two could prove critical.

Cornerback Jason Allen would be better served playing safety because he could be more effective as the quarterback of the secondary and avert some alignment concerns. That's harder to do at corner.

Chris Leak passed for 286 yards and three touchdowns against UT last season. If he duplicates those numbers, Tennessee is toast.

UT must contain Florida's Ray McDonald. A converted tackle, the 285-pound McDonald has taken to the end position. He's not only fortified Florida's pass rush, the Gators have six sacks, but improved the front four by allowing Steven Harris to start at tackle.

Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders thinks McDonald is one of the SEC's elite defensive players.

``I've thought that the last couple of years,'' Sanders said. ``I remember him his true freshman year in 2003. You're like, `Wow, who is this true freshman? We've got to figure out a way to block him.' He's two years older now and he's been in the weight room for two years. He's very disruptive.''

Wide receivers must make plays. Rick Clausen said before the season that UT has the nation's best receiving corps. It's time to put up or shut up. Wideouts dropped four passes against UAB and didn't do much after the catch. That won't cut it against Florida. UT has a big advantage with 6-3, 6-4 receivers going against corners that are 5-8 and 5-11.

Vols must answer. At some point, Florida will seize the momentum. How will Tennessee respond? If UT doesn't make a key play on offense or defense to silence the crowd, then the Vols could face a decisive run.

Here's a look at a unit-by-unit breakdown of the Tennessee-Florida game

Quarterback: Florida's Chris Leak led the SEC in passing last year and is off to a strong start. Rick Clausen is making his sixth career start spanning four seasons. Erik Ainge should see playing time coming off the bench. Edge: Florida

Running backs: Gerald Riggs had 1,107 rushing yards last season. DeShawn Wynn has been an underachiever, but he's a talent. Edge: UT

Wide receivers: Chad Jackson could be headed toward a 100-catch season. Andre Caldwell and Dallas Baker are gifted. The Vols might have more depth, but UT's wideouts haven?t been as productive as the Gators. Edge: Florida.

Offensive line: Tennessee has three All-SEC caliber players up front. Florida has two. UT has a better run blocking line but can also pass protect. Edge: UT.

Defensive line: UT might have the best pair of defensive tackles in the SEC and the Vols are solid at end. Ray McDonald is a disruptor. Edge: UT.

Linebackers: Tennessee has two All-SEC types in Kevin Simon, who didn't play that well against UAB, and Omar Gaither. Talented freshman Jerod Mayo will start for injured senior Jason Mitchell. Florida's trio of Earl Everett, Todd McCollough and Brandon Siler is very good. Edge: Even.

Secondary: The Vols have an All-American in Jason Allen, but this unit was last in the SEC in pass defense last year, and it's young. Florida has a 5-8 corner but two nice players in Jarvis Herring and Dee Webb. Florida's offense will challenge UT's defensive backs more than UT's offense will challenge the Gators' secondary. Edge: Florida.

Special teams: UT's James Wilhoit hit the game-winner against Florida last year, while Florida has missed two extra points in the first two games. Florida has a top-notch punter in Eric Wilbur going against freshman Britton Colquitt. Florida gets the nod on kick returns, UT on punt returns. Edge: Tennessee.

Intangibles: UT has won two in a row at Florida Field. The Gators are hell-bent on reclaiming The Swamp. A late-night game should have fans at a frenzy. Edge: Florida.

The tally: 4-4-1.

The score: Florida 30, Tennessee 27.


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