Matchup: Florida

This week, Tennessee takes on Florida in Knoxville. This is our take on this Vols vs Gators matchup. Before this season, I thought Florida would beat Tennessee. After Tennessee whipped California, I thought Tennessee would beat Florida. After Vol defensive stars Inky Johnson and Justin Harrell were injured, I leaned toward picking Florida. Now, I'm confused.

Harrell is back. He'll play one game with a ruptured bicep tendon before having surgery. That will give Tennessee a huge emotionally lift, even if the Vols don't know if he'll play five or 50 snaps.

But there is another element of the unknown about this key SEC matchup between No. 7 Florida and 13th-ranked Tennessee: The quarterbacks.

Florida's Chris Leak needs 27 yards to surpass Danny Wuerffel as the Gators' all-time leading passer. But he's got much farther to go when compared to Wuerffel in the eyes of the Gator Nation. Wuerffel won four SEC titles and a national championship. Leak hasn't won an SEC crown, and he's 7-7 against Top 25 opponents, not an impressive resume. Moreover, he often hasn't played well against tough teams.

You've got to wonder if Leak is feeling the pressure to win a ring.

Ainge has gone from a mental meltdown to monumental success. He leads the nation in passing efficiency after a horrific rating of 89.9 last year. He already has more touchdown passes this season than all of last year. He's passing with zip and accuracy, and making good decisions – most of the time.

But he hasn't been sacked. He's hardly been pressured. That won't be the case against Florida on Saturday night. Ainge will be get hit, he'll have pass rushers in his face. He might be confounded by Florida's blitz package.

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe is eager to see how Ainge responds.

``His challenge is, under pressure and duress, don't lose your mechanics,'' Cutcliffe said. ``Don't lose the things you've done to this point.''

Before this season, Leak had a decided advantage over Ainge. Now, I'm not so sure. Ainge at home v. Leak on the road is a close call.

In 2004, Ainge rallied the Vols to a 30-28 victory by completing 16 of 24 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns. Leak was 22 of 31 for 286 yards and three scores.

It was pretty even then. It's pretty even now.

Here's a position by position breakdown of UT and Florida

The team that has won the rushing battle has won 14 of the last 16 games. Neither team had 250 total yards in last year's defensive struggle, which turned on a couple of UT special team blunders.

Tennessee doesn't have to make big plays in special teams, just avoid the bad ones. A fumbled punt return and botched fourth-down pass by Colquitt were killers. The Vols also must rush for about 100 yards while limiting Florida to about 75. If Florida runs well, Leak will hurt the Vols with play-action passes. Last season, the Vols sacked Leak five times and held him to 179 passing yards.

Four key players for UT in this game: Ainge, Meachem, Hardesty and Morley.

One other thing: The offensive line that plays the best helps its team win.
Game #: 1119
Site: Knoxville
Date: Sep. 16
Conference: SECE
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Gators - Meyer


Vols

Gators
OLCOMMENTSOL

Florida lost four starters and none made an NFL camp. UT lost four starters and all four were in an NFL camp. Each line has done well but UT's was outstanding against Cal.

QB'sCOMMENTSQB's

Leak is off to a fast start, hitting 68 percent of his passes for 600 yards and seven touchdowns in a more pass friendly system. True freshman Tim Tebow might see some action running the spread option. Ainge has hit 75 percent of his passes for 624 yards and seven scores. Leak gets a slight nod because he's been in more big games.

RB'sCOMMENTSRB's

Florida's DeShawn Wynn is averaging 6 yards per carry but only 48 yards per game. UT's Arian Foster (ankle) might not play, but Montario Hardesty was the top rusher against Air Force.

WR'sCOMMENTSWR's

Florida's Dallas Baker has 13 catches for 204 yards. UT's Robert Meachem has 13 catches for 297 yards. Florida's Percy Harvin has been a duo threat as a receiver (18.9 yards per catch) and runner. The Gators also have Andre Caldwell and Jamelle Cornelius. UT counters with Jayson Swain (8 for 139), Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers.


Vols

Gators
DLCOMMENTSDL

Florida's starters – Marcus Thomas, Joe Cohen, Ray McDonald, Jarvis Moss – rank with the SEC's best. The Vols counter with Turk McBride, an injured Justin Harrell and defensive ends still finding their way.

LB'sCOMMENTSLB's

The Gators have a pair of All-SEC talents in Brandon Siler and Earl Everett, but the third linebacker spot is suspect. UT's linebackers have played well, especially Jerod Mayo and Ryan Karl, although they allowed too many rushing yards against Air Force.

DB'sCOMMENTSDB's

Florida boasts Reggie Lewis, Reggie Nelson Tony Joiner and Utah transfer Ryan Smith. Despite losing Inky Johnson, the Vols are solid with Jonathan Hefney and Jonathan Wade at the corners and Demetrice Morley and Antwan Stewart at the safeties.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

UT kicker James Wilhoit and punter Britton Colquitt rate slightly ahead of Florida kicker Chris Hetland and punter Eric Wilbur. Neither team has done much in the return game.


Vols

Gators
INTANGIBLES

UT appeared to have reclaimed home-field advantage with a rout of Cal. Meyer hasn't won a big road game yet. Vols will get inspiration from Harrell taking the field and will have added motivation to win one for Inky Johnson.

PREDICTION

Tennessee 24, Florida 20.


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