Devil's Advocate

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of punch/counter punch — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart choose their sideline and make their cases for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.



Many observers believe Florida is an offensive juggernaut in 2007 because it hammered Western Kentucky 49-3 and Troy 59-31 in its first two games.

Sorry, but I'm not ready to board that bandwagon. History tells me not to.

Florida looked like an offensive juggernaut when it opened the 2005 season by trouncing Wyoming 32-14 and Louisiana Tech 41-3. The Gators looked like mere mortals in Game 3, however, managing just one touchdown in a 16-7 defeat of Tennessee.

Florida looked like an offensive juggernaut when it opened the 2006 season by blasting Southern Miss 34-7 and Central Florida 42-0. The Gators looked like mere mortals in Game 3, however, needing two late TDs to nip Tennessee 21-20.

It's true that Florida coach Urban Meyer has a perfect 2-0 record against Tennessee. But his spread-option offense has been noticeably imperfect against the Vols, averaging a modest 18.5 points in those two meetings.

Oh, wait ... I forgot: The 2007 Gators have Tim Tebow, who was America's top-rated quarterback prospect as a high school senior in 2005. He's almost as heralded as predecessor Chris Leak, who was America's top-rated quarterback prospect as a high school senior in 2002.

Leak managed 16 points against the Vols as a junior and 21 more as a senior, so it makes perfect sense that a SOPHOMORE like Tebow will torch the Vols for 45 or so Saturday afternoon in Gainesville. Right?

Of course not. History tells us that Florida piles up points against cupcakes in early September, then struggles to score when it faces Tennessee.

Here's some more background:

The 2003 Gators were averaging 55.3 points through their first three games, then lost 24-10 at home to Tennessee in Game 4. The 2004 Gators scored 49 points in their opener, then lost 30-28 to Tennessee in Game 2.

Do you notice a pattern?

OK, here's the deal: Florida beat Tennessee in 2005 because of a murderous defense that limited the Vols to 7 points. Florida beat Tennessee in 2006 because of a murderous defense that limited the Vols to minus-11 rushing yards. Guess what? Ten of 11 starters from that murderous defense are gone this year.

And you can forget about home-field advantage. Tennessee plays Florida better at The Swamp (2-1 in the last three meetings) than it does at Neyland Stadium (1-2 in the last three meetings).

So, let's recap:

A. Florida's offense scores a lot of points but, historically, does not score very many against Tennessee.

B. Florida's defense has 10 new starters.

C. Tennessee plays better in Gainesville than it does in Knoxville.

That's why Tennessee springs the upset. It's simple as A-B-C.



With only eight starters returning, Florida's 2007 squad is clearly different than the 2006 team that went 13-1 and won the national title. In fact, it's more dangerous offensively.

That's where the Gators return six starters including Jim Tartt, Phil Trautwein and Carlton Medder in an offensive line that averages 310 pounds. They have two former No. 1 prospects at wide receiver in Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell as well as a former top 10 quarterback at both tight end (Corneilus Ingram) and wideout (Jarred Fayson).

Of course, senior signal caller Chris Leak is gone but he's replaced by a player that presents bigger problems for a defense and is better suited to run Urban Myers spread offense.

Tim Tebow is 6-3, 240, with 4.5 speed and he can perform 25 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press. Being a southpaw Tebow flips the defense's perspective and can alter assignments. He's not a mechanically refined passer (as his arm slot can vary) but he has excellent arm strength and nice touch. His ability to run limits defensive aggression and puts the job of applying pressure squarely on the down linemen.

Keshawn Moore started seven games at running back the last two seasons and averaged more yards per carry (5.2) than the injury plagued and underachieving DeShawn Wynn. Talk about yards per carry — Harvin was Florida's second leading rusher last year with 428 yards in 34 carries for an average of 12.6 per attempt. By the way, Harvin, reportedly, runs a mind-blowing 4.22 time in the 40.

Make no mistake, the Gators are stronger offensively this year than last and they pose more potential problems than Cal because of a superior offensive line and a stronger, faster, more athletic quarterback.

The real question about Florida is on the defensive front and in the secondary. However there is no shortage of either talent or depth there. There's no shortage of coaching either as Chuck Heater is regarded by many as the best in the business. Those units have to develop cohesion which takes time.

Questions that followed defending national champion Florida into the 2007 season haven't been answered after two easy wins against low-profile programs. By the same token, the Gators haven't been forced to show more than they wanted to.

On the other hand, Tennessee's defense was stripped bare by California which exposed glaring weaknesses in the secondary and defensive front. The Vols improved last week against a Southern Miss team that lacked Cal's imagination and big-play arsenal.

When formulating a game plan for this contest Florida has an advantage, plus the Gators staff has been able to plot schemes designed to defeat UT for three weeks, while the Vols have had their hands full against stiffer competition.

The intensity of this contest will give both teams an initial adrenaline boost, but as the game progresses under a midday Florida sun Tennessee's energy reserves, already depleted from two emotional contests, may be exhausted.

Although both offenses are powerful this game will be decided by the better defense. The better defense will be decided by the better matchups and the better matchups belong to the Gators i.e. receivers vs. DBs, O-line vs. D-line and home crowd vs. visiting fans, since defense benefits most from the noise factor.

Yes, the Gators are green but they are also extremely talented and have 38 lettermen returning from the national title team that defeated LSU, Florida State, Arkansas and Ohio State. Additionally, they beat Tennessee and South Carolina by a point apiece. Ultimately, they know how to win big games and they know how to win close games against quality competition.

Can the same be said for Tennessee?

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