One of the SEC’s great rivalries will be on display this weekend when the no. 20 Florida Gators visit the no. 11 Tennessee Volunteers.
The Volunteers have just one win over Florida in the last 17 head-to-head meetings, with the Gators winning the last four meetings by double digits. However, it’s Tennessee that is favored by 10.5 points in this game, with the over/under set at 62.5 points.
Tennessee has surely been among the most impressive teams in the SEC thus far. The Volunteers are 3-0, including a road win over Pitt a couple of weeks ago. They also have blowup wins over Ball State and Akron.
On the other hand, there have been mixed reviews for the Gators. Florida started the season with an impressive win over Utah. But they’ve followed up that with a loss to Kentucky and a narrow win over South Florida last week with the Gators trailing midway through the fourth quarter.
The Florida rushing attack, including quarterback Anthony Richardson, has led the way for the Florida offense this year. Not only is Richardson a serious threat with his legs, but Montrell Johnson is averaging 9.6 yards per carry while Trevor Etienne is gaining 7.5 yards per carry, giving the Gators big-play ability in their running game.
However, Richardson has been a disaster throwing the ball, completing just 53% of his passes and averaging just 5.5 yards per pass while throwing no touchdown passes with four interceptions.
Naturally, that has put a fair amount of pressure on the Florida defense. The Gators did enough on that side of the ball to beat Kentucky, only to lose the game on a pick-six thrown by Richardson. But the Florida defense also gave up over 400 yards of offense against USF last week, struggling particularly against the running game, including mobile quarterback Gerry Bohanon.
On the Hook
Quarterback Hendon Hooker has been all that and more for a Tennessee offense that’s averaging 52 points per game through three games. Obviously, the level of competition can be called into question, but Hooker is averaging 9.9 yards per pass, while Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman have looked like one of the top receiving tandems in the SEC. The Vols have also showcased a solid and diverse backfield with three different running backs scoring three touchdowns this year.
Defensively, the Volunteers are still waiting to be fully challenged despite dominating MAC teams Ball State and Akron. To be fair, in Tennessee’s win over Pitt, the Vols got a stop in overtime and only allowed two scoring drives in which Pitt moved the ball more than 45 yards. However, outside of one long touchdown run early in the Pitt game, the Vols have been able to stuff the run effectively this season.
Volunteer for Victory
Florida’s schedule should have the Gators a little more prepared for a big game like this. However, the Gators have also shown far more vulnerabilities than Tennessee has early in the season, which will be a problem with Florida going on the road.
Look for the Vols to force Richardson to beat them with his arm, which will be unlikely against Hooker and the UT offense, enabling Tennessee to win and cover against their rivals.
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