If you just looked at the scoreboard last weekend and glanced at what Tennessee and Florida did, you might think the game this weekend could be a close one. But unfortunately, we are talking about two different teams on two different paths right now. Though it used to be one of the premier games of the season, this matchup between the Vols and the Gators has lately become just another game to the outsiders.
Now look, if you ask average Tennessee and Florida fans what they think of the opposing team, well you might get some feedback that’s a bit too harsh to print. There is still hatred between these two rivals, but the big-fight feel has been lost. The Vols have beaten the Gators only once since the 2004 season. In fact, Florida has won the past four games by a combined 72 points, so it hardly has national implications, aside from the Gators’ Playoff chances. According to FanDuel.com, the Gators are currently 19.5 point favorites.
But for Tennessee, well, they’re trying to install a different type of offense under new head coach Josh Heupel, the type of offense that can get the Vols on the scoreboard quickly and get fans excited. The loss to Pittsburgh two weeks ago didn’t help, especially as the Vols had multiple chances to take the lead or even win the game. That loss looks even worse now that Pitt lost to Western Michigan on Saturday. But this program in Knoxville is going to take time to rebuild, however much some fans may want it to happen over night. We are living in a different era of this rivalry, and it will take time to restore it to its former glory.
On the other hand, Florida looked like a football team that has finally woken up. The crowd in Gainesville rose to their feet on every defensive play against Alabama last Saturday. There may be a change in the wind for Gator Nation after all. But was this a one-time deal, or is this Dan Mullen team for real? That’s the question they must answer this coming Saturday against Tennessee. The defensive performance in the 2nd half should be a real shot in the arm for the Gators, but doing it twice in a row against a competitive team could be difficult.
Josh Heupel knows exactly what his guys will face in a few days. He described the Florida defense as “big, long, athletic and violent on the line of scrimmage.”
I am really hoping to see both of these teams at full strength, but particularly Tennessee. Is QB Joe Milton healthy enough to play? Will the Vols have center Cooper Mays and RB Jabari Small? Answers to these questions will define what kind of team gets off the bus in Gainesville. Josh Heupel was non-committal on the starting quarterback this week.
“I never speak in hypotheticals. We will find out on Tuesday or Wednesday at practice if he will be able to play or not.”
As for Florida, Dan Mullen was optimistic about Anthony Richardson playing this week.
“We went to get an MRI yesterday and he was ahead of where we thought he would be, which was really positive for next week,” Mullen said.
So, here we are, it’s Florida vs Tennessee on Saturday night. Can the Vols take a step in the right direction by playing this game close or even shocking the college football world with the upset? Or will Florida capitalize on its performance against Alabama and put the Vols away by the 3rd quarter?
We’ll know soon enough.