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September 20, 2013Saturday afternoon in the heat and humidity of Gainesville, Fla. the Vols look to end an 8-game losing streak to the Gators. For Butch Jones' squad, the first question everyone has is how will team #117 bounce back after last week's 59-14 thrashing at Oregon. Florida doesn't present the offensive challenges that the Ducks presented, but the Gators' offense creates issues of their own.
Florida's offense has become more physical under head coach Will Muschamp and Florida will run it right at Tennessee. But the Gators still have the spread element with quarterback Jeff Driskel really hurt Tennessee a year ago with his feet. Last year, Driskel rushed for 81 yards on 8 carries.
And there is Trey Burton who has been a thorn in the Vols side for his entire career. Last year, Burton had 86 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground and had 2 catches for 38 yards. Tennessee must defend Burton and defend the middle of the field better than they have the last two weeks.
Up front, the Vol defense must have some young defensive tackles grow up in a hurry as they will be without both Mo' Couch and Trevarris Saulsberry in the defensive interior. Making you think that the Gators will attack the middle of the field both in the run and pass game.
For the Vol offense, the questions of how would the Vols score was debated throughout the spring and as the Vols enter SEC play the questions of who will make plays still remains. A week ago, Tennessee had one offensive play over 14 yards as little came easy. The Vol passing game is completing less than 60% of it's throws and is averaging just 137 yards a game. The results prompted Jones to declare the quarterback competition open, but expect junior Justin Worley to get the start.
"We have talked about when you run the football you can't have negative yards in our offense," Jones said. "Would I have liked to have been able to run the ball more efficiently (a week ago)? Absolutely. For us, we have to establish the line of scrimmage and this week it will be a tremendous challenge with their defensive front. They have a lot of Sunday bodies in their program, a lot of players that will play on Sunday. It will be a good test for us."
The other test again for the offense comes in converting 3rd downs and staying on the field. Florida has only giving up 2 third down conversions in 24 attempts this season.
The offenses ability to do something they haven't been able to do in a while which is run the football effectively. No Vol running back has hit the century mark on the Gators since Travis Stephens in 2001. The last time the Vols ran for over 100 yards as a team was in 2009.
A year ago, the Vols rushed for 83 yards. In 2011, Tennessee ran for -9 yards and in 2010, the ground game only produced 29 yards. With a passing game that is by no means high flying, the ground game is at a premium and the Vol offensive line knows it.
"With this game and how important the run game is going to be, we have to be physical," center James Stone said. "Their whole defensive front stands out. That's one of the strengths of their team. They really challenge the offensive line. That's something you look forward to. Having match-up's like that."
Florida's defense of the ground game has been beyond impressive. In two games the Gators have given up a total of 100 yards. Two weeks ago, Miami rushed for 49 yards in the first quarter, but only netted one yard the final three stanzas. Running the ball is Tennessee's biggest challenge Saturday in the Swamp.
For a closer look at the rest of the match-up's, check out How they match-up from Rob Lewis.
The lack of big plays for the Vol offense is the biggest area that Tennessee must improve on. Everyone knew the Vols would have a drop off in big plays with everyone who left the program after last year. But how much this offense lacks big plays is a real concern. Tennessee's offense has just 4 plays in three games of over 20 yards.
"Two big plays, that's it," Jones said of his offense at Oregon. "Those two big plays occurred on our one scoring drive in the first half, I believe the second drive, first or second drive of the game. Again, we can't play perfect. Today's world of college football, you need big plays. We didn't have big plays, big chunk yardage, and we were forced to drive the football against a talented defense like Oregon. You're not going to have much success."
MAXIM THAT MATTERS
If at first the game or the breaks go against you, don't let up - put on more steam
The question surrounding this football team remains how do they handle things in a hostile environment and how do they handle things now that they have lost a game in an ugly fashion they way they did on the west coast.
"Then you're going in to another hostile environment," Jones said earlier in the week. "So, this week our whole mental focus, our mental conditioning, if you said what's the biggest area of improvement, it's becoming a much more mentally tough football team. Proving that you can go on the road and handle all the distractions that it takes in preparation before the game, but also on game day as well.
By no means will things go according to script and having to overachieve doesn't mean you have to play perfect. To get this game into the fourth quarter and to have a chance to win, the Vols must not wilt in the heat when things go against them.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Here we take a look at the Vols' game against the Gators from the view of Florida beat writer Brian Holt of Rivals.com's Inside the Gators.
What's the Gators injury situation like, particularly on the offensive front, with a bye week to recuperate?