KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee and Florida has become an early fall classic, albeit, a one-sided rivalry of late.
The Gators have won 11 straight against the Vols rolling into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. matchup at Neyland Stadium (TV: CBS).
Tennessee has a nine-game win streak dating back to last season, but the No. 14-ranked Vols (3-0) have sputtered in each of their three wins this season.
Florida, also 3-0 and ranked No. 19, features the country’s top-rated defense after opening with one of the weaker schedules in the country.
Here are five questions with SEC Country Gators beat writer Zach Abolverdi about this season’s edition of the Florida football team entering into Saturday’s SEC East Division showdown:
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident do the Florida coaches and players seem this week?
ZA: I’d put it at an “8.” Some of the players, most recently cornerback Quincy Wilson, have guaranteed a win over the Vols. You’d think their confidence would be a bit subdued with the loss of starting quarterback Luke Del Rio (knee sprain), but the team is confident in graduate transfer Austin Appleby and his experience in hostile environments on the road.
Q: Who is the Gators most indispensable player on offense? On defense?
ZA: Star wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who is questionable for this game with a quad injury. I have a hard time seeing him sit out, but if he can’t go that would be a big blow for the offense. The player they can’t lose defensively is linebacker Alex Anzalone, who missed last year’s Tennessee game after a season-ending shoulder injury. He’s been an upgrade for Florida at his position and serves as the quarterback of the defense.
Q: What is the key statistic for Florida to focus on in this game?
ZA: Rushing yards. Prior to 2015, the team with the most had won the last 12 games. The Gators need to lean on their rushing attack — especially with a new QB under center — and try to contain Tennessee’s on the ground. Florida has the nation’s No. 2 rush defense this season, but Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd both rushed for more than 100 yards in last year’s game.
Q: What are the Gators strengths and weaknesses on offense?
ZA: Florida’s four-headed monster at running back is not only the strength of the offense, but UF coach Jim McElwain has called it the strongest unit on his team. The Gators rushed for 255 and 244 yards the past two weeks. Their offensive line has improved but is still the weakest position on that side of the ball. The absence of starting right guard Tyler Jordan (eye injury) could hurt them Saturday.
Q: What is Florida’s biggest strength and weakness on defense?
ZA: Florida’s defensive strength is its secondary, which has come up with four picks this season. UF ranks No. 2 nationally in passing defense and has allowed the fewest long passing plays. The weakness is the lack of depth at linebacker. If one of the starters gets injured, the Gators will have a redshirt or true freshman filling in. The backups have played well to this point, but their inexperience is a concern.