KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No more talk. No more clutter. It’s finally time for Florida and Tennessee to settle things on the field. We’ll find out if a duck can pull a truck on Saturday.
Last week, I batted 3-for-5 on predictions. Not bad, but I need to do better. In the words of Butch Jones: “it’ll get fixed.”
On the eve of the biggest game of Jones’ career, here are five predictions for No. 14 Tennessee vs. No. 19 Florida (3:30 p.m., CBS).
1. Will Derek Barnett record a sack?
Definitely. Tennessee’s All-American pass rusher lived in Ohio’s backfield last Saturday. He was credited with just a pair of hurries, but he impacted way more plays than that. In his career, the junior has 3 TFLs and a sack vs. Florida. Barnett will face a true freshman tackle or underwhelming junior offensive tackle David Sharpe. Expect him to eat.
2. How many times will Josh Dobbs run the football?
He probably needs at least 15 carries for Tennessee to win Saturday. The Volunteers offense is Jekyll and Hyde when Dobbs decides to run or not. According to David Wunderlich, Tennessee has scored touchdowns on 80 percent of its drives in 2016 when Dobbs tallies at least two carries. Last season, he torched UF on the ground for 136 yards. Florida missed upwards of 25 tackles in the matchup last season. Dobbs needs to run Tennessee to a win.
3. Will OC Mike DeBord open up the playbook?
He better. This is a kitchen-sink game for Tennessee. Nothing should be left in the holster. I expect lots of formations with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara in the backfield together. More targets for Jason Croom and Ethan Wolf. Perhaps some single-back formations under center and maybe a gadget play or two?
4. Can the Volunteers force quarterback Austin Appleby into mistakes?
Probably. Appleby has as many touchdowns (19) as interceptions (19) in his career. To kickstart 2015, the former Purdue quarterback tossed a pair of pick-sixes at Marshall — both to the same guy. I’m sure Jim McElwain will protect Appleby with a smart, conservative gameplan, but the veteran quarterback was benched for a reason last season.
5. Will Tennessee snap its 11-game losing streak?
Yes. I don’t say it with any real confidence, though. Ultimately, Tennessee facing a backup quarterback for the third time in four years proves to be the difference.