Florida-No. 11 Tennessee Breakdown & Prediction

Breakdown & Prediction

by Zack Weiss
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Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

Inside the Gators Zack Weiss and Mark Wheeler take a closer look at Saturday’s match-up between Florida and No. 11 Tennessee including thoughts on how important this game is for the Gators’ season, Billy Napier and the line play, as well as offering up a score prediction.

What would a win mean for Florida’s season going forward?

Weiss: A win would mean there is no concrete ceiling for this team — quite yet. A win would mean there’s potential; there’s a chance. Potential to do what? A chance to do what? I’m not exactly sure right now. Time will tell. But, really, this question is more about what a loss would mean. Because to be frank, a loss would mean this team has a concrete ceiling, one that’s eerily similar to last year’s — a bowl game. A loss would mean there’s no potential for more, no chance to “shock the world,” as they say. A win would give the Gators’ faithful hope and something to be legitimately excited about. A win would justify the argument that the Utah game was nothing more than a rocky first outing. A win would justify the argument that this team is only on the rise going forward. A win would justify the Orange & Blue, Billy Napier in his second year at the helm, to move forward with unimpeachable confidence.

Wheeler: Realistically, at this point, Florida isn’t a contender for NY6 Bowl type of season. However, a win on Saturday could set the Gators on a path to an eight/nine-win, top half of the SEC East, Outback Bowl kind of year. A loss, especially if it is in such a way that it portends more to come, would be a huge blow for a fanbase that still has legitimate questions as to what Billy Napier brings to the table as a game-day coach.

How important is this game for Billy Napier?

Weiss: Let’s not say hot seat; let’s be fair here. Billy Napier’s on the warm seat. At least, in the minds of some fans he is. A loss this weekend, starting year two at 1-2, especially if it’s a rough one, after there’s been such high hope coming out of the offseason, would heat that seat up just a few degrees higher. A win, especially if it’s a somewhat impressive one, would cool it down a whole lot. For all the aforementioned reasons, a win here would be insurmountably important for Billy Napier. It’d be his biggest win since game uno vs. Utah last year. This may sound intense, but guess what? That’s because the game will be. The game should be. The pressures on — for both teams and for both coaches. Napier’s got something to prove, and this weekend’s the perfect opportunity to do it.

Wheeler: Not to give into hyperbole here, but I do believe that this is the most important game of the Billy Napier era for several reasons. First and foremost, despite their lofty ranking, which early in the season is based mostly on last year’s accomplishments, Tennessee looks incredibly beatable this year. For Napier, who is zero-for-Gainesville (0-4) against Florida’s four annual traditional rivals, this could be his best chance to steal a win against a rival and a ranked team (where he is but 1-6 against the AP Top 25). A win gives the team (and fanbase) a boost here in the first ¼ of the season, while a loss would be more of the same from what we’ve seen from Napier to this point on the field.

Tennessee is No. 1 in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss. How important is it for the Gators’ O-line hold up?

Weiss: It’s everything. The Gators’ offensive line will decide this game. If Florida can’t move the sticks, they can’t win; and Tennessee’s front seven is intimidating. But if the Orange & Blue can hold up just enough to give Graham Mertz time to get it out quickly, and if they can create just enough space for Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne to find holes, they can absolutely win this ball game. The Vols’ offense is by no means something to scoff at, but they don’t necessarily dominate in any one area. And the Florida defense appears improved. So, for the Gators, it’s all about getting to that next first down — which will fall on the shoulders of that colossal offensive line.

Wheeler: Looking at the quality of their two opponents to date, I’m taking some of these numbers with a grain of salt. Having said that, I’m more concerned with how Florida’s defensive line matches up with an incredibly experienced (the Volunteers start four seniors and a junior) and oversized (they go 320, 310, 305, 325, and 315 pounds from left to right across the line) offensive front five. The Gators have to go into this game with the mindset of shutting down the Vols’ running game and make Joe Milton beat them with his arm. That task becomes a little taller looking at their line compared to what Florida has upfront on defense.


Weiss: Both defenses show up, and Graham Mertz plays another efficient game, but Tennessee’s front seven prevails on the final drive. 23-17 Tennessee

Wheeler: Neither team has shown enough through the first two weeks of the season to believe that this is anything other than a toss-up. In a potentially close game, Florida’s special teams issues become problematic. However, the Swamp’s atmosphere should be enough to get the Gators over the hump. 27-24 Florida

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