The Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-0) rely heavily on their running game, opting to run 69-percent of the time they possess the football through three games and averaging 221.3 yards per game on the ground.
The Florida Gators (2-1, 0-1) front seven better prepare for another game in the Southeastern Conference that will be determined in the trenches.
The defensive line seemed poised for a strong 2018 campaign. However, through the first three games of the season, the group has failed to live up to their lofty expectations.
The Gators front four failed to make a presence in either of the first two games, never recording a sack and struggling to get to the quarterback.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham spoke on the lack of physicality after the embarrassing loss to Kentucky (3-0, 1-0).
"I think we gave up 300 yards rushing, and we've got to play more physical. That's what I think."
That message lit a fire under the defensive linemen, as the group sacked Samuel Carta-Williams four times and limited Colorado State to 70-yards on the ground in Saturday's 48-10 blowout victory.
Jabari Zuniga accounted for 2.5 sacks in the win over the Rams, earning himself the SEC defensive lineman of the week. Coach Grantham talked about his performance.
“What stood out is he was disruptive both in the run and the pass. Any time you can have a multiple-sack game like that, and he also had a couple other quarterback pressures and hits on the quarterback that affected the game. And then I thought he played well in the run game”
Now, the focus is turned towards Tennessee as Florida makes their first road trip of the season. Rocky Top will be loud and hostile come Saturday night, and the Gators can’t let the Vols control the trenches and run the football.
Sophomore defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe sees tendencies in the Vols’ offense and understands the importance of forcing them to be a one-dimensional team.
“We have seen a lot of power plays. They are going to really try to run the ball on us and that's where we come in and top all that, so that's what we are really focusing on this week. We have to stop the run,” Conliffe said Monday following practice.
Knowing tendencies of another team only goes so far. Florida’s performance against their only power-five opponent was disappointing. A mixture of missing tackles and lack of physicality exploited their highly-talked about defense.
However, Grantham noticed an increase of toughness along this group last Saturday.
“I think that we took a step in the right direction last week. I thought our guys were physical. I thought they played with their hands. They did a good job securing their gaps. But it showed up in practice that way.”
Despite Tennessee relying on the run game in their new offense under Tyson Helton, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is very accurate with the football when called on to throw. Completing 72.2-percent of his attempts, Florida must put pressure on the redshirt sophomore.
“I think any time you face a team that's going to throw the ball off the play-action game and put the ball down the field, you've got to have guys that can affect the quarterback. It'll be a key component of the game, we'll have to find ways to affect the quarterback,” coach Grantham noted Monday night.
The Vols offense goes through sophomore back Tim Jordan, who has tallied 232 yards and two scores this season. Jordan is an explosive back who can take one to the house on any touch. Gators linebacker Rayshad Jackson discusses the physical approach Florida much bring Saturday night.
“Just got to think, got to be physical, got to come in there and punch them in the mouth to stop their momentum."
Rocky Top isn’t a friendly environment, especially at night. If Florida wants to avoid an 0-2 start in SEC play for the first time since 1986, the Gators must limit Jordan and the Vols rushing attack while disrupting Guarantano.