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Take Five Breakdown: Florida-Tennessee Preview

September 23, 2021
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This Saturday evening in the Swamp, Dan Mullen’s Florida football squad will attempt to rebound from a close loss to No. 1 Alabama when they take on SEC East rival Tennessee. 

Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match-up in this Game Week Breakdown.

Allen Barney spoke with Joshua Lane, Sports Editor for the UT Daily Beacon campus newspaper in order to break down the Volunteers with his answers to five burning questions as well as previewing five UT players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.

Five Tennessee Volunteers to keep an eye on

Velus Jones Jr., Wide Receiver, Redshirt Senior (Transfer from Southern Cal)

  • The Skinny: Jones spent four years at USC and garnered All-Pac-12 second-team honors in 2019 as a return specialist. After transferring into Knoxville prior to the 2020 season, Jones finished second on the team with 280 receiving yards and three touchdowns. As a kick returner he averaged 22.1 yards per return. Through three games this season, Jones leads the team with 96 receiving yards and a touchdown to go along with an average of 28.1 yards per kick return. Jones is electric and can turn any play into a touchdown. Todd Grantham and his defense will have to know where Jones is at on every play.

Byron Young, Defensive Line/Linebacker, Junior

  • The Skinny: Young is a highly rated JUCO prospect who transferred into Knoxville back in January. Young was considered the top weakside defensive end prospect and #11 ranked JUCO player by 247sports.com but did not play in the first two games because of ineligibility reasons. In his first game as a Vol against Tennessee Tech last week, Young made six tackles. According to Joshua Lane, Young was brought along slowly last week but will be expected to make an impact against the Gators. Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks will attempt to use him as an edge rusher and at defensive end.

Cedric Tillman, Wide Receiver, Redshirt Junior

  • The Skinny: Tillman is a huge target at 6-foot-3, 215-pounds, which can be used as an advantage in the red zone. According to Lane, Tillman has great speed and has been consistently getting open the first few games with vertical routes but is the main victim of Joe Milton overthrows on multiple occasions and that is why his numbers do not jump off the page. Kaiir Elam is the biggest corner on the Gators at 6’2, it will be interesting to see who Todd Grantham matches Tillman against.

Solon Page III, Linebacker, Redshirt Senior

  • The Skinny: Page is a first-year starter who is tied for third on the team with 12 tackles and brought back his first career interception for a touchdown last week against Tennessee Tech. Page is in his fifth year of his college career and has waited a long time for his opportunity to shine. I expect Page to be all over the field and making tackles left and right as he showcases himself on primetime national television.

Jabari Small, Runningback, Sophomore

  • The Skinny: Small won the starting job in fall camp as a sophomore after finishing his freshman season on a strong note. Small has shown in a small sample size that he is a playmaker with 135 rushing yards and two touchdowns through 1½ games. Small was injured early in week 2 versus Pittsburgh and did not play last week due to a shoulder injury. According to Lane, Small is one of the two preferred backs to get carries and would be the starter if healthy. At 206 pounds, Small is your customary SEC power runningback who can take the punishment between the tackles.

Five Fast Facts

  • Tennessee and Florida are meeting for the 51st time, with the Gators holding a 30-20 advantage in the all-time series. Currently, the Gators hold a four-game winning streak over the Volunteers and a record of 15-1 against the Vols since 2005.
  • The Volunteers have not won in Gainesville since 2003 by a score of 24-10. The last time a Tennessee coach won his first game against the Gators in Gainesville was in 1970 by Bill Battle. The Vols are 5-15 all-time in Gainesville and have lost eight games in a row in the Swamp.
  • Josh Heupel is looking to become the first Vols head coach to beat Florida in his first try overall since Phillip Fulmer did so in 1992. Heupel was the starting quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners national championship-winning team in 2000 and owns a career record of 30-9 as a head coach.
  • Tennessee’s season-opening win against Bowling Green was the 850th win in program history. They became the 10th FBS program to reach 850 wins, joining the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and Texas.
  • The Volunteers defense gives up an average of 54.3 rushing yards per game so far this season. That ranks second in the SEC and tied for fifth in all the FBS. Their offense has averaged 42.7 points per game, which is third in the SEC.

Five Game Day Storylines

What will be the quarterback situation for the Vols on Saturday night?

  • Joe Milton entered the season as the starter and played well against Bowling Green. Milton got hurt in the first half against Pittsburgh, forcing Hendon Hooker to come in and Hooker was solid against Pitt and did unsurprisingly well against a less-equipped team in Tennessee Tech. As of this writing, there is no update on the status of Milton and if he is out then Hooker will be making his first road start for the Vols. According to Lane, Milton has the stronger arm but is inaccurate at times while Hooker has been the more efficient passer to date. Lane also said that Heupel likes to have depth at each position, including QB, will the Vols run a two-quarterback system that is similar to what the Gators run?

How will the Vols, specifically the younger players, handle a raucous Gator crowd on a Saturday night?

  • This will be the first road game for the Volunteers this season, but it will be especially eye-opening to the freshman and sophomores who have not seen many hostile environments. The Gator crowd held up their end of the bargain against Alabama and forced false starts, delay of games, and made it difficult for the Tide players to communicate with each other and their coaching staff. It will be interesting to see if the Vols will have to change snap counts or signal calls if the crowd is too loud.

Will Josh Heupel’s creativity on offense create problems for the Gator defense?

  • Heupel is quickly becoming known as an offensive mastermind, which raises similarities to Dan Mullen. In 39 games as a head coach, Heupel’s teams have hit the 30-point plateau a whopping 36 times in that span. He is good play-caller and if the Volunteers are within striking distance, there is a possibility Heupel will not hold back and take big shots downfield.

The Volunteers’ run defense has been the strength of the defense so far and the Gators have the #2 run offense in the country. Who will win the battle of an unstoppable force and an immovable object?

  • It is well-documented how good the Gators run offense looked as it carved up the Alabama defense for 245 yards and 5.7 yards per carry. As mentioned earlier, the Tennessee defense is #2 in the SEC in rush yards per game. Tennessee has not faced an offensive line and as talented a stable of runningbacks like Florida has and based off how the Gators ran with ease against the Tide, I’m more than willing to wager that the Gators will hit or surpass that total this weekend.

Can Tennessee take advantage of a much-maligned Gator secondary?

  • It’s no secret that the Gators have struggled at times and allowed big pass plays or missed tackles once the offensive player get to the last line of defense. A big issue against Alabama was that the Florida secondary, especially in the first half, could not wrap up and had breakdowns in coverage. There have been issues with tackling with bigger backs and the Vols main two backs (Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans) are both over 200 pounds. Heupel will test the safeties early and often to see if they come out as slow as they did against Alabama.

Take Five Breakdown: Florida-Tennessee Preview

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