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After a close call against South Florida last week the Florida Gators move to week four with a 2-1 record. They’ll travel to Neyland Stadium to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. And since it’s Tennessee week, Inside the Gators takes a deeper dive into the Volunteers with the help of Ethan Stone at Saturday Down South and Adam Sparks of the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Five Tennessee Volunteers to Know
Hendon Hooker, Quarterback, Redshirt Senior
- Hooker has appeared to be the guy for the Tennessee Volunteers. The expectation was high for him coming into the season and he seems to have lived up to it so far. He’s accounted for eight total touchdowns this season and zero interceptions. Both writers ITG spoke to said the same thing, he’s efficient. “You can just trust he isn’t going to turn the ball over in bad situations,” Stone said. Sparks even added that “he’s probably Tennessee’s best rusher.”
Jabari Small, Running back, Junior
- The 2022 Doak Walker Award Preseason Watchlist running back had a pair of touchdowns against Pittsburgh this season but left last week’s game with an upper body injury. Backup Jaylen Wright has seamlessly picked up the slack with three touchdowns and over 230 yards of his own.
Cedric Tillman, Wide Receiver, Redshirt Senior
- Sparks described Tillman as “one of the best wide receivers in the SEC.” He had over 1,000 yards receiving in 2021 and had a 162-yard receiving performance against Pitt. “Tillman suffered a lower-body injury against Akron last week, so he’s perhaps questionable or doubtful for this game,” Sparks said, “His status could make a big impact.”
Aaron Beasley, Linebacker, Senior
- He leads the team in tackles with 22 on the season. “The second biggest surprise of the year for me, personally. Beasley has been inpeccable after a rough 2021 season,” said Stone. “The trio of [Jeremy Banks], Basley and Juwan Mitchell could be a formidable one.”
Byron Young, Defensive End, Senior
- The preseason All-SEC edge only has one sack on the year so far, but Sparks said he is still the key to a successful game against the Gators. “Young was Tennessee’s best pass rusher last season, and he must help contain Anthony Richardson in the pocket without over-pursuing,” Sparks said.
Five Fast Facts
- Florida visits Tennessee for the 27th time in the 52nd all-time meeting between the two programs.
- UF boasts a 31-20 record (.608) in the series and has won 16 of the last 17 meetings including an active five-game winning streak. Florida has won each of the last four matchups by 12 points or more.
- UF has scored 31-plus points in each of the last four matchups and 26-plus points in seven in a row
- This is the first meeting between UF’s Billy Napier and UT’s Josh Heupel as head coaches. The two previously coached against one another as assistants in the 2013 Sugar Bowl when Napier was the WR Coach at Alabama and Heupel the Co-OC / QB Coach at Oklahoma. The Sooners prevailed in that contest, 45-31, but Napier’s WR corps racked up 387 yards on 19 catches, led by 121 yards from Amari Cooper and 139 yards from DeAndrew White.
- Florida is one of two teams in the nation to face three opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 across the first-four weeks of the season (Texas Tech). UF is the only team to face three top-20 opponents through the first-four weeks.
Five Gameday Storylines
Florida’s first road game in 2022 at a sold out Neyland Stadium
- The Florida Gators can expect over 100,000 to be in attendance on Saturday. The spotlight will be on as the matchup will be on College GameDay and the CBS 3:30 slot. Anthony Richardson and the Gators haven’t been the cleanest in their first three home games, so going into enemy territory the likes of Neyland will be a daunting task. “Some fans are anxious about this because one of the Vols’ best chances to beat Florida in years,” Sparks said, “Other fans are just eager to dive into the game because they want to affect it. It will be loud and rowdy, and fans will do whatever they can to rattle Anthony Richardson. Also, this is a Checker Neyland game, which creates a scene like none other in college football.”
The speed of the Tennessee Offense
- The most offensive touchdowns in the country. The third most yards per game. And one of the fastest offenses in the nation. “Last season, the Vols averaged 2.99 offensive player per minute, the most in the nation,” Sparks said, “And they’re around that same pace this season, so expect a play about every 20 seconds. The only things that slow down Tennessee’s offense are three-and-out possessions and opponents faking injuries.“
- Richardson is yet to pass for a touchdown this season, despite playing in a friendly environment. That said, he still has the capability of ruining a defense’s day with his legs, or his arm if Tennessee allows him to get in groove. “I view Richardson as THE mobile quarterback in college football,” Stone said, “He’s built like a truck, and it’s a perfect test for Tennessee to truly say they’ve moved on from last year’s issue, which was protecting against a quarterback scramble.”
Florida’s recent success against the Vols
- The Gators have had the Volunteers’ number in recent memory. Could history be any indication of how Saturday will go? “Sometimes, it just seems like a team is truly cursed in that regard,” Stone said. Sixteen of the last 17 meetings have gone Florida’s way. Either way, it seems like the best chance for the Volunteers to break the curse in a while.
How do the Vols win?
- Stone said the Tennessee run offense versus the Florida run defense is the one of biggest mismatches on the field. “I don’t think the Gators can stop Hendon Hooker, Small and Wright all at once,” he said, “Tennessee has too big of a playbook and far too many tricks up its sleeve for the Gators to slow down, especially considering they struggled to do so against USF and Utah versus mobile quarterbacks.”
- Sparks said, “My three keys for a Tennessee win are (1) Keep Anthony Richardson in the pocket (2) run the ball well, which Tennessee didn’t do against Pittsburgh in its only other Power 5 game (3) avoid special teams mistakes because Tennessee already has had a punt blocked and muffed a punt return.”
Sparks: Tennessee 35-30
Stone: Tennessee 38-27
Chris Will: Tennessee 42-28