Tennessee’s main rival in the SEC East, Florida, comes to town this weekend, for a game that just might be one of the Vols biggest of the year. This game plays a big part in determining the SEC East champion and who will go to Atlanta for the SEC Championship as well. Vol fans have been waiting a long time for this matchup that features just a classic rivalry between Tennessee and Florida. Tennessee fans will “Checker Neyland” for the game Saturday, in which each section wears either orange or white to create the classic Tennessee checkerboard design. The Vols will also be sporting their Smokey Grey uniforms, a design that fans and players alike all look forward to seeing. Tennessee beat Georgia last season while wearing their Smokey Grey uniforms in Neyland Stadium. Saturday also marks the 95th anniversary to the day, of Tennessee’s first ever game played in Neyland Stadium. Among all of the excitement and hype for this game, when one would think it couldn’t get any bigger, College Gameday will also be in Knoxville for this game. This marks the second time in 2 weeks that College Gameday, ESPN’s college football preview show, will be at a game featuring Tennessee. The show also attended the Bristol Motor Speedway 2 weeks ago for the Battle at Bristol, Tennessee’s commanding 45 to 24 win over Virginia Tech. This will be the eighth time that College Gameday has attended the Tennessee vs. Florida game, tying it for the show’s most covered rivalry alongside the Florida vs. Florida State rivalry game.
The Vols will be going up against Austin Appleby as the quarterback for Florida. Their starter Luke Del Rio went down with a knee injury last week against North Texas. The Tennessee defense suffered a few injuries also coming into this game, but they might be not as bad as one might think. Coach Butch Jones said Monday that linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin will be back Saturday for the matchup against the Gators. That is huge for the Vols, as Maybin is a captain and the leader of the defensive unit. On Tuesday some key contributors to the defense were also back practicing, defensive lineman LaTroy Lewis, and cornerback Justin Martin, were also at the practice. The only key losses that the Vols will still be without Saturday against Florida are cornerback Cam Sutton, and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. And although those are very crucial positions on the defense, the amount of players that could’ve been out might’ve been a lot worse. The defense Saturday should expect to load the box to stop the Gators running attack, as Austin Appleby will likely be much less consistent in the passing game than Luke Del Rio, the former QB who went down with injury.
On the offense for Tennessee, they will have Josh Smith back from a minor injury, as he sat out against Ohio as a precaution. Also possibly back for Tennessee will be offensive lineman Chance Hall, he was back at practice at the beginning of the week after being sidelined with an arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August. He and offensive lineman Jack Jones, who has contributed significantly so far, were key players that led to Tennessee’s comeback victory against Georgia last year. If Hall plays Saturday, it would be a big boost to the offensive line as the Vols begin SEC play. Quarterback Josh Dobbs will also need to be speedy and accurate in his passes for the offense to get a good rhythm.
In an expected- to-be-close rivalry game special teams are always a key. Both Florida and Tennessee both have good special teamers, including kickers. But the key to special teams is field position and securing points, and that’s where Tennessee holds the advantage. Punting the ball Trevor Daniel for the Vols can flip field position and give the Vols defense a huge advantage. Although the Gators kicker Eddy Pineiro has some talent, Aaron Medley has the distance and the experience in the big games to kick crucial field goals. This game will probably come down to a few points, whether a field goal or a touchdown, Tennessee will have the upper hand.
Prediction: Tennessee-20, Florida-17