Preview: Tennessee opens SEC play against Florida

Tennessee. Florida. Each team desperately needs a win. What could go wrong?

#15 Jauan Jennings vs. UTEP. Photo taken by Dusty Bryan.

This Saturday, the Florida Gators (2-1, 0-1 SEC) travel to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-0 SEC).

Tennessee faithful likely remember what happened in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also known as “The Swamp,” last year. A last-second heave won the game for Florida, avoiding overtime and handing Tennessee a loss. Now, the Vols seek revenge.

Though both teams possess the same record this season, Tennessee has not started SEC play. Florida suffered a loss to Kentucky in Week 2. West Virginia routed the Volunteers in the opening game of the season for the Vols’ first loss.

For both programs, this game proves a measure for the 2018 season. The Vols look to rebound after going 0-8 against SEC teams last season. Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC game since November 2016 against Missouri in Knoxville.

Florida equally needs a win. After losing to Kentucky for the first time in 31 years, Tennessee might be the only SEC win the Gators could clinch as the program rebuilds under new head coach Dan Mullen.

During the offseason, both teams hired new coaches: Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee and Mullen at Florida. Pruitt previously coached as defensive coordinator for Alabama. This position is his first at head coach.

Mullen, on the other hand, served as head coach of Mississippi State from 2009-2017.

While coaching remains important to this game, players must execute the game plans. Players like Ty Chandler, Marquez Callaway and Jarrett Guarantano look to lead the Volunteer offensive attack. On defense, Shy Tuttle, Nigel Warrior and Darrin Kirkland, Jr. will try to stop Florida’s pass attack.

On offense, the Vols need to establish the run game early to control tempo. The Florida defense struggled against Kentucky’s run game, allowing 303 rushing yards. Tennessee’s running backs, Chandler, Jordan, London and Banks, will get an opportunity to exploit that defense Saturday. If the run game opens early, more time will remain for Guarantano to pass the football. In three games, Guarantano has not thrown an interception.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Vols must pressure Florida’s young quarterback Feleipe Franks. So far, Franks proved unsteady in the pocket. Tennessee needs to establish pass rush early to control both sides of the ball. Pass rush remains an issue for Tennessee, but Pruitt may be confident in more blitzes against a shaky Florida quarterback.

Either way, the game will be a close test from start to finish. Looking at the schedule, Tennessee and Florida both have a rough three weeks ahead of them. Tennessee will play Georgia, Auburn and Alabama, while Florida will face Mississippi State, LSU and Vanderbilt.

For both teams, this game will test how much each program improved in four weeks under their new coaches.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image by Dusty Bryan