It is officially Tennessee-Florida week. The Volunteers and Gators will be meeting for the 48th time this Saturday under the lights in Neyland Stadium. Both teams enter the game at 2-1.
Tennessee is coming in on a two-game winning streak, albeit against weak competition. Two weeks ago, it defeated ETSU 59-3, and last week defeated UTEP 24-0. Florida is coming into game after defeating Colorado State 48-3 last week.
The game Saturday is big for both teams as it can set the tone for the rest of the season. Both programs have new coaches who are looking for a signature win in their first seasons.
While Tennessee is entering the game as the underdog, it has opportunities to take advantage of certain matchups. These five players need to perform well if the Vols want a chance at pulling the upset:
5. Drew Richmond, Right Tackle
Tennessee junior right tackle Drew Richmond as had an inconsistent start to the season. After playing average games against West Virginia and ETSU, Richmond put together his worst game of the season against UTEP. He committed a costly chop-block penalty in the red zone that erased a Ty Chandler touchdown in the first half. He also committed two other penalties and generally played poorly.
Richmond has to improve this week if the Vols want to win. Florida junior defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga has gotten off to a fast start to season. He has 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks on the year in the first three games.
Florida will presumably line him up on the right side, away from Preseason All-American Trey Smith. Richmond has to hold his own to give the Vols a chance.
4. Dominick Wood-Anderson, Tight End
Dominick Wood-Anderson was the top-rated JUCO tight end coming into this season. While he has blocked fairly well, he has caught less than five passes on the year. The Tennessee coaches need to make it a priority to get him more involved in the passing game his week.
Florida is thin in the secondary and will rely heavily on juniors safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. He lines up all over the field and the Gators will probably look to use him against Tennessee’s wide receivers.
Wood-Anderson should have favorable matchups throughout the game. If Florida has to put Gardner-Johnson on Wood-Anderson, that could open up opportunities for Tennessee’s wide receivers.
3. Shy Tuttle, Defensive Tackle
Shy Tuttle has been healthy to start the season for the first time since his Freshman season. His impact has made a huge difference in Tennessee’s interior defensive line.
Against subpar competition, Tennessee has played stout run defense. That needs to continue against a poor, but still SEC, offensive line. Florida has not run the ball well this season, and Tennessee would be wise to continue that trend.
Against Kentucky, Florida was forced to throw the ball and they couldn’t do so effectively. Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks has been highly inconsistent and Tennessee wants to put the game in his hands. Shy Tuttle and company need to control Florida’s run game to make that happen.
2. Alontae Taylor, Defensive Back
This particular player becomes extremely important if Tennessee is able to stop the Florida run game. Florida receivers Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland are trusted most by Feleipe Franks.
Alontae Taylor, Tennessee’s starting freshman cornerback, will have opportunities to make plays in this game. Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has stressed creating turnovers.
If the Vols can create turnovers, it will help a sometimes struggling offense out. Alontae Taylor has yet to create a turnover this year, and Saturday will be a prime time to create one.
1. Darrell Taylor, Outside Linebacker
Tennessee has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback for most of the last two seasons. Coach Pruitt has talked about players having the potential, but not delivering.
Most of the attention is put on senior linebacker Jonathon Kongbo, but Darrell Taylor is just as important. Taylor will be lined up across from Kongbo and he needs to make an impact.
Florida’s offensive line is a weak spot, and Taylor needs to provide pressure and fluster Feliepe Franks.
Kickoff will be this Saturday in Neyland Stadium on ESPN at 7:00 pm.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Jake Nichols