The Tennessee Volunteers (2-5) are to host the No. 6 Florida Gators (7-1) in Neyland Stadium on Saturday. The Vols have lost five straight games. Their last win dating nine weeks back to Oct. 3.
Tennessee jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the second quarter off of a designed Jarrett Guarantano quarterback draw and Brent Cimaglia’s 47-yard field goal. On the drive following the Cimaglia field goal, the Vol secondary collapsed giving up a 54-yard touchdown pass.
They would also go on to give up a field goal tying the game 10-10 before halftime. The Tennessee defense played a decent game. Although they forced an interception and gave up 385 yards, which is 79 yards less than what the Vol offense gained.
The Vols’ main issue was, once again, at the quarterback position. Auburn would score next off of another field goal to gain a three-point lead. Guarantano threw an interception to Auburn defensive back, Smoke Monday, that returned the length of the field for a touchdown. He would get one more try at quarterback but after the drive stalled and resulted in a missed field goal, head coach Jeremy Pruitt made the decision to switch quarterbacks. Guarantano finished the game with 156 yards on 15-for-23 passing with an interception and no touchdowns.
Auburn scored another touchdown on the ensuing possession extending their lead to 17. Freshman Harrison Bailey then replaced Guarantano in the fourth quarter. Bailey marched the team down the field on his first drive resulting in an Eric Gray touchdown. Auburn added another field goal and the Bailey led offense gained 54 yards in his second drive before time expired. He would finish the game throwing for 86 yards on 7-for-10 passing while also gaining 15 yards on scrambles.
However, the future of the starting quarterback position is still unclear. During a teleconference on Wednesday, Pruitt provided insight about what to expect Saturday.
“Harrison Bailey will definitely play on Saturday, to what extent we have not yet decided,” Pruitt said.
A bright spot for Tennessee has been their rushing attack. Gray finished the game with 173 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Gray now ranks fifth in the SEC in total rushing yards this season through just seven games. Gray’s backfield partner Ty Chandler also finished the game with 40 yards on nine rushing attempts.
Tennessee now has to prepare to play a Florida team whose only loss is to the fifth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies.
The Gators’ last game was a 34-10 blowout win over Kentucky. Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Trask shined finishing with 256 yards and three touchdowns on 21-for-27 passing.
His favorite target was tight end, Kyle Pitts. Pitts missed the last two games but finished this game catching all three of Trask’s touchdown passes for a total of 99 yards. His longest catch went for 56 yards and a touchdown. Pitts has only played in six games this season but ranks second in receiving touchdowns in the SEC with 11.
The Florida offense is pass dominant but Gator running backs Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis still have good games. They split the workload with eight carries each and ended with 67 and 21 yards respectively.
The series between the Vols and Gators has been dominated by Florida in recent years. They have won the last three matchups and 14 of the last 15. Florida also owns the all-time series 29-20 dating back to 1916.
Ryan Sylvia, assistant sports editor – Florida 49, Tennessee 10
Saturday will see Tennessee outmatched by better talent and coaching. Trask will throw for four touchdowns as the Vol defense will not be able to defend against the Gator passing attack. On offense, Gray will have another good performance running the ball but both Guarantano and Bailey will struggle to move the ball through the air. Florida will be able to rest important pieces at the end of the game as it will quickly get out of hand.
Christian Knox, sports editor/assistant editor – Florida 30, Tennessee 10
Tennessee will get a boost on offense from Bailey, but Trask will be more efficient over the course of the game. Tennessee will pick up yardage on the ground, but turnovers will give Florida good field position on numerous drives. Tennessee will dominate time of possession after Florida scores quickly on multiple deep shots from Trask.
Game Time and Coverage
Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. EST in Knoxville, Tennessee. The game airs on CBS and TNJN will have more coverage following the game.
Edited by Gracie-Lee Strange and Christian Knox
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Football Twitter (@Vol_Football)