What was once considered one of the marquee early season matchups every year in college football has become a bit of an afterthought these days. That does not stop both fan bases from wanting to beat the other one . . . badly. It is still early in the season and while Georgia is the prohibitive favorite, the SEC East race is technically still wide open. This is a series that Florida has dominated of late, having won 12 of the last 13 matchups, including last year’s 26-20 win on a last second Feleipe Franks Hail Mary. Overall the Gators lead the all-time series, 27-20.
Gators Trying to Get it Right
First-year head coach Dan Mullen’s return to Gainesville started splendidly as his team ran the hapless Charleston Southern Buccaneers off the field to the tune of a 53-6 victory. Next came a home against a team they had beaten 31 times in a row, so pretty easy Japanesey, right? Not so fast my friend. The mighty Gators fell to Kentucky 27-16 to get Florida Fans chomping at the bit (pun intended) and questioning whether or not Dan Mullen was the right man for the job. The team got back on track last week, shellacking Colorado State 48-10 in the Swamp, but a road win over the hated Vols would go a long way to building trust between the new head man and the fan base.
Against the Rams, UF raced out to a 27-0 lead and CSU did not find the scoreboard until hitting a 53-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. Colorado State would also score the opening touchdown of the second half, but the Gators would score the final three touchdowns of the game to secure the 38-point victory. Feleipe Franks continues to be much maligned at the quarterback position and throwing for 119 yards, two scores, and an early pick is not likely going to change that. On the season, the sophomore has thrown for 570 yards, nine scores, and two picks, but five of those touchdowns came in the first half vs. Charleston Southern. Dameon Peirce is the leading rusher with 162 yards on just 14 carries, but the backfield is certainly running back by committee in Gainesville. Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson is leading the way in the receiving department with 127 yards and three touchdowns on just eight receptions.
The team comes into Knoxville averaging 382 yards a game with 197 of those coming through the air, and Tennessee is allowing just 179 passing yards per contest and 291 overall. Freddy Swain caught two touchdowns against Colorado State and a big performance by him and/or Jefferson will be needed Saturday if they hope to help Franks survive the hostile environment. Each side is allowing an identical 14.3 points per game.
Knoxville Ready to Rock
If there is one thing that Volunteer fans love to do, it is to hate them some Florida Gators, and after all the laid eggs against UF over the years, can you really blame them? Look for Neyland Stadium to be packed to the hilt on Saturday evening and for Rocky Top to be played until it is stuck in your head for days. But will that be enough to earn Tennessee a victory over those rude reptiles to the South that keep beating them? Well, they did at least win their last home tilt against Florida in 2016, 38-28.
After dropping the season opener to West Virginia, 40-14, in Charlotte, the Vols have outscored East Tennessee State and UTEP by a combined score of 73-3, with the latter coming in the form of a 24-0 shutout victory. The day belonged to Ty Chandler, who rushed for 158 yards on the day, including an 81-yard scamper for a score. Tim Jordan is another back to watch with 232 yards and two scores on the season. Marquez Callaway has 149 yards on 12 receptions this season. While the team has looked impressive, you have to keep things in perspective. ETSU is an FCS team, and Texas El Paso has lost 15 consecutive football games.
Tennessee is averaging 409 yards a game and will be going up against a defense allowing just 329.7 per contest, but 198.3 of those come on the ground where Tennessee is quite proficient, averaging 221.7 yards rushing so far. Tennessee has only picked up four victories against the Gators since 1991 and any victory over Florida, home or away, is considered quite an accomplishment these days in Knoxville. This game could go a long way in determining the direction of each program at this point. While it may not be a big game nationally, it is a pivitol one for these two schools.
- 1-7 ATS in their last 8 games after scoring more than 40 points in their previous game.
- 0-5 ATS in their last 5 conference games.
- 0-4 ATS in their last 4 road games.
- 0-7 ATS in their last 7 games after accumulating less than 170 yards passing in their previous game.
- Underdog is 4-1-1 ATS in their last 6 meetings.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Both teams failed miserably in their only tests this season, but Florida’s failure came at home, where they have played every game to this point. This will be Mullen’s first road game as the head coach of the Gators and Franks has not exactly done anything to instill confidence in his ability to win on the road. Florida’s victory last season came in the form of a miracle and they may need another one in order to cover the spread this year. That is not likely to happen. Take the Vols and the points in this one.
Prediction: Tennessee +4.5
Full-Game Total Pick
If this game is anything like the recent mathups between these two teams in recent years, then this total is spot on. Both teams have been scoring in the 20s so it is really just a matter if one of them ends up in the high 20’s on this one. With the tackling woes we saw from the Florida defense against Kentucky, it seems like a safe bet that UT can achieve that, and chances are that the Gators will help with that total.
Prediction: Over 46.5