- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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If Florida is going to take the next step offensively, it has to play better near the end zone.
Finding it more often wouldn't hurt either, especially after the Gators struggled mightily in the red zone during their 21-16 loss to Miami in Week 2. You can't go 2-for-6 in the red zone with three turnovers and expect to win a game, especially when you're on the road.
The 19th-ranked Gators (1-1) are hoping their red zone issues will get corrected when Tennessee (2-1) ventures into the Swamp Saturday. What used to be one of the most bitter rivalries in the SEC has lost a lot of its luster national with Florida currently having an eight-game winning streak over Tennessee.
While the rivalry has a been a bit lopsided for the better part of the last decade, Saturday could get interesting if the Gators can't find an answer for the red zone.
Tennessee might have been run out of Autzen Stadium by the Oregon Ducks and their 59 points and 687 yards of offense last week, but this team has found ways to create turnovers -- turnovers the Gators just can't have Saturday if they want to start the SEC off 1-0. The Vols lead the SEC with nine takeaways and are averaging three a game. Florida has turned it over a league-high six times in two games.
Florida has to cut down on its mistakes in the red zone, or the Gators will play the role of upset victim in consecutive games.
The good news is that they are moving the ball better down the field. Last year, Florida averaged 334 total yards a game, which was good enough for 12th in the SEC (right ahead of Kentucky and Auburn) and 104th nationally. Through two games this year, Florida is averaging 414 yards and nearly 6 yards per play. Quarterback Jeff Driskel, who threw for just 137 yards per game last year, is averaging 222 yards a game and seven more attempts. However, both of his interceptions came in the red zone against Miami, where the Gators averaged just 1.2 yards on 12 plays.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease hinted to reporters this week that he might scale back Driskel's workload in the red zone. He'll try to simplify things for him and maybe use more of Trey Burton in the Wildcat package.
What could also help is the return of a healthy Matt Jones at running back. In his debut last week, it was clear that Jones, who missed the opener while recovering from a viral infection, wasn't 100 percent. He rushed for just 47 yards on 18 carries and admitted this week that he didn't trust himself as much because he wasn't in top shape. Expect that trust to return Saturday.
While the offense does have its issues, the Gators still sport the SEC's best defense. It ranks third nationally (208.5 yards allowed per game) and should make life miserable for a Vols team still looking for a quarterback and playmakers. Opponents are averaging 3.9 yards per play on Florida and have converted just 2 of 24 third-down attempts (8.3 percent).
Coach Will Muschamp was upset about a slow start from his defense against Miami. With this game inside the Swamp, don't expect a repeat performance from this defense Saturday.