Florida-Tennessee game preview

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
8:00
AM ET
No. 18 Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 23 Tennessee (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
ESPN, WatchESPN

Three storylines

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Brett Davis/US PRESSWIREThe SEC's leading rusher is Florida's Mike Gillislee, who has 231 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries.
1. Ground and pound: The team that has rushed for more yardage has won 20 of the last 22 meetings in the series. During UF’s seven-game winning streak, the Gators have out-rushed the Vols by an average of 108.3 yards per game. UF’s Mike Gillislee leads the SEC in rushing (231 yards). UT has struggled to run the ball the past several seasons but is averaging 187.5 yards per game rushing behind a huge offensive line that averages 318 pounds.

2. Rivalry renewed? During the 1990s, this game was the top rivalry in the Southeastern Conference. It has lost a lot of luster since then, mainly because Florida has dominated the series over the last seven years, and Tennessee has been struggling to remain relevant in the Eastern Division. But both teams enter the game ranked for the first time since 2007 and College GameDay is in Knoxville for the first time since 2004. The Vols have looked impressive in their first two games while the Gators have won close games and UT fans can smell the upset brewing. So too, apparently, can city officials. The Knoxville Police Department posted a warning on its Facebook page than anyone who rushes the field will be arrested.

3. Under pressure: UF’s first two opponents (Bowling Green and Texas A&M) used short, quick passes, which didn’t allow the Gators to mount much of a pass rush. Tennessee wants to go down the field, so that means five- and seven-step drops, which will give the Gators the opportunity to get to QB Tyler Bray. It’s imperative the Gators knock him around and make him throw the ball before he’s ready. UF was able to do that in last year’s matchup. The Gators sacked Bray three times and picked him off twice. A third interception as nullified because of a penalty.

Gators to watch

RB Mike Gillislee: He suffered a groin strain against A&M last week, and although UF coach Will Muschamp said Gillislee practiced this week and was fine, there’s still some uncertainty about how effective he can be. He is the focal point of the offense and UF won’t be as effective with backups Matt Jones and Mack Brown.

TE Jordan Reed: Reed has emerged as UF’s go-to receiver (team-high eight catches for 92 yards). He’s a big target and he works the short middle of the field pretty well. UF will need a big play or two out of him, especially if the running game is ineffective.

CB Marcus Roberson: The 6-foot-1 Roberson will be matched up against 6-4 Justin Hunter and 6-3 Cordarrelle Patterson. Roberson struggled in last season’s meeting, committing two pass interference penalties. He has to be better on Saturday.

Vols to watch

QB Tyler Bray: Bray leads the SEC in passing (643 yards) and is averaging 298 yards passing per game in his 14 career starts. He’s a prototypical NFL quarterback with good size (6-6, 210 pounds) and a big arm. He’s a likely top five NFL draft pick if he were to come out after this season.

WR Justin Hunter: He got hurt in last season’s Florida game and missed the rest of the season. He’s been phenomenal in the Vols’ first two games: 17 catches for 219 yards and three touchdowns. He’s a huge target and a big-time playmaker.

NG Daniel McCullers: The junior college transfer from Georgia Military Academy is the anchor of UT’s defensive front. Actually, he’s the whole tanker: he’s 6-6 and weighs 377 pounds. The Gators won’t be able to run the ball if they can’t move McCullers.

Key matchup

Florida TE Jordan Reed vs. Tennessee SS Byron Moore
Reed is QB Jeff Driskel’s favorite target and pretty much the Gators’ only consistent weapon in the passing game. So far, UF hasn’t been able to get him down the field for a big play and has used him more in the middle of the field. Moore has 13 tackles and one interception. He gives up three inches and 50 pounds to Reed.

By the numbers

4 -- Number of scoring drives of 34 seconds or less Tennessee has so far in just two games. The Vols did that only once last season.

10.35 -- Number of yards Tennessee is averaging on first down this season.

15.3 -- UF’s average margin of victory during its seven-game winning streak over the Vols.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter

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