Finished Neyland Stadium Knoxville
Florida and Tennessee will battle under the lights Saturday as the Volunteers open their SEC slate at home against the rival Gators. Both schools come off resounding victories -- Florida shut down Colorado State 48-10 and Tennessee blanked UTEP 24-0 -- but they are rebuilding under new head coaches and seek their first victory of the season over a Power 5 opponent.
Head coaches Dan Mullen (Florida) and Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee) are on a mission to restore the glory to a storied rivalry that has certainly seen better days, back to the era when they ruled the conference, combining for 10 of the 12 SEC titles between 1989-2000. For Mullen, a positive step in that direction would be avoiding an 0-2 conference start after losing to Kentucky two weeks ago in his SEC debut as Gators' coach, while Pruitt focuses on ending the Volunteers' nine-game SEC skid. "There's a lot of people out there who still think it's a big game," Mullen told reporters. "I think the feel within the program, both programs obviously want to get back where this has a big something to do with who wins the (SEC) East. I think that always adds to the rivalry." The last four meetings were all decided by 10 points or less, including last season's thriller that ended with the Gators scoring on a 63-yard Hail Mary as time expired to give Florida 12 victories in the last 13 meetings with the Volunteers.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Florida -4.5.
ABOUT FLORIDA (2-1, 0-1 SEC): No doubt, Feleipe Franks' biggest college play came on that winning throw against the Volunteers last season, but the quarterback has had his ups and downs and while he is learning a new offense under Mullen, he went 0-for-6 in the first quarter last week before hitting 8-of-9 with two TDs the rest of the way and he completed only 17 of 38 passes in the loss to Kentucky. The ground attack has sputtered at times and last week's injury to backup running back Malik Davis (broken foot) won't help, but Mullen will try to take pressure off Franks and unleash running back Jordan Scarlett on a Volunteers' run defense surrendering just 112.7 yards per game. The Gators' defense was manhandled at the line of scrimmage the first two weeks, especially by Kentucky (303 rushing yards allowed), but the unit stiffened up considerably against Colorado State (70 yards rushing) and more of the same will be needed against the Volunteers.
ABOUT TENNESSEE (2-1, 0-0): QB Jarrett Guarantano hasn't proven to be a big-time passing threat just yet, with his highest yardage total coming in Week 1's 40-14 loss to West Virginia when he threw for 172 yards and a score, but his 72.2 completion percentage ranks him second in the SEC. Guarantano may not need to be a gunslinger, however, if sophomore running back Ty Chandler produces as he did a week ago against UTEP, when he scampered for a career-high 158 yards (13.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown -- an 81-yarder that was the team's longest run since 2006. The defense ranks third in the SEC and 14th in the nation in total defense (291.7 yards per game) after limiting the last two opponents to just 164 yards per game, but the pass defense was torn apart by West Virginia (429 yards) and that could be a problem once again if the pass rush doesn't improve (five sacks in three games).
1. Florida leads Tennessee by a 27-20 series edge, including 11 straight victories between the 2005 and 2015 seasons.
2. This is just the second time in this series that both schools have new head coaches.
3. In just three games, the Volunteers' wide receivers have converted four plays of 50 yards or more, already tying last season's total.
PREDICTION: Tennessee 27, Florida 24 Bet Now
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