The stage is set for a barnstormer in Knoxville, Tennessee this upcoming weekend as the 20th ranked Florida Gators take on the 11th ranked Volunteers.
This is a rivalry that has been dominated by the Gators in recent history as they currently hold a five game win streak against the Vols, but things might be looking different this year. In years past the game has been considered to be a matchup that gives the winner a significant boost in their chances of getting to an SEC championship. That might not be the case in 2022, but the 52nd matchup should be full of drama for the neutral to feast on.
The Volunteers could really benefit from a win here, and they have the roster to make the big leap to 4-0. Yet on the flip side Florida is looking to sour the mood in Knoxville as they look to steal another one in this timeless rivalry.
Tennessee has a very impressive offense that should have Billy Napier losing sleep. The connection between quarterback Hendon Hooker and wide receiver Cedric Tillman is one of the best in the nation, and they’ve already put up some big plays in 2022. Expect Hooker to have plenty of time in the pocket as the Florida pass rush has been abysmal through three weeks, having only three sacks to their name. If the Volunteers dominate, expect most of the traffic to run through the air, where they already rank sixth nationally in passing yards. Coach Heupel has this offense ascending to new heights, and Neyand should be rocking on Saturday.
This will be Florida’s first away game of the season, they started off the year red hot when they upset the seventh ranked Utah Utes. The sky was the limit for Richardson from that point, or so many thought. Since then the quarterback has put up two unimpressive performances that have left many with more questions than answers. With two interceptions, the Florida quarterback has shown lackluster ball security and that will be very costly against a team like Tennessee.
The Florida quarterback will be looking to really turn it around this weekend, and will need to if Florida is looking to keep up with that Tennessee offense. Florida has found most of its success on the ground thus far, but it may not be so easy this weekend as the Vols have the 19th ranked rushing defense in the nation. The RB duo of Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne will have an uphill battle, but if the Gators’ offense is able to generate success through the air then that should ease up some of the pressure for the running backs. Richardson, who has all the athleticism in the world, should also keep that defense in check with his ability to use his legs.
With all eyes on the offense, it can be easy to forget about some of the talent that both teams possess on defense. Despite highlighting that the Gators’ pass rush has not been impressive, keep an eye out on sophomore defensive lineman Gervon Dexter Sr. He has got the size and the athleticism to make a huge impact for Florida. The lineman is 6-foot-6, 312lbs and should be drawing double teams all game.
Tennessee’s defense really showed up big two weeks ago when they marched into Pittsburgh and carried the day in the overtime victory against the Panthers. Keep an eye on the linebacker Jeremy Banks who has already 14 total tackles and a forced fumble this season. It would also be remiss not to highlight defensive back Kamal Hadden who has had a phenomenal start to the season with two passes defensed, an interception, and a forced fumble.
What to Expect
If Florida wants to come into Nelyand and upset the Volunteers, Anthony Richardson will have to play his best game of the season. The quarterback is just barely completing fifty percent of his passes through three games, and also threw less touchdowns than the Tennessee backup Joe Milton just last weekend. The Tennessee run defense will create problems for Florida’s backs, so if Florida is to win this thing they need to find success through the air. Richardson will be facing one of the loudest crowds he will ever hear, and the quarterback cannot be rattled by that.
Tennessee will want to keep that foot on the gas. This is a big game, they have run the rivalry in recent years, but now they want to run the future. The key is keeping Richardson in check, whilst allowing your own highly rated signal caller to play his game and find his star receiver. Expect this to be one of the best games all week, a must watch for many.
By Will Lane – @TheWillieLane