This game has a history of upsets. In 1995, Sports Illustrated came to Gainesville for a piece on the young Tennessee quarterback. Instead, the Gators defeated Tennessee 62-37, and Danny Wuerffel made the SI cover. In 1997, Peyton Manning got his cover the week before the Florida game. Tennessee lost 33-20. In 1998, Tennessee stunned the Gators in overtime, 20-17, on their way to a National Championship.
The 2001 game became the SEC East Championship Game, after being moved from September to the last day of the regular season. What many Gator fans felt would be a coronation became a nightmare when the Vols won 34-32 in Gainesville and Steve Spurrier gave us three years of Ron Zook. Playing in the slop for the 2002 game in Knoxville, the Gators stunned Tennessee 30-13. After the Vols won in Gainesville in 2003, UT came back to win the 2004 game thanks to blown calls and a second chance at a game-winning field goal.
Since then, UF has rolled off five consecutive wins in the series. This is in the heads of every Tennessee fan and player. In what will likely be a long season, the Vols are rightly excited for the chance to break their losing streak against UF. Defeating Florida will wash down the nasty taste of what could be a six or seven win season. The Vols may lack the talent, but they played hard against Oregon while UF looked to be at half-speed against USF. Tennessee still maintains a huge home field advantage and no distractions. The Gators bring in a new quarterback, new center, soft defensive line, and a new wide receiver lineup thanks to a junior starter putting himself above the team.
Matt Simms might eventually be a quality SEC quarterback, but it is in the best interest of the Vols to ask Simms to put the ball in someone's belly. With a massive offensive line, and UF's problems on the defensive line (Lawrence Marsh is now out of Saturday's game), the Vols need to run the ball and keep running the ball.
Tauren Poole will be that guy for Tennessee. In their loss to the Ducks, Poole had 162 yards. He is a big man at 5-foot-11, 213, and is perfectly happy to lower the shoulder into a flat footed linebacker. Poole was the reason why the Vols jumped out to a 13-3 lead last week. Simms was the reason why UT was shutdown in the second half. UT's final five drives last week ended in punts. If UF can stack the box and dare Simms to throw, that will take the Vols out of their game plan and hand UF the win.
On defense, the Vols allowed 31 consecutive points against the Ducks in the 48-13 loss. (Oregon also had interception and punt return touchdowns.) UT allowed 245 yards of rushing, 5.6 yards per carry. LaMichael James' 72 yard touchdown surely makes the possibly of a long Jeff Demps run possible this weekend. But three other backs had seven or more carries. That led to four drives of 10 or more plays and 13 points. UT ultimately held the ball longer, but the three big plays; James' run and the two returns, sunk their chances.
John Brantley has yet to prove he's The Man, but a big performance against the Tennessee secondary would do it. The Vols' secondary is mainly sophomores and upperclassmen with little experience. The Gators bring a new lineup with Omarius Hines taking the slot from suspended Chris Rainey and Jordan Reed playing tight end. Plus, the emergence of Robert Clark and Andre Debose presents challenges for the Vols but also Brantley. With a new lineup, any pressure the Vols get on Brantley will be doubled since Brantley won't know which pass-catcher is available to save him. The Gators should be fully healthy on the offensive line, but they also have not played a down as a complete unit.