Sep 8, 2012; College Station, TX, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) scrambles against the Texas A&M Aggies in the second quarter at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Florida getting through its rough double-dip of SEC road contests 3-0 seemed like a pipe dream as recently as halftime of the Texas A&M game. Combine the Gators' rally in that game with its dominance against Tennessee in recent years, and it's clear there are more than a few reasons that Florida will prevail in Knoxville on Saturday. Here are five.
Florida found its identity against Texas A&M
I wrote about it in the hours after the game last Saturday, and then expounded on it in the Rapid Recap: The Gators we saw against A&M were the Gators Will Muschamp wants. That team pounded the ball on the ground and suffocated the opposing offense (eventually), made only a handful of mistakes, and didn't panic. Teams like that don't hang half a hundred very often, and don't blow out even their hated rivals. But they also only lose on rare occasions.
The Gators can make teams play left-handed
Bowling Green came out and nibbled away at Florida with short passes and counters; midway through the third quarter, the Falcons couldn't do those two things. Texas A&M used Johnny Manziel's mobility to wreak havoc for a half; after halftime, that didn't work at all, and the Aggies suffered a brownout. Florida's defense may not be the turnover-compiling death machine some envisioned, but it has done a fantastic job in two games of taking away things the other team wanted to do as soon as it recognized that want. Sure, Muschamp's and Dan Quinn's pickup on those things left something to be desired ... but that may not be an issue tomorrow.
Tennessee's offense is no surprise
While Muschamp made noise about Bowling Green going from vertical to horizontal passing and Manziel's running clearly took Florida by surprise, Tennessee's been running the same sort of traditional pass-heavy offense for about two years' worth of games now, with Tyler Bray almost in the teens in terms of starts and the personnel around him still best-suited for pyrotechnic passing. Florida's not going to be taken by surprise when the Vols line up and throw deep, because that's what these Vols do; Tennessee doing anything else would be disadvantageous, because it's not going to run to win and would be wasting its big-play receivers in a short passing game.
Jeff Driskel is getting better
The thing that had me most worried about Jeff Driskel being thrust into the starting role entering this season was his composure. Driskel was erratic at points in 2011, and rattled quarterbacks just don't instill me with a lot of confidence. But it's a different Driskel we've seen through two games this year: He doesn't chuck it into coverage, doesn't panic (if anything, he's too patient), and he's been surgically accurate on short and intermediate passes, giving defenses no chances to intercept him. And, sure, that's after two starts, but both ended up being close games and one took place on the road against a new opponent on a stage that could have eaten him alive. Driskel may not be the guy who gets Florida back to the unstoppable offense that every post-Spurrier Gators fan drools over, but if he's getting Florida wins because he's not that guy, and is instead ideal for the Muschamp regime, that's not really a failing.
Florida can't imagine losing to Tennessee
I'm reluctant to just cite seven straight wins, just one a one-possession game and five by double digits, and tell you that Florida's going to beat Tennessee because that's what Florida does on the third Saturday in September. But Florida's players know what beating Tennessee takes, and Tennessee players have no idea what beating Florida takes, and there's never been a sense in the last five years that the Vols would win one except for the portion of last year's game featuring Justin Hunter on two functioning legs.
Tennessee's as good as it's been since Phil Fulmer tumbled off of Rocky Top, with talent that is closer to Florida's than it has been since about 2002, and yet I just can't make myself see a scenario in which the Gators lose this game that can't be described as a "meltdown" in one sense or another. Maybe that's overconfidence, but it just feels like the right read to me.