Florida vs. Tennessee, Field Survey: What Gators need to know, and what's at stake

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Florida renews one of its storied SEC rivalries on Saturday in The Swamp against Tennessee. But are the Vols anything more than a nail to hammer?

Field Survey is a new weekly feature that will run Mondays this fall, setting the table for each week in college football with what lies before Florida and what Gators fans need to know.

The Main Course: Florida vs. Tennessee

The Vital Information

Opponent Tennessee Volunteers
Date September 21, 2013
Kickoff Time 3:30 p.m. Eastern
TV | Radio CBS | Gator Radio Network
Location Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville
Opposing Coach Butch Jones
2012 Record 5-7, 1-7 SEC
2013 Record 2-1
Series History Florida leads, 23-19
Last Meeting Florida 37, Tennessee 20 (2012)

The Situation Report

Florida meets Tennessee on Saturday, September 21, in Florida's first 3:30 p.m. showcase game on CBS of the 2013 season. The spotlight fits the Gators better than the Vols: Even though both teams have already lost to non-conference foes this year, Florida is still coming off an 11-win season and a BCS bowl berth, still in the national polls, and still favored to win this game by two touchdowns. Butch Jones took over a Tennessee program that cratered under Derek Dooley after faltering under Lane Kiffin, and though early returns suggest Jones is better than both his immediate predecessors, "Rocky Top" has been more of a dirge for the last half-decade.

Tennessee's 30-35 record since 2008, the last season of Philip Fulmer's 17-year tenure as the Volunteers' head coach, is largely the product of five straight six-loss seasons, more in a five-year stretch than Florida has since 1956, when Bob Woodruff was the Gators' head coach. In those past five seasons, Tennessee has lost to Florida five times, all by double digits, the bulk of an eight-game skid that dates back to 2005.

Of course, that's just one-seventh of the losses Tennessee's taken since Fulmer's final ride. Since then, the Vols have also fallen to UCLA twice, to Wyoming at home, to Missouri in its first SEC season, and to Kentucky — for the first time since 1984. Jones may be able to dig Tennessee out of its hole in time, but the hole is deep, indeed.

Non-Essential Information

  • GatorZone's pregame notes are available in PDF form here.
  • Florida's third opponent of each of the last eight seasons has been Tennessee. The Gators are 8-0 in those meetings.
  • Seven of those Florida-Tennessee games served as the Gators' SEC openers; the exception was the 2012 meeting, which game after Florida welcomed Texas A&M to the SEC in its second game of the season.
  • This is the first time since 1990, when Florida-Tennessee became an annual rivalry, that both teams enter a September game coming off a loss. The only other time this happened during the annual series was in 2001, when Florida and Tennessee met in late September in a game rescheduled after the September 11 attacks.
  • Florida has scored 30 or more points in five of its eight straight wins over Tennessee. The exceptions came in 2009's 23-13 win, possibly the most frustrating win in Florida history; 2006's 21-20 squeaker, in which Tim Tebow made his first mark on Florida; and 2005's 16-7 snoozer, in which neither team gained more than 250 yards.
  • Tennessee's coaching staff has a pair of familiar faces to Gators fans: Wide receivers coach Zach Azzani was Florida's wide receivers coach in 2010 under Urban Meyer, and running backs coach Robert Gillespie gained over 3,000 yards for the Gators from 1998 to 2001.
  • Butch Jones is 0-1 against Florida. He served as the interim head coach for Cincinnati for the 2010 Sugar Bowl, which Florida won 51-24 over Cincinnati.

The Least Essential Information

The long-running conventional wisdom about the Florida-Tennessee series has been that the team that rushes better has been the team that wins. Passing yardage, by contrast, has seemingly no correlation to victory of late. Here's the table for Florida's eight-game winning streak, with the greater passing yardage in bold:

Year Result UF Passing Yards UT Passing Yards
2005 Florida 16, Tennessee 7 179 (Leak) 147 (Ainge)
2006 Florida 21, Tennessee 20 199 (Leak/Tebow) 231 (Ainge/Taylor)
2007 Florida 59, Tennessee 20 299 (Tebow) 261 (Ainge/Crompton)
2008 Florida 30, Tennessee 6 96 (Tebow) 162 (Crompton)
2009 Florida 23, Tennessee 13 115 (Tebow) 93 (Crompton)
2010 Florida 31, Tennessee 17 167 (Brantley) 259 (Simms)
2011 Florida 33, Tennessee 23 213 (Brantley) 288 (Bray)
2012 Florida 37, Tennessee 20 219 (Driskel) 257 (Bray)

The Stakes

Florida's long winning streak over Tennessee is nice to have, but this win is far more important for starting off SEC play with a victory, ensuring that the legion of recruits that will be in attendance (about which more tomorrow) goes home happy, and avoiding what would be a disastrous 1-2 beginning to 2013. Florida hasn't had a losing record at any point in any season since beginning its 1992 campaign 1-2, and it would be a shock to the system for these Vols to be the team that makes that happen.

For Tennessee, the allure of that upset is powerful, but the Vols are far more likely to lose than win, especially coming off a battering at the hands of a swift and relentless Oregon attack that gashed Tennessee's defense for 687 yards and exposed holes that even Florida's much-maligned offense is likely to exploit. Florida rolled up 555 yards of offense on Tennessee in Neyland Stadium in 2012, its highest total under Will Muschamp, and that was with a quarterback making his second road start, an offensive line that had many issues, and a corps of wide receivers that left much to be desired. If Tennessee can improve on the collapse that facilitated that performance — Florida trailed 14-10 at the half, and 20-13 midway through the third quarter, before loosing a 24-0 torrent to finish the game — it will be proof of progress.

Recon

On its face, Tennessee's loss to Oregon was as expected and bad as its wins over Austin Peay and Western Kentucky were expected and good: The Ducks are supposed to crush Tennessee, and did, just as Tennessee should destroy an FCS school and a team with far less talent. But Oregon dominated the Vols largely without the aid of turnovers and field position after some initial sputtering (Tennessee led 7-0, and Oregon's first three drives produced three points), scoring touchdowns on eight straight drives; none of them lasted more than than 2:13, but just one was shorter than 63 yards, and four went 80 or more yards.

Tennessee needed no help from Austin Peay, but got a little: Two interceptions, one setting up a 25-yard touchdown drive. Western Kentucky was significantly more gracious: After taking a 3-0 lead and forcing the Vols to punt on their first drive, the Hilltoppers committed five turnovers in the span of six plays, all in the first quarter, handing over a 31-3 lead that was built by two pick-sixes, a short field goal, a 12-yard touchdown drive, and a 22-yard touchdown drive. From that point on, Tennessee outscored Western Kentucky by a far narrower 21-17 margin, snagged two goal-line picks to snuff out Hilltopper drives, threw one to kill one of its own, had a punt blocked, and generally didn't look like quite as great a team as it did when Western Kentucky committed five turnovers in six plays.

Other Theaters of Operations

Florida isn't the only SEC team returning to action after an odd early bye week: Georgia, which also went 1-1 in its first two games with a loss to an ACC team, feasts on its first cupcake, North Texas, in Athens on Saturday. The reason Florida-Tennessee is a CBS game despite featuring two one-loss teams: Most of the rest of the SEC is also eating creampuffs, with Auburn's trip to LSU serving as the only other conference contest of the Week 4 slate.

Star-divide

Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.

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