My 25 predictions for Florida's Rocky Top tussle with Tennessee (noon, SEC Network or WatchESPN)...
- Florida will score first.
- Florida will allow points in the first half.
- Neither team will lead by more than 10 points in the first half.
- Jeff Driskel will not take every snap at QB for Florida in the first half.
- Driskel will account for more than 250 yards of total offense.
- Matt Jones will run for more than 100 yards.
- Kelvin Taylor will have Florida's longest run of the day.
- Florida will have at least three rushes of more than 15 yards.
- Quinton Dunbar will not make a touchdown catch. (THIS IS OBVIOUSLY A REVERSE JINX.)
- Demarcus Robinson will have more than three catches.
- Florida's receivers will have between 12 and 20 combined catches.
- Florida will score more than 20 points.
- Florida's defense will allow under 5.0 yards per play.
- Jalen Hurd will average under 5.0 yards per carry.
- A defensive back will lead Florida in tackles.
- Florida will allow at least one 100-yard receiver.
- Florida will record at least one interception.
- Florida will force at least two turnovers.
- Tennessee will make a mistake on special teams.
- Kyle Christy will average better than 48 yards per punt.
- Florida will miss a field goal.
- Florida will win the time of possession battle.
- Neither team will lead by more than 14 points.
- But Florida will win.
- And Florida will win by at least a touchdown.
Two weeks ago, I wrote "By the end of the day, we will probably know."
And yet, after how the Gators played at Alabama, I still don't. Sort of.
I re-read my Sunday Rundown after that game this morning. The two main things I didn't mention, Florida's run defense and Florida's running game, weren't the takeaways from that game ... but they're probably the keys to this one. The Gators have been able to use Matt Jones to pound away up front rather reliably this year, and Tennessee's run defense, which has yielded 4.42 yards per carry on the season and was gouged by Todd Gurley last week, is far from Alabama's. Florida's also been stellar against the run except for the second half of its game against the Tide, giving up just 3.23 yards per carry despite the late damage done by Derrick Henry in Tuscaloosa.
Running the ball and stopping the run should allow Florida to control this game, and control will be important on the road and in front of a raucous crowd desperate to see a result against the hated Gators that they haven't seen in years. Those strategies should also keep the pressure off Jeff Driskel, who needs confidence like a desert traveler needs water, and Florida's secondary, which might be less leaky after a fortnight of streamlining and shaking things up.
And if Florida can control this game, I see no reason Florida shouldn't win it. The struggles over the Gators' last two contests have happened in part because the Gators couldn't control either game, with Kentucky hanging around until it hit big plays partly because Florida couldn't hit any of its own, and Alabama not getting swamped by its early series of turnovers because of the Gators' secondary hemorrhaging yards when it wasn't forcing fumbles. I think playing from ahead will benefit this team even more than it does most, because of this offense's strengths and the defense's apparent need to know the pass is coming.
But if Florida can't control this game, it could get ugly.
The idea that things are slipping away from the Gators already is a fear that has been almost palpable in the Florida fan base for the past two weeks, insane as that may sound for a 2-1 team that would absolutely be 3-1 if not for a freakish night of rain. Florida, which merely lost a football game in historic fashion to Alabama, is being mentioned in the same breath as Michigan, which is on the tail end of seven years of gross mismanagement, capped by a disgusting lack of interest in player safety. Few fans think Will Muschamp is fit for his job, though many still want him to be, and fewer still have faith in Driskel.
I think the panicking, fearful fans are largely overreacting, and I think a bye week spent stewing and crying over a 6'4" glass of spilt milk who played well for N.C. State last weekend only allowed overreaction to become more severe; nothing that happened last weekend should have changed any feelings about Florida, because Florida did nothing.
The thing I don't know for certain today is which way this game will go. I think the Gators have a fine chance of withstanding early fury from the young Vols, and going on to prove their mettle over the course of a grinding game, but they could also lose. Tennessee's passing game is potentially dazzling, and its defense on third down is daunting.
But I do know for sure that the Gators face a fork in the road.
Down one path, Florida wins this game, and sets itself up for contention in the SEC East.
Down the other, Florida loses, and the program faces a likely overhaul after the 2014 season.
I'd prefer a win, personally.