It’s been 11 years since Tennessee beat Florida, but the Volunteers are feeling confident heading into this season’s matchup. The Vols are playing at home, they’re highly ranked and they’re seven-point favorites.
But the Gators are also confident, and none more so than UF cornerback Quincy Wilson. He compared UT and UF to ducks and trucks, respectively, posing the inscrutable question, “Have you ever seen a duck pull a truck?”
So with both team’s high on confidence heading into Saturday’s game, who’s going to win? Our alligatorSports football writers Ethan Bauer, Ian Cohen, Jordan McPherson and Patrick Pinak debate.
BAUER: Earlier this year, I predicted Tennessee would soundly beat Florida this season. But now that game week has arrived, I’m torn.
On one side, the Volunteers have drastically underwhelmed so far this season. They’ve beaten low-tier teams like Appalachian State and Ohio by single digits. But they also clobbered Virginia Tech by 21 and their quarterback is still Josh Dobbs, who torched the Gators in 2015.
Meanwhile, Florida has been significantly more impressive than I thought it’d be. Its defense is truly elite, and I can’t see Tennessee scoring more than 20 points.
But UF's offense has been unimpressive aside from the Kentucky game, when two of the main architects of success were quarterback Luke Del Rio and receiver Antonio Callaway. Florida will be without Del Rio while McElwain listed Callaway as questionable to probable for Saturday.
With that in mind, this game comes down to two things: Florida’s defense staying elite and its offense playing passably.
I think UF's defense takes a step back. Tennessee is considerably more talented than any other team Florida’s played, and that might be pretty shocking.
And I think the Gators' offense will be about the same as it has been despite facing a better defense. Florida’s running back rotation is talented enough to make that happen, even with a backup quarterback.
So with those two factors basically cancelling out, I say Tennessee takes it, 17-13, in a close game that really could go either way partly because of home field advantage, and partly because we need a contrarian among us.
COHEN: With Del Rio out, a passing offense may be hard to come by on Saturday.
Luckily for the Gators, they won’t need one.
Week 4 is a prime opportunity for several areas of Florida’s team to step up and pull their fair share of weight now that there are question marks surrounding UF's quarterback position.
The first group is the running backs. Florida’s four-deep backfield will receive plenty of carries on Saturday, and for a Tennessee defense that allowed 184 rushing yards to Appalachian State in Week 1 and 186 yards to Virginia Tech in Week 2, that doesn’t bode well for the Volunteers.
Expect Mark Thompson, Jordan Cronkrite, Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine to get a bunch of first-down carries on Saturday.
The second group is the defensive line and the cornerbacks, but really, it should be the whole defense. Yes, Florida is averaging 33.7 points per game, but its defense has only allowed a ridiculous 4.7 points per game. That’s first in the country.
And after defensive backs Quincy Wilson, Jalen Tabor and Marcus Maye approached the media after practice on Tuesday and collectively guaranteed a Florida win on Saturday, I know better than to pick against them in a rivalry game. Florida wins, 17-10.
McPHERSON: As the Gators prepare to ascend on the Tennessee hills — the ones where there ain’t no smoggy smoke and there ain’t no telephone bills — they will endure one of the most raucous crowds they can face in Neyland Stadium. With a checkered sea of orange and white filling the stadium to its brink, it will be loud.
More than 100,000 fans will be booing, shouting obscenities and screaming the gloried chorus of Rocky Top at the top of their lungs.
How Florida responds to the noise will determine the outcome.
At the end of the day, even with a backup quarterback and an underdog status for Saturday’s game, Florida should narrowly come out on top yet again. It will focus on a heavy dose of the run game, with any of the four players rotating around in the backfield having the potential to break free.
The front seven will learn from its mistakes last year and wrap up Jalen Hurd and Josh Dobbs when they go in for the tackle.
Tennessee will make a valiant effort — the ducks will try with all their might — but the Florida truck will stand still on Rocky Top.
For yet another year, the Gators will make Rocky Top, Tennessee, home sweet home. Final score: 14-13 Florida.
PINAK: Florida will extend its winning streak over Tennessee to 12 games for two reasons, both mentioned by UT coach Butch Jones via teleconference Wednesday.
For one, UF’s defense is unlike any other.
The Gators lead the country in limiting opponents in yards per game (129.7) and points per game (4.7). Jones called it explosive and “one of the best” defenses he’s seen since he’s been at UT.
And the only real threat to that defense is Volunteers quarterback Josh Dobbs, who ran wild in The Swamp last year to the tune of 136 yards. But it doesn’t sound like McElwain will let that happen again.
“We’re going to have to maintain our rush lanes when they do throw it and get him hopefully a little uncomfortable and not be able to get his feet set exactly like he wants to,” McElwain said, “and not let him take over the game with his feet like he did against us last year.”
The other reason Florida will leave Knoxville victorious is because backup quarterback Austin Appleby doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards to win this game. As long as Appleby doesn’t turn the ball over and is consistent, UF's four-headed running game should be enough.
And with UT’s top cornerback, Cam Sutton, out with an ankle injury, that should make Appleby’s job slightly easier.
“I know exactly what they’re telling (Appleby),” Jones said. “He doesn’t have to win the game, just manage the game for them.”
For that reason, I’ll take two UF running backs rushing for more than 100 yards and the Gators edging out a close, defensive-minded game by a final of 17-10 in Neyland Stadium.