No. 9 Florida begins its three-game homestand and second conference game against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday. Both teams come into the matchup with a lot of questions still left to be answered, so here are three things Florida fans should look out for during the game:
Florida’s Run Game
UF’s ground attack has been uninspired through its first three games of the season with a lack of push at the line of scrimmage, running backs missing holes and carriers being hit in the backfield. In a scheme that relies a lot on running the ball to open up the offense, it has simply been subpar. With backup quarterback Kyle Trask now filling in for the injured Feleipe Franks, improvement will have to be immediate and substantial as the team leans more on the run game.
The Gators rank No. 91 in the country in rushing offense entering Week 4 at 139.7 yards per game. Senior running back Lamical Perine, thought to be the team’s best rusher coming into the season, has just 120 total yards on the ground off 34 carries. He peaked in the Sept. 7 home-opener against FCS opponent UT Martin with a pedestrian 51-yard performance.
UF will try to use the matchup against a lackluster Tennessee run defense to open up the ground game. The Volunteers have allowed 157 yards per game rushing and five touchdowns on the ground, so far.
The focus will be Florida’s offensive line, which began the year with four new starters and has stumbled through its first three contests. The young and unseasoned line has been incapable of getting a consistent push at the line for the run game, often allowing too much penetration and offering the ball carrier no room to maneuver.
Coach Dan Mullen said he was satisfied with the unit after the Kentucky game but will have to be patient through the growing pains. Tennessee will provide another evaluation.
UF Secondary vs. Tennessee Pass Game
Florida’s front seven has been the highlight of the defense to begin the season.
Intimidating from the first whistle to the last, UF has piled up 16 total sacks in its first three games, leading the country in that category.
But the line can’t do it all.
The front’s sack total has trended down since its 10-sack performance against Miami in Week 0, and the ever-dwindling pressure rate on quarterbacks has forced the UF secondary to make more plays.
The defense forced more takeaways last game against Kentucky, culminating in a four-turnover performance. Shawn Davis led the way with two crucial interceptions in the second half of the comeback win.
The secondary needs to continue progressing and has a good test against efficient Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who has seven touchdowns on the year with just two interceptions.
Trask is the big name on campus after his performance against Kentucky last week.
The longtime backup came into the fourth quarter after starter Feleipe Franks went down with an ankle injury. He tallied 126 yards on nine completions, a rushing touchdown and led his team to 19 unanswered points in the comeback win.
All eyes will be on him to see if he can replicate his heroic performance, but it won’t be as easy.
Tennessee ranks No. 14 nationally in pass yards allowed with 149 per game and has forced six turnovers coming into the Week 4 matchup. UT also has a six sacks on the season.
Trask showed poise in the pocket against Kentucky but may have his hands full with aggressive blitz packages sent to disrupt his play behind his raw offensive line.
How he handles a whole game under center will paint a clearer picture of his ability looking forward.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at [email protected]