With Florida and Tennessee set to square off in Knoxville, Tenn., here's 10 things the Gators must do to continue their winning streak in the series.
1. Pressure Tyler Bray
If given time in the pocket, the Volunteers' junior quarterback has proven he has the ability to shred a secondary. Through two games this season Bray has passed for 643 yards and six touchdowns. Tennessee is 2-0 after beating N.C. State and Georgia State, and Bray has only been sacked once in those two games. For the Gators to win Saturday and avoid getting exposed deep, the defensive line must pressure Bray and force him to make quick decisions. Look for defensive coordiantor Dan Quinn to dial up some sexy blitzes with complicated coverages to try and confuse Bray.
2. Run the ball effectively
As I wrote in my advance for today, the key to this series historically has been rushing the ball. The last nine winners in the rivalry and 20 and the last 22 have been the team to win the running battle. Last year, the Gators held the Volunteers to minus-9 yards on the ground and made the Tennessee offense one-dimensional. (The injury to Justin Hunter didn't hurt either.) Still, the key to victory, especially for Florida, is controlling the clock with long scoring drives to keep the dangerous combo of Bray, Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson off the field.
3. Don't let the big play beat you
Tennessee is going to take shots down the field. That much is certain. For Florida to win today, it needs to prevent the Volunteers' receivers from getting behind the safeties and scoring on quick, long strikes. Look for junior Matt Elam to stay at his safety spot more than usual in this game. Sure, he will still rotate down to play nickel in some situations, but with Josh Evans (shoulder) banged up and Cody Riggs (foot) out, the Gators need experience at the last level of defense. Redshirt freshman Valdez Showers and sophomore Jabari Gorman will be tested when on the field.
4. Force turnovers
The Gators forced just 14 a season ago and the coaching staff put a large emphasis in the offseason on taking the ball away. But through two games Florida has just one takeaway, an interception from sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson against Bowling Green. That won't get it done today. To win in hostile Neyland Stadium, the Gators need to come up with some big plays in the secondary. If they can do that early in the game and rattle Bray, that might make the difference between winning and losing.
5. Don't give up turnovers
Just as forcing turnovers will be huge for Florida, so will protecting the ball on offense. Sophomore Jeff Driskel has done a fantastic job in that regard thus far, choosing to take a sack or negative play instead of forcing a ball into traffic. The team has only giveaway this season, a fumble from Omarius Hines in the third quarter against Bowling Green, but it didn't cost them. That won't be the case in Knoxville. Quite simply, the Gators can't afford to give the Volunteers any added opportunities today.
6. Stretch the field
The Gators want to run the ball, and the Volunteers know it. Expect to see the box stacked with orange jerseys early on until Driskel proves he can get the ball down the field and force Tennessee's safeties to stay honest. Driskel showed a hint of that last week against TAMU when he found Hines for a 39-yard gain on a nicely thrown ball. Expect to see Florida try to hit something big on play action early in the game to open up some holes for Gillislee in the run game.
7. Win the kicking game
This should be a lock for Florida, but crazy things have happened in this rivalry when it comes down to the right foot of a place kicker. Muschamp has referred to Caleb Sturgis as the nation's best kicker several times this season, and his ability to remain calm under pressure and hit the long ones is vital. Tennessee, on the other hand, is going with a former walk-on this week after junior Michael Palardy missed an extra point and a 39-yard field goal attempt last week against Georgia State. If it's close late, Florida has the advantage here.
8. Be sound on teams
Patterson is known as one of Tennessee's big-play threats on offense, but he also is sixth nationally with a 35.3 average on kick returns. He had 106 return yards last week against Georgia State and has the ability to break one and go the distance. That's exactly the type of play Florida must prevent. However, the Gators have their own big-play threat on returns as well in Andre Debose, who has been relatively quiet this season after making a splash last year. The new kickoff rules should play a large role in this one, as the Gators will likely tell Sturgis to kick the ball out of the end zone and gladly let the Volunteers take over at the 25-yard line.
9. Get Jordan Reed involved
This one seems obvious, as Reed is arguably the Gators' best weapon on offense outside of Gillislee. But Tennessee knows that as well and will be looking to shut down the versatile tight end. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease gushed about Reed this week and surely has devised some creative ways to get him the ball in space. Reed showed what he can do in that regard last week, taking a short route and gaining 30 yards purely on athletic ability. If Reed is effective, it will help keep linebackers from keying on Gillislee.
10. Convert in short-yardage situations
This has been one of Florida's biggest issues this season. Against Bowling Green, the offense failed to convert on nine third-down plays of fewer than two yards. Although the Gators did a better job of avoiding the situation against the Aggies, they still struggled in short yardage, especially with blocking up front. That won't get the job done today. Extending drives and converting on third down will be essential.
Prediction: Florida 29, Tennessee 27