Florida football: Know your enemy – Tennessee Volunteers

Florida football comes home to face Tennessee in a rivalry game that has seen the Orange & Blue win 13 out of the last 14 games.

Despite the dominance, the Vols have taken Florida down-to-the-wire in their last two visits to The Swamp, forcing the Gators to piece together two improbable 63-yard pass plays for touchdowns deep into the fourth quarter to secure the wins: Grier to Callaway ’15 and Franks to Cleveland ’17.

Last 5 Meetings
2018 – Florida 47-21
2017 – Florida 26-20
2016 – Tennessee 38-28
2015 – Florida 28-27
2014 – Florida 10-9

Opponent Season Summary

2019, much like of the last decade and a half, has not been kind to Tennessee.

I grew up in the mid-1990’s/early-2000’s and remember a dominant Tennessee program led by head coach Phillip Fulmer that featured the likes of QB Peyton Manning, QB Tee Martin, DE Leonard Little, LB Al Wilson, WR Peerless Price, RB Jamal Lewis, DT John Henderson, and TE Jason Witten.

In my first big home game as a student in The Swamp, Urban Meyer implored students to “Take Back The Swamp,” when the No. 4 Volunteers came to town for a crucial early-season matchup that had set the tone for the SEC East race for so much of the previous decade.

We were pumped to knock off the Vols 16-7! So was Meyer…

That 2005 Tennessee team went on to finish 5-6, posting the school’s first losing record since 1988. Since 2005, the four Volunteers head coaches (not including the interims) have suffered seven losing seasons:

  1. 2008 – 5-7
  2. 2010 – 6-7
  3. 2011 – 5-7
  4. 2012 – 5-7
  5. 2013 – 5-7
  6. 2017 – 4-8
  7. 2018 – 5-7

To give an idea of just how abysmal that track record is by Tennessee football standards, let’s use 2005 as the median and back-track to find the seven previous losing seasons in Volunteers’ football history.

You have to back-track until the Eisenhower administration in 1954 to find the seven previous losing seasons in Knoxville since the 2005 decline.

  1. 1988 – 5-7
  2. 1980 – 5-6
  3. 1977 – 4-7
  4. 1964 – 4-5-1
  5. 1962 – 4-6
  6. 1958 – 4-6
  7. 1954 – 4-6
This is the real song that never ends

According to a story from the Tennessean, the Tennessee band has a senior trombone player track how often the band plays “Rocky Top” and, in 2016, they played the most annoying song in college football 438 times.

It’s unclear whether that obscene number includes the bowl appearance, but let’s hope it does for the sake of averages.

Here’s what the ears of Tennessee’s 2016 opponents were forced to endure:

  • Average times Rocky Top played per game (13 games): 33.69
  • Average times Rocky Top played per quarter: 8.42
  • Average amount of time passed before repeating Rocky Top: 1.78 minutes which translates close to every 1 minute and 47 seconds of game-clock.

The Pride of the Sunshine band should come up with a song that is exclusively used once-a-year to drown out Rocky Top.

I’ll incorporate the song into the article going forward to give Florida fans a proper preview for Saturday.

Game #1 – L 38-30 vs Georgia State
Three Tennessee turnovers led to two touchdowns and a field goal for Georgia State in what is likely to go down as the upset of the year in college football. Since defeating the Vols, Georgia State struggled to beat FCS Furman 48-42 and lost Western Michigan 57-10.

Wish that I was on ol’ Rocky Top
Down in the Tennessee hills
Ain’t no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top
Ain’t no telephone bills

Game #2 – L 29-26 vs BYU
Good teams find a way to win. The Vols found a way to lose to the Cougs.

BYU faced a 3rd & 6 from their own 20-yard line with under 30 seconds left when QB Zach Wilson hit WR Micah Simon for a 64-yard pass to the Tennessee 16. After kicking a field goal and trading touchdowns in the first overtime, the Cougars punched in a touchdown for a win in the second overtime.

Once I had a girl on Rocky Top
Half bear, other half cat
Wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop
I still dream about that

Game #3 – W 45-0 vs Chattanooga
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

According to Knox News, the announced attendance was 86,208 in a stadium that sits over 102,000 for last weekend’s game against Chattanooga. 14,000 empty seats are a good indicator of enthusiasm.

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

Offensive Outlook

Key players:

Once two strangers climbed ol’ Rocky Top
Lookin’ for a moonshine still
Strangers ain’t come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will

Quarterback

QB Jarrett Guarantano returns for another season as the Tennessee starter.

The redshirt junior from Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey has 17 consecutive starts under his belt and showed signs of improvement throughout the course of 2018.

According to the UT Communications Department, Guarantano holds the school record for completion percentage with 62.7%, just ahead of Peyton Manning’s 62.5%.

He also managed to throw 166 consecutive passes without an interception, which stands as a school-record.

Guarantano is steady and won’t hand the game to the Florida defense, but if the Gators can maintain the level of pressure they’ve demonstrated through three games this season, they should be able to force at least a couple of turnovers.

Corn won’t grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt’s too rocky by far
That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar

Running Back

Junior RB Ty Chandler will be the focal point of the Tennessee run game.

Chandler led the Vols in rushing last season with 630 yards on 115 carries and four rushing touchdowns.

In the second game against BYU, he carried the ball 26 times for 154 yards in a performance that included a 53-yard run (his third run of 50 or more yards in his career).

Florida native (Bartow), junior RB Tim Jordan has only 12 carries for 49 yards on the season.

RB Eric Gray has also contributed 138 yards rushing in three games. The versatile true freshman has also proven to be a reliable pass-catcher as well, adding nine catches on the season.

If the defense can limit any big plays from Chandler, it has a chance to put on a dominant performance.

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

Wide Receiver/Tight End

WR Jauan Jennings is one of the bright spots for the offense this season, streaking out to 12 catches for 208 yards and four touchdowns so far.

Jennings will be Guarantano’s best weapon on the field and could present a challenge for the Gators’ young secondary.

Senior WR Marquez Callaway has added 9 receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

6’4″, 264 LBS senior TE Dominick Wood-Anderson has recorded a catch in each game, but should not require much attention from the Gators.

I’ve had years of cramped-up city life
Trapped like a duck in a pen
All I know is it’s a pity life
Can’t be simple again

Offensive Line

The Tennessee offensive line should be one of the larger lines the Gators face this season. The Vols are full of talent on paper, but the group lacks experience.

Four of the five starters have only made their first starts at their respective positions this season, including two starters who debuted last week.

  • LT Wayna Morris (6’4″, 313 LBS, FR)
    • A five-star prospect, the true freshman has two starts in his young career.
    • Listed on 2019 ESPN Preseason Freshman All-America Team.
  • LG Trey Smith (6’6″, 323 LBS, JR)
    • Moved to left guard this season.
    • Started 19 consecutive games to start his career before blood clots cut last season short.
  • C Brandon Kennedy (6’3″, 301 LBS, RS-SR)
    • Alabama transfer is listed on the 2019 Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List, the award given to the nation’s top center.
  • RG Darnell Wright (6’6″, 330 LBS, FR)
    • The five-star prospect made his first start last week against Chattanooga.
    • Second Vols OL starter to be listed on the 2019 ESPN Preseason Freshman All-America Team.
  • RT K’Rojhn Calbert (6’5″, 330 LBS, RS-SO)
    • Played primarily as a guard last season.
    • Made his first start at right tackle in last week’s game.

The Gators’ defensive line holds the edge in experience upfront and should be able to expose a young right side of the Tennessee offensive line.

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

Defensive Breakdown

Key players:

Wish that I was on ol’ Rocky Top
Down in the Tennessee hills
Ain’t no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top
Ain’t no telephone bills

Defensive Line

DE Aubrey Solomon (JR) transferred into Tennessee after two seasons at Michigan. The former four-star prospect has recorded 10 tackles on the season.

6’3″, 309 LBS DT Greg Emerson (RS-FR) made his first start to open the season against Georgia State and has 9 tackles, 1.5 TFL, and 1 sack on the season.

Tight end LaTrell Bumphus has moved to defensive end and recorded two sacks in his first career start, becoming only the second member of this year’s team to have recorded multiple-sack games.

Anyone else thinks of the old man yelling at the dogs in a A Christmas Story when reading the name “Bumphus,” or was it just me?

Once I had a girl on Rocky Top
Half bear, other half cat
Wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop
I still dream about that

Linebackers

The Vols have no shortage of playmakers at linebacker.

LB Darrell Taylor will line up at the SAM for Tennessee. No returning player in the SEC recorded more than Taylor’s eight sacks last season.  The senior is listed on several preseason award watch lists, most notably for the: Bednarik, Butkus and Nagurski awards.

Last week, sophomore linebacker Jeremy Banks became the first UT linebacker to record two interceptions in a single game since 1981. Banks, who has seven tackles on the season, switched to linebacker from running back after rushing the ball 52 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns in 2018.

MLB Daniel Bituli returned last week after missing the first two games of the season. The Vols defense should improve going forward since their leading tackler from the last two seasons has returned.

True freshman LB Henry To’o To’o is second on the team with 17 tackles.

Florida native (St. Thomas Aquinas), LB Kivon Bennett (RS-SO), will start at JACK for the Vols.

Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

Secondary

Senior S Nigel Warrior was included on last week’s SEC Defensive Team of the Week after posting his second career interception and recording two tackles.

True freshman CB Warren Burrell has posted eight tackles and started in each game.

S Theo Jackson (JR) posted a career-high nine tackles and had seven pass break-ups against BYU two weeks ago.

CB Shawn Shamburger (JR) will play in the nickel and CB Kenneth George, Jr. (RS-JR) will make his second start of the season.

Once two strangers climbed ol’ Rocky Top
Lookin’ for a moonshine still
Strangers ain’t come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will
Corn won’t grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt’s too rocky by far
That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar
Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

Special Teams

K Brett Cimaglia has eight made field goals on the season, tied for best in the nation.

K Paxton Brooks has close to a 95% touchback percentage. The Vols have yet to allow a single yard on a kick return this season.

Redshirt sophomore P Joe Doyle returns after a Freshman All-American campaign in 2018.  Tennessee is averaging 47.8 yards per punt in 2019.

RB Ty Chandler currently ranks first in the SEC and 14th in the nation in kick return yardage, averaging nearly 30 yards per return.

Last week, the Volunteers blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.

I’ve had years of cramped-up city life
Trapped like a duck in a pen
All I know is it’s a pity life
Can’t be simple again
Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me
Good ol’ Rocky Top
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee
Rocky Top, Tennessee

One more time for good measure:

No. Florida will host Tennessee at noon Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Next: Gator Nation explodes over Kash Daniels video

Go Gators!

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