Jeff Driskel and the Florida offense will have to improve in the red zone this week if they hope to get a win. (Photo credit: Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel)
The Florida Gators open up SEC play this Saturday in the Swamp against their longtime rival, the Tennessee Volunteers. Florida is coming off a bye, but will be looking to rebound from a 21-16 against the Miami Hurricanes its last time out. Tennessee is coming off a 59-14 loss to the Oregon Ducks. The 45-point loss was the Volunteers worst loss since a 48-0 defeat versus Mississippi A&M way back in 1910.
The rivalry between these two SEC East teams dates back to 1916, but one could argue it hasn’t been much of a rivalry lately. Florida has won the last eight meetings, including a 37-20 win in Knoxville last season. Tennessee obviously comes to the Swamp with a goal of ending this losing streak on their minds.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on throughout the game.
Red zone offense
Florida’s struggles on offense in the red zone this season have been well documented, especially against Miami when the Gators went just 2-for-6 in the red zone. Florida turned the ball over three times in the red zone against Miami and failed to convert when they attempted to go for it on fourth down. It sounds simple, but for a team to be successful it has to put points on the board when it gets inside an opponents 20, even if it means settling for a field goal. Last year the Gators rode that exact formula all the way to the Sugar Bowl. With the extra week of practice leading up to this game, expect Florida’s red zone offense to be much improved against Tennessee.
Expanding role of Vernon Hargreaves III
The true freshman cornerback received what you might call a promotion this week when he was listed as the backup to three different cornerback positions on the depth chart. Hargreaves has recorded two interceptions on the season thus far and has drawn regular praise from the coaching staff. It will be interesting to see how he plays in his first career SEC game and how much his role might potentially increase with this new “promotion.”
Who plays quarterback for the Vols?
And perhaps the bigger question, does it really matter? Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has said this week that the quarterback position is open and that whichever quarterback had the best week of practice would be the starter against the Gators. Junior Justin Worley has started each of the Vols first three games, and hasn’t played all that bad. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman competed with Worley for the starting job all offseason and has played sparingly as his backup thus far. Another option could be either of the Vols two highly recruited freshmen, Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson. But in all honesty, it might not matter who Tennessee starts at quarterback with the way the Gators defense has been playing so far this season. It would probably serve the Vols best to stick with Worley, the most experienced quarterback of the bunch.