September 16, 2017
The Gators will take on the Volunteers in the UF opener and Southeastern Conference debut for both teams.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In their normal, routine football world, the Florida Gators would have had two tune-up games to prepare for one of their biggest and annual rivals and, in the case of this 2017 season, also have an abundance of user-friendly situations to ease an untested, redshirt freshman quarterback into the fold.
Anything about the last two weeks seem normal?
Yet, here come the Tennessee Volunteers.
First, the Gators opened the season against Michigan, one of the best teams in the country with maybe the best defense in the country. They were smacked around in their neutral-site Texas showdown, losing 33-17, along the way achieving next to nothing on offense and scoring both touchdowns via a defense that was on the field the better part of the afternoon.
The second week was supposed to be about fixing things against an overmatched Northern Colorado squad, but Hurricane Irma took care of that, along with a bunch of trees and power lines in Gainesville (not to mention the rest of the state).
So the next snap Feleipe Franks takes for the 24th-ranked Gators (0-1) will come against the No. 23 Vols (2-0), who have both a thrilling come-from-behind 42-41 double-overtime victory against Georgia Tech under their belts, plus one of those glorified scrimmages to knock the rust off. The latter came last weekend, a 42-7 pounding of Indiana State when UT passed for 235 yards and rushed for another 160.
Meantime, as the Vols were brushing up on the Sycamores, UF was dodging sycamores. Literally. The Gators sat around last week (waiting out the storm) and sitting on those measly 192 yards. Florida will go into its Southeastern Conference opener ranked 127th in the nation (out of 127 FBS programs) in total offense, as well as dead-last in rushing after gaining just 11 yards rushing against the Wolverines.
The hope is that Franks, who hit five of just nine throws for 75 yards in his debut, will be a better matchup against Tennessee than Michigan. For that to happen, he’ll need some help from the running game, be it sophomore Lamical Perine, senior Mark Thompson or true freshman Malik Davis. And he’ll need his receivers not only to make some plays, but to get open, something they could not do versus Michigan.
The Vols have spent the first two weeks breaking in a new quarterback in Quinten Dormady (60 percent, 415 yards, 1 INT), who’s fared well thanks to some dangerous complimentary pieces in running back John Kelly (208 yards, 5.6-yard average, 4 TDs) and wide receiver Marquez Callaway (5 catches, 152 yards, 30.4 yards per, 3 TDs). The Tennessee offense rates eighth in the SEC at 382 yards per game, including ninth in rushing at 154 yards a game, compared to the UF defense that checks in at 11th in the league after giving up 433 yards against Michigan and next-to-last against the run (215 yards vs. the Wolverines).
The Tennessee defense was utterly gashed by Georgia Tech’s option offense — which makes many a defense look bad — in the opener, as the Yellow Jackets rumbled for 533 yards. The fact Tech throws the ball so seldom is a big reason the Vols are giving up just 106 passing yards per game.
In other words, their defense has yet to be truly tested by a conventional opponent.
Now the Gators want to pass their next test.
UF-UT is the CBS national game of the week, set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. It’ll be replayed six times next week on both the SEC Network and CBS Sports Network. Check for those times here.
Check out the GatorVision’s pre-game show, hosted by Mitch Gerber, coming from the field via “Facebook Live” on the Florida Gators page. Special guests include Coach Jim McElwain, a visit with a Gainesville first responder and quick hits from former UF standout Brandon Siler and NCAA/World Champion swimmer Caeleb Dressel, who will be the honorary “Mr. Two Bits” for the game.
Finally, stay with FloridaGators.com and refresh this link for in-game updates, and also follow senior staff writers Scott Carter and Chris Harry on Twitter (@GatorsScott and @GatorsChris) for commentary and analysis throughout the game.