Tennessee - Florida
In case you haven't noticed, America, Florida might be really close to being Florida again.
The defense didn't allow a touchdown over the first two games, and while playing Florida Atlantic and UAB had something to do with that, the defense showed its maturity and its talent holding Tennessee's impressive offense to 279 yards of total offense and -9 rushing yards.
Okay, maybe it wasn't that mature.
With 16 penalties and pass interference after pass interference, the Gators helped the Vols get back in the game after getting up 30-7. The only way the Vols were going to get back in the game after losing star receiver Justin Hunter early on to a knee injury was to limit the mistakes, and instead they kept screwing up and a dominant blowout turned out to be a fight.
The Gators have as much talent as anyone in the nation – Urban Meyer made sure of that with a few epic recruiting classes – and now the skill players are in the right offense to show off their talents. The decision by head coach Will Muschamp to go with pro coaches and create a pro atmosphere seems to have energized the players and the program, and now it really might be time to think of the Gators in the national title chase.
However, with Alabama up in two weeks and with road dates at LSU, Auburn, and South Carolina looming, not to mention the regular season finale against Florida State, the team has to be much tighter. It has to come up with touchdowns instead of field goals – it should've been at least 24-0 in the second quarter – and being as penalty-free as possible against Kentucky is a must. Another game like this with so many mistakes, and the defense will get a reputation that Nick Saban and Les Miles will be more than happy to play up for officials before their upcoming showdowns.
Tennessee needs more athletes and needs more depth before it can win a game like this, and while the basics are in place, the lines have to be better, Tyler Bray needs even more weapons to work with, committing ten penalties is a killer. The Vols might be on the right track, but it's not improving fast enough to keep up in the SEC arms race and it's still not close to being back to norm.
At least it's not back to being good enough to beat a team as good as Florida.
How good will the youthful Florida defense be once head coach Will Muschamp has more time with it?
Muschamp is one of the better defensive coaches around. When you couple his intensity and know-how with the Gators' slew of future stars, you've got an exciting future in Gainesville. Yes, Tennessee was hamstrung on this day by the unfortunate injury to lethal WR Justin Hunter, but even if the sophomore played the entire game, he wasn't going to slow down the Florida pass rush. Looking up and down the defensive depth chart reveals countless former blue-chippers who are still underclassmen. DT Sharrif Floyd returned today from a questionable suspension to join Dominique Easley up front. Easley toyed with an overmatched Vols offensive line for much of the game, beating it with power and speed. On the outside, Ronald Powell has an enormously high ceiling. The defensive backs are extremely green, but you didn't really know it on this afternoon, as QB Tyler Bray was unable to match his output in the first couple of games. When it mattered most, the Gators clamped down and made the necessary stops.
This was a critical win for Muschamp, who had to maintain the mastery of Tennessee that predecessor Urban Meyer enjoyed previously. Bigger picture, though, the future looks much brighter than the present does. Give the coach a full year with this group, and by 2012, he's going to have the Florida D playing the way Alabama and LSU are so far in 2011.
By Matt Zemek
The Tennessee Volunteers might be a nine- or 10-win team in the distant future, but this is still a program that was gutted by Lane Kiffin. The Vols weren't ready to win at The Swamp against a Florida team with better defense, better athletes on the edges, and a considerable home-field advantage. Florida didn't have to reinvent the wheel; it merely needed to avoid the big mistake and allow its muscle in the trenches to carry the day.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray owns an abundance of talent, but his moment of arrival as an elite quarterback in this sport is still a future-tense event; it's not a present-tense reality. Naturally, seeing receiver Justin Hunter suffer a gruesome injury so early into this contest also reshaped the competitive calculus. The stars did not align favorably for the Vols, whose better days are ahead of them… in perhaps two years. For now, Florida is flinty and more formidable with a defense that can do a fair amount of heavy lifting. No, the Gators' red-zone offense hasn't grown by leaps and bounds, but as long as they can score at a modest rate without committing catastrophic blunders, they'll easily eclipse last season's train wreck and compete with South Carolina for the SEC East.
Vols-Gators isn't what it used to be. However, even Tennessee fans can be thankful that – unlike two years ago in Gainesville – their coach wasn't happy about THIS 10-point loss.
By: Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
When Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray got a decent snap, the Vols' offense was extremely efficient. Big problem though - decent snaps were few and far between.
James Stone was a Freshman All-American at center last year, but he didn't play like it on Saturday vs. Florida. The uncertainty on whether or not the snap was going to be clean on a play-by-play basis hindered Tennessee all game long. When you're playing a defense as physical and talented as Florida's, you have to be clicking on all cylinders, and the quarterback/center exchange wasn't clicking on Saturday.
Tennessee fought hard for all four quarters, which is a step in the right direction for the Vols, who routinely ran out of gas late in games last season. It's clear that the talent level is being built back on Rocky Top, but it isn't there yet.
For Florida, this is a statement game. Say what you will about the fact that Chris Rainey is still on the roster (and for the record, I don't think he should be on it after his texting incident last fall), but the guy can flat out play. The biggest piece Florida had to find during its transition from the spread to the pro-style is an every down running back, and even though Rainey isn't your typical bruiser, his style works in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis' system.
Despite all of the offensive follies last season, Florida was 60 minutes from winning the SEC East. Considering the talent on defense, all the Gators need is a little bit more offense to get over that hump and get back to Atlanta. They have it this year.