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Week 3 – Florida at Tennessee
Posted Sep 12, 2012

Week 3 CFN Fearless Prediction – Florida at Tennessee

- CFN Fearless Predictions

Florida (2-0) at Tennessee (2-0) Sept. 15, 6:00, ESPN

Here’s The Deal: Florida vs. Tennessee matters again.

No, it’s not back to the days of Manning vs. Wuerffel, and there’s a chance that the winner might still be third in the East pecking order behind Georgia and South Carolina in some order, but it’s an important showdown in what was one of the biggest rivalries in college football just over a decade ago. This year, it’s football time for Tennessee again with, arguably, the biggest and most important game since losing the 2007 SEC championship to LSU.

This is how the passing game is supposed to work. Quarterback Tyler Bray is healthy again and has been brilliant, while the loss of star receiver Da’Rick Rogers after violating team rules hasn’t mattered a lick. Beating NC State and Georgia State isn’t exactly cause to start saving up for a trip to Miami in January, but for a former superpower program that’s been down for the last few years, now there’s reason for excitement. Now there’s hope that the momentum has finally turned, but with a brutal stretch coming up after a layup against Akron – at Georgia, at Mississippi State, Alabama, at South Carolina – this game could be a must win. The Vols have lost seven straight in the series dropping the last five by double digits.

The problem with 2012 Florida is that it’s a 180-degree turn from what’s usually associated with Florida football. The Steve Spurrier Fun ‘n’ Gun is now three coaches ago, and the days of Tim Tebow running the power spread under Urban Meyer are long gone. There’s nothing pretty about the Will Muschamp Gators, relying at the moment on a power running game, a bruising offensive line and a nasty defense that last week rudely welcomed Texas A&M to the SEC with a terrific second half in the 20-17 win.

In terms of pure SEC road games – considering the Georgia game is in Jacksonville – this is it. The only other conference road date is at Vanderbilt, and while LSU, South Carolina and Missouri will all be nasty tests, and the date with the Dawgs will be a war, with the regular season finale at Florida State, the Gators only leave the Sunshine State once the rest of the year.

Why Florida Might Win: Tennessee, welcome to the Ground ‘n’ Pound. Last year the Volunteer run defense was mediocre, and it should be better throughout this season with a terrific group of veteran linebackers working behind a big solid line, but NC State and Georgia State didn’t exactly go for much of a push with their respective ground games. The Florida coaches hinted that they could use their O line to be more physical last week against the Texas A&M defensive front, and they were right. The 142 yards might not seem impressive, but Mike Gillislee averaged 5.9 yards per carry with two scores and the O was able to hang on to the ball for over 35 minutes despite struggling on third downs.

The Gator defensive front has to be able to get to Tyler Bray on a consistent basis. The Tennessee offensive line has gotten the job done so far allowing just one sack in the first two games, but this isn’t an elite front and it should be susceptible to speed rushers. Florida’s pass rush hasn’t been stellar so far, but when it pinned its ears back last week, it was able to bother Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. However …

Why Tennessee Might Win: Bray isn’t Manziel. The new Texas A&M starter completed 23-of-30 passes, but he didn’t find anything down the field in the second half and couldn’t get the offense moving. The bigger problem was the lack of big plays from Ryan Swope and the Aggie receivers, and the Vols are going to be a much tougher test with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson each playing as well as any receivers in the conference. If this gets into any sort of an offensive show, Tennessee has the ability to keep up the pace and put yards and points on the board in a hurry; Florida doesn’t have the passing attack to do that.

The biggest overall issue for the Gators is in pass protection. Technically, the line has allowed nine sacks in two games, but that’s partly due to the running of the quarterbacks and partly due to dealing with Texas A&M and one of the nation’s top pass rushes last week. Tennessee might not have a top-shelf pass rush, but if it can generate some pressure from the start, Florida’s 110th-ranked passing game could be shut down cold.

What To Watch Out For: Mike Gillislee isn’t built to be a workhorse. The Florida senior is a tough, reliable back who barreled his way to 231 yards and four scores in the first two games as the focal point of the offense. However, he’s already breaking down with a groin injury likely to limit him meaning former star recruit Mack Brown and newcomer Matt Jones will get more of the work. It will also mean that quarterback Jeff Driskel will have to do even more after fighting for 48 yards and completing 13-of-16 passes in the win.

Driskel needs more time, but he appears to be a star in the making. Bray is already there. The junior put up a fight in last year’s loss to the Gators with 288 yards and three scores, and this season he has started out red hot throwing for 333 yards and two scores against NC State and 310 yards and four touchdowns last week against Georgia State. He has been cool and calm in the pocket and he’s putting the ball in places where his targets can do something with it. If he can put up another 300 yards and get the win over the Gators, all of a sudden he’ll be knee deep in the Heisman discussion.

What Will Happen: Power will beat the flash. Bray will have a few big moments, but the consistency of the Florida running game and the mixing up of the running options will be enough to control the clock and keep the Vol passing game off the field.

CFN Prediction: Florida 24 … Tennessee 20
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Tennessee -3 O/U: 47
Must Watch Rating (5 – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in IMAX, 1 – Go On): 4.5