The No. 9 Florida Gators (3-0, 1-0) are preparing to face the Tennessee Volunteers (1-2)…and all anyone can talk about this week are the Gators quarterbacks. It’s indicative of the state of the rivalry for these SEC East foes and also a testament to the magnitude of the Gators current quarterback situation. A week after starting redshirt junior Feleipe Franks was lost for the season with a dislocated and fractured ankle, we know all we can now. The Gators have won 13 of the last 14 against the Vols. Jeremy Pruitt’s squad has had one of the worst starts imaginable and look weaker than they have in a while. Franks won’t be back. The offense is in Kyle Trask’s hands…and maybe Emory Jones as well, but we’ll talk about that below.
Before the noon kickoff, let’s go over a few things we may not know to this point and prepare for the latest chapter in Florida vs. Tennessee.
*Don't forget to stay cool and hydrated with the school's free, safety initiatives!
One Thing to Remember
There are no record books in rivalry games (albeit this one has been pretty skewed of late) so anything could feasibly happen in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium when these two teams go toe-to-toe. Tennessee will be looking to build off their first win of the season and put those two embarrassing losses behind them as their league slate begins. But this Florida Gators team is very emotionally motivated. When it hurts you, it can hurt more anything and cause you to lose a homecoming game to Missouri and rack up penalties against Miami. But when it helps you, it can help more than anything and help you reel off four games to end a season with huge revenge games over old and new rivals and mount a 19 point comeback in the 4th quarter. This team knows who they are though and head coach Dan Mullen has taught them to use it to their advantage. It’s why we’ll see a lot of them with various homages to Feleipe Franks and why they will all say it was for him after the win. This is an emotionally motivated team and watching their starting quarterback go down could be what starts a fire as the middle of the schedule arrives.
One Florida Player to Remember
Van Jefferson—It sounds odd to ask you to remember Florida’s leading receiver, because of course he’s already a major and vital part to the offense, right? Well, yes, but that could multiply exponentially this weekend. Franks was apt to spread the ball around, which is fine and keeps the defense on their heels. But sometimes when a quarterback and receiver have chemistry, it’s best to let the connection last as long as possible. When Kyle Trask entered the game against Kentucky, he came out showcasing his gunslinger skills and Van Jefferson was the primary recipient. Trask’s first four passes were completions, three going to Jefferson. In all, Van was targeted eight times in Saturday’s game, hauling in seven completions for 93 yards; seven of those targets, six completions and 62 yards came from Kyle Trask. The redshirt senior is clearly a comfortable target for the green passer and defenses will look to exploit that. But Jefferson was already well scouted as the Gators leading receiver before and still succeeded; and he has great technique to find his way open no matter the coverage. Expect to see this become a lifeline for Trask in his first start.
One Tennessee Player to Remember
Jauan Jennings—If Florida’s leading receiver is the Gator player to remember, it’s fitting that the same is true for the Vols. Jennings has 81 more yards so far than the next closest guy (star Marquez Callaway) with a large portion of 208 total coming from the season opening loss to Georgia State. In last seasons 47-21 loss to Florida, Jennings has four receptions for 60 yards. Depending on the status of Gators corner, CJ Henderson the Vols will likely test the Florida secondary with Jennings especially on 3rd downs. It’s in the money down that the receiver has been most lethal. He has four completions on 3rd, all of them going for 1st downs. Of those four, he’s been targeted twice when the down and distance was greater than 10 yards. Given the Gators defense to give up those chunk plays in the first half, expect Tennessee to take advantage and move Jennings down field to move the chains.
One Big Question
How much will see of each Florida quarterback? While Kyle Trask is listed as the starter for this week, don’t expect to only see the redshirt junior. Dan Mullen said on Monday that he’d like to play both Trask and redshirt freshman Emory Jones. When asked if it could be like a 2006 Chris Leak, Tim Tebow situation, Mullen shrugged and said maybe, we’ll see. The head coach has always been open about the fact he feels Emory brings a different set of skills to the position that can be utilized, especially in situational downs. Given that Trask will be taking on his first full game in a Florida Gators uniform, we should see a good bit more of Jones to help take the pressure off and provide a spark when needed as the mobile quarterback.
Also, will Bryce Thompson play? The Vols corner has been suspended thus far, following a preseason arrest in which he threatened to hit a woman he was with and "shoot up the school." But according to reports, he was back at practice this week and will travel with this team to the game. Jeremy Pruitt has said that Thompson will have to "earn his way back out there." Being on the field with the team is a good start.
One Last Prediction
I think this game is close through mid-3rd quarter. Todd Grantham likes to play soft in the first half to see what the offense will do in certain situations. It’s how big 3rd downs are given up so often. As such, the Vols are going to strike with Jennings and possibly Callaway, as mentioned above. Trask will have some hiccups as he is handed the reigns for the first time since his freshman year of high school. Mullen will have to call through the rushing pains and this one will be too close given the difference in the teams trajectory right now. But by the 4th quarter and the remaining 15 minutes, I expect the Gators to pull away and win by 10.