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Tennessee vs. Florida Football Prediction and Preview

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Florida Gators Prediction and Preview

Okay Florida, how are you feeling right now? Are you a little deflated after coming so close against Alabama? Or are you feeling a fire in your gut to get back on track and earn another chance at the Crimson Tide in December? Well if that's the case, you shouldn't have any problem getting hyped up for Tennessee this week.

Related: 5 Most Important Florida vs. Tennessee Football Games in Series History

And what about you, Volunteers? Do you guys feel like you're back to your Phillip Fulmer glory days again? Was that loss to Pittsburgh a blip on the radar? And, boy, howdy, a win over this ranked Gator bunch would provide instant redemption and a new lease on life for this 2021 season.

Both teams come into this weekend with identical 2-1 marks and feel this game will be their stamp of legitimacy for contending in the SEC East.

Tennessee at No. 11 Florida

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN
Spread: Florida -19

When Tennessee Has the Ball

The obvious big question is; can the Big Orange beat the No. 11 team in the country with Hendon Hooker at the controls? Head coach Josh Heupel was cagey about whether Joe Milton III would be back to play this week after getting injured in the loss to Pitt. Hooker, the Virginia Tech transfer, continued the struggle of not hitting many deep balls as both QBs have been masterful overthrowers in this early season. But overall, Hooker has proven to be fine at the controls, hitting on 70 percent of his passes (compared to Milton's 51 percent). So even if Milton can't go there won't be a big change of game plan … nor a drop in quality.

The Volunteers could also use a handful of solid special teams plays to keep this one tight, and so far this season they have done that. They got a blocked punt returned for a TD against Pittsburgh, and return man Velus Jones Jr. has played a big part in the return game. Against Tech, Jones had a few nice returns, including an 89-yard jaunt from the opening kickoff that unfortunately got called back. Keep in mind that Jones logged 1,947 return yards in his three seasons at USC (good for second in program history) and is the current active FBS kickoff return leader with 2,519 yards.

For Florida, Todd Grantham's defense gained confidence play by play by play in last week's game against the Crimson Tide. From the second quarter onward the Gators held Alabama to 133 total yards, after giving up 199 in the first quarter alone. Head coach Dan Mullen loved the "effort and the confidence" his defense played with. If that carries over to this Tennessee game, the Vols could be in much bigger trouble.

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When Florida Has the Ball

This will be fun. As a Saturday Down South headline said earlier this week, "Tennessee's run defense is elite, but the Vols haven't seen anything like this Gators attack." And it's true. The Vols are fifth in rushing defense, holding opponents to 54 yards per game. But any team that can outrush Alabama 244-to-91 deserves an all-caps YIKES. Oddly, the Gators are second nationally with 1,007 yards on the ground (336 ypg), and yet they don't have a single running back in the top 75 rushers. Quarterback Anthony Richardson, who sat out last week's loss to Bama, leads the Gators with 275 rushing yards in the first two games. The good news is that the running backs have been an effective committee with Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce, and Nay'Quan Wright combining 433 yards on the ground thus far. Emory Jones, who started the first game before getting replaced by Richardson, is averaging 77 rushing yards per game as well.

Of course, that buries the lede here. Mullen said Richardson's hamstring was "close to 100 percent" before the Alabama game but he didn't want to risk playing him (even though Richardson was shown by CBS cameras doing backflips in the pregame, but I digress). He could be good to go this week which will add his game-breaking running ability to an already formidable offense.

Oh man, penalties and turnovers. Those were two of the biggest areas of concern after the first two games of the season for the Volunteers. And though it came against FCS member Tennessee Tech, they ball-hawked their way to four turnovers in the 56-0 win while also committing just three penalties (although one of them negated that 89-yard kickoff return by Jones). The Vols ranked 116th in the nation in turnover margin going into last week, which included not gaining a single fumble recovery or oskie in those first two games. If they are going to make this a four-quarter game vs. the Gators' offense, Tennessee will need to get some freebies along the way.

Final Analysis

So bizarre that both of these teams have starting quarterbacks who were on the bench with injuries last week and are questionable for Saturday. But at the same time, UT's Hooker and UF's Jones both played admirably, so no big drop-off if they remain behind center.

And sure, there is a chance the Blue & Orange Alligators might have a little hangover effect due to the coulda-woulda-shoulda of losing such a close game to the No. 1 team in the country. I certainly think the opening line of -22 is too much, considering the potential of this Volunteer squad.

But on another note, when was the last time the Gators lost back-to-back games in The Swamp? 'Nuf said.

Prediction: Florida 35, Tennessee 20

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— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.