Tennessee goes to Florida with an excellent opportunity to start the conference schedule with a big win over a bitter rival. One can speculate which is our biggest rival, the Tide or the Gators, but clearly Florida is a must win most years if the Volunteers hope to get to Atlanta at the end of the season.
I really like where this Tennessee team is right now. No we are not as talented nor have the depth needed at every position necessary to overcome injuries or poor play, but we are light years ahead of where this program was two short years ago. At most positions the Vols have quality players and for the most part quality depth. There are a few areas that are still problematic: middle linebacker is still not set, the nickel position needs to improve and offensive tackle is a year away from where it needs to be in terms of talent. However Darrin Kirkland Jr at middle linebacker should/will be an excellent player at some point this year (IMO) and there is young talent coming along at the defensive back position that gives hope the nickel back is close to being a plus.
There were several areas on this team that needed to be addressed in the three non-conference games to start the season and for the most part they were addressed. This freshman class would be counted on the provide quality depth and for the most part that has happened. Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie, Kyle Phillips are in the rotation on the defensive line and Darrin Kirkland is currently starting at middle linebacker. Micah Abernathy is in the mix at corner and both Austin Smith and Quarte Sapp are involved on the coverage teams. Offensively, Jennings and Williams appear to be potential big time receivers.
Jones, Hall and redshirt freshman Mosley are quickly working their way into playing time in the offensive line. Dormady showed promise against Western Carolina. All in all you could make a case that this freshman class is as talented as last years and maybe more talented. There will surely be more contribute as the season unfolds.
Going into the Florida game I don’t believe there is a team in the country that is playing the kicking game better than the Vols. Coverage teams have been excellent due in large part to a head coach that is willing to put starters on the coverage units. It has always puzzled me how some head coaches could talk about the kicking teams and then but all backups on the coverage teams.
Sutton, Kamara and Evan Berry have shown they can make big plays as returners. Medley is kicking off well Daniel is having a great year with eight punts inside the twenty and a 42+ net punting average…..exceptional! This is a big winning edge as we get into our conference schedule.
The eastern division of the SEC is very winnable for Tennessee….South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida appear to be average at best. Georgia has the most talent but also must play Auburn and Alabama this year. So that brings us to the Florida game this Saturday……Patience will be the number one key for the Vols. Plan on this being a 4th quarter game, most are in the Swamp, and don’t be afraid of punting and playing defense (we are good at both). The Gators have the same problem we do on offense, an average offensive line but they also have an inexperienced freshmen QB. Expect coach Jancek to show a lot of different looks and bring a lot of pressure.
Offensively the Volunteers will be facing one of the top defensive fronts in this league. The key here is to run enough to force man coverage and then take advantage with our receivers deep, something we have not done as yet this fall. I would expect to see Dobbs run quite a bit and would look for an expanded “wildcat” package with #15 – Jennings. A steady diet of Hurd, Dobbs, Kamara and Jennings out of the “wildcat” and occasionally attacking deep with #15, #7, #8 etc. is a great game plan going in.