Knoxville, TN – The 23rd-ranked Tennessee Volunteers are set to open their SEC schedule as the No. 18 Florida Gators pay a visit to Neyland Stadium.
This marks the first time these two teams have played when both were ranked since 2007. Florida has won each of the last seven meetings in the head-to- head series since 2005.
After notching a 27-14 win over Bowling Green in the season opener, Florida rallied for a 20-17 victory at new league foe Texas A&M last weekend. It was the first time since 2006 that the Gators came back from being down 10 points or more to win a game.
"We won the 4th quarter," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said at his weekly press conference, "and that's something we've emphasized to our players, making plays in those situations and the opportunities when they present themselves, and I thought we did a good job of that."
Tennessee is ranked for the first time since the opening week of the 2008 season. The Volunteers beat NC State in the opener, 35-21, and then followed that up with a 51-13 rout of Georgia State this past weekend. This is the second leg of a three-game homestand for the Vols.
After an ugly start against Texas A&M, Florida took the lead with 13 minutes remaining in regulation, and the offense was able to kill the clock in the final minutes. It marked the second straight week in which UF scored the game's final 13 points. Jeff Driskel completed 13-of-16 passes for 162 yards while taking eight sacks, an area the Gators must clean up against a formidable Tennessee defense. Mike Gillislee carried 14 times for 83 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score on a 12-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter. He suffered a groin injury during the game, but according to coach Muschamp, is expected to be fine for this week's contest, which is good news for a ground game that was fairly productive.
"We had eight runs of 10 yards or more so very pleased with the run game," Muschamp said. "We have some things we need to get cleaned up in short yards."
After the Gators allowed Texas A&M to convert 70 percent of its third downs in the first half, they made some adjustments and forced three-and-outs on five of six Aggie possessions after halftime. Two keys this week will be getting off to a better start and forcing turnovers, as the Gators came up empty in that department against A&M. Muschamp said he was pleased with the effort on that side of the ball, but he expects his team to play with more discipline.
A&M running back Christine Michael was bottled up to the tune of 33 yards on 13 carries (2.5 ypc), while the Florida defense limited quarterback Johnny Manziel to 173 yards passing and no touchdowns.
Tennessee's offense has managed more than 500 yards in consecutive games for the first time since 2000, which is certainly a big reason for the team's 2-0 start. In fact, never before has UT opened a season with 500-plus yards in each of its first two games. The Vols lead the SEC in passing offense (353.5) and are also tied with Georgia for the SEC lead in scoring offense, at 43 points per game.
Tyler Bray once again had all day to throw, as he finished with 310 yards and four touchdowns on 18-of-20 passing. Through two games, UT has surrendered just one sack. Three of Bray's scoring strikes went to Justin Hunter, who hauled in eight passes for 146 yards. Rajion Neal paced the ground game with 65 yards and two scores on 13 carries.
Defensively, the Vols did not yield much ground to Georgia State, but they also could have had a much bigger day in the turnover department. GSU put the ball on the ground seven times in the game, yet Tennessee was only able to recover one fumble. The defense did manage to hold the Panthers to 278 total yards and just 4-of-19 on third down. Georgia State made three trips inside the red zone, but twice had to settle for field goals. Still, head coach Derek Dooley pointed out a few areas that need to improve.
"We settled into the second quarter, but they were doing a lot of crossing routes and that caused some problems in man to man, so we had to change how we were playing and we lost the edge a couple of times in the running back," Dooley said. "Their back did a nice job. We played soft a couple times and they had play action short throws."