Tennessee’s first road game of the season is a tough one. The Vols (2-1), after blanking in-state opponent Tennessee Tech in week three, travel south for an evening matchup against the Florida Gators.
“They’re well-coached in all three phases of the game. Their ability to run the ball is a huge part (of their game), top-5 in the country in rush offense,” head coach Josh Heupel said on Florida, Monday. “Defensively, they’re physical. They’re tight on all levels, they make you beat them. Our guys are really excited about that challenge.”
The Gators are looking to improve to 3-1 after their fourth straight game in the state of Florida.
Florida opened the season at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a 35-14 win over Florida Atlantic before traveling 120 miles south to pick up a 42-20 victory against Southern Florida.
Emory Jones leads the potent Gators offense. Jones is a legit dual-threat quarterback that leads the team in rushing yards ahead of running back Malik Davis. The redshirt junior has thrown for 445 yards and 2 touchdowns while also rushing for 235 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Jones and the Gators offense have had their share of struggles as well. The Gators feature a run-heavy offense that is meant to wear opposing defenses out but is sometimes criticized for being one-dimensional. This is apparent when considering Jones’ 5 interceptions.
Redshirt junior Jacob Copeland is the only player on the team with over 100 receiving yards.
Head coach Dan Mullen is entering his fourth year at the helm of the Gators. For week three, his team travelled back home to host the No. 1 team in the nation — Alabama.
Mullen’s squad took the Crimson Tide to the wire, eventually falling 31-29. They were a failed 2-point conversion away from taking the defending national champions to overtime.
This is a game certain Tennessee fans circle every year on the calendar.
“They don’t really like Florida up here,” wide receiver JaVonta Payton said. “It’s just about going out there and getting the job done. The team is mentally locked in right now.”
Tennessee is also looking to improve to 3-1 on Saturday against a Gators squad the Vols haven’t beaten since 2016. Florida sits at 14-1 against Tennessee in the past 15 matchups.
The Vols’ chances against a top-15 team such as Florida may rely on the play at the quarterback position. Hendon Hooker played an impressive game in relief of Joe Milton III in week three against Tennessee Tech, totaling 4 touchdowns and 199 yards passing.
Heupel has not publicly stated who will get the start between Milton or Hooker against the Gators, though Milton was listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart.
Milton has dealt with a minor injury the past couple weeks after exiting the Pitt game early. His status, as well as the status of Cade Mays, Kingston Harris and Jabari Small, are unknowns heading into Saturday’s evening rivalry matchup.
“It’s unique to get to go on the road (against a team like Florida),” Heupel said. “It’s a tough environment down there, night game. Our guys are looking forward to it.”