Ahead of Saturday’s matchup with Florida, the Daily Beacon talked with the Alligator’s football beat writer, Michael Hull, who broke down the Gators and things to keep an eye on this Saturday.
Question: Tennessee has been in the middle of a quarterback controversy since the spring. What’s Florida’s QB room looking like a week after the Alabama game? Did Emory Jones save his starting job?
Answer:“From Dan Mullen’s perspective, I think it’s already been solidified that Emory is the guy. The issue is that the fans don’t necessarily agree with that. I think Emory quieted those calls for Richardson in the second half against Alabama, he looked great. He was efficient, used his legs, hit the passes he needed to and almost got the job done. But he also really looked very bad in that first half and the FAU game and the USF game, he did not look like an elite quarterback. This will be a good get-right game for him.”
Q: If you could attribute Florida’s success against Alabama to one thing, what would it be?How can the Gators carry that into Tennessee?
A:“Their success was in the running game. They ran for 245 yards against the Tide. And that’s been the season’s formula. They’ve been a ground and pound, much more balanced attack that we saw in 2020. They have five good running backs, two mobile quarterbacks, and they basically ran up and down the field on Alabama. They averaged nearly 6 yards a carry, which is really impressive against a Nick Saban-led defense. I know Tennessee’s run defense has been very stout this year. It will be interesting to see how that battle of strength-on-strength goes, but if I had to guess, I think Florida’s success continues.”
Q: Was it more of a positive for Florida to play Alabama so closely, or was it still a negative to lost in the end?
A:“I actually wrote a follow-up about this. It’s hard to say there are moral victories, because there are no moral victories. But if there was going to be one, it’s this game. They were a few plays away from knocking off the top team in the country, the Goliath of college football for so long. It has to be a moral victory for you. The Gators outscored Alabama 26-10 after the first quarter. It has to bode well for them going into Tennessee.”
Q: Talk about the success that the Gator’s running backs have had. What’s led to the shift in philosophy from a passing team to a ground team?
A:“That shift was something people expected to happen, but I don’t know if they expected it to be this successful this quickly. Completely revamping an offense in one offseason is not an easy thing to do. It obviously came down to the personnel. Losing not only Kyle Trask, but Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes, their three top receivers from a year ago, you’re going to have to change something. I think that the shift has been impressive, and credit to Dan Mullen for doing that well and making it work. But if you look at the talent, and where the talent is, it’s not really that surprising.”
Q: What’s a matchup you think Florida can exploit against Tennessee?
A:“Those explosive plays in the pass game. Looking at Tennessee, it’s allowed the third most passing yards in the SEC and they haven’t played many quality opponents. Pitt is pretty okay, but the Vols haven’t played a Florida yet. Especially if Richardson is healthy, he can create a couple of those jump plays. Emory has the ability to push the ball downfield too, he’s a little less consistent, but can do it. So I think that Florida passing attack going up against that Tennessee secondary is something I’d keep my eyes on for sure.”
Q: How big of a factor do you think playing on the road at Ben Hill Griffin will have on the Vols? Do you think that crowd influencing games is a real thing?
A:“100%. I think it made a huge difference against Alabama. If Florida ends up beating Georgia in Jacksonville and makes it to the SEC Championship, I don’t think they play them as close as they did because they won’t have the Swamp at their back. There were multiple times Bryce Young looked lost before the snap just by the sheer volume of the stadium. A Nick Saban-led team doesn’t have multiple false start penalties in a game. That just doesn’t happen. And that happened multiple times last week. It was definitely the most electric atmosphere I’ve ever been in as a writer.”