We certainly aren’t about to imply that Saturday’s Tennessee-Florida game carries the importance of their showdowns in the 1990s. Back in those days, the winner basically wrapped up the SEC East title with a victory in their respective league openers.
With that said, there’s zero question that this is the biggest game of Derek Dooley’s three-year tenure at UT. With a win, the Volunteers will announce themselves as legitimate SEC East contenders and, at least for the time being, put to bed the hot-seat status Dooley has been dealing with for months.
The stakes aren’t quite as high for second-year Florida coach Will Muschamp, but this is undoubtedly a huge game for his program, one that has gone from sleeping in the penthouse to occupying a room at the Mediocrity Motel in the span of just two years.
Perhaps, just maybe, last week was a turning point for the Gators, who overcame a 17-7 deficit and rallied to capture a 20-17 win at Texas A&M as one-point favorites. Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn have to get props galore for their halftime adjustments that resulted in shutting the Aggies out completely in the second half.
Trailing by 10 with 1:49 left in the second quarter, Florida (2-0 straight up, 1-1 against the spread) got a big boost from All-American place-kicker Caleb Sturgis, who buried a 51-yard field goal to make it a one-possession game heading into intermission.
UF pulled to within four on a 25-yard field goal by Sturgis early in the third quarter. Then early in the fourth quarter, senior running back Mike Gillislee found paydirt on a 12-yard touchdown scamper.
From there, UF’s defense took care of business. QB Jeff Driskel also scrambled for a crucial first down to put the game on ice at crunch time.
Gillislee, who leads the SEC with 231 rushing yards and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, ran for 83 yards and two TDs on 14 carries against the Aggies. Driskel completed 13-of-16 throws for 162 yards.
The ‘under’ has easily cashed in both of UF’s games, staying below the 50-point tally last week.
Tennessee (2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS) began the season in style at the Ga. Dome in Atlanta, where it cruised to a 35-21 win over North Carolina St. as a three-point favorite. The 56 combined points went ‘over’ the 52 ½-point total.
Tyler Bray threw for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Wolfpack. Juco transfer Cordarrelle Patterson made his presence known early and often, catching a 41-yard TD bomb from Bray to start the scoring before adding a 67-yard TD run off a gadget play.
UT’s defense got after N.C. St. QB Mike Glennon, intercepting him four times while never letting him get into a comfort zone in the pocket.
In Week 2, Tennessee trounced Ga. St. by a 51-13 count but failed to cover the number as a 46-point home ‘chalk.’ Bray was sensational again, throwing four TD passes. For the season, Bray leads the SEC in passing yards (643) and has a 6/0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Justin Hunter, who tore his ACL in Week 3 at Florida last year, had eight receptions for 146 yards and three TDs against Ga. St. Patterson produced 195 all-purpose yards on just seven touches (1 rush, 3 catches, 3 kick returns).
Florida’s secondary will have a daunting task in containing Bray and his favorite targets, Patterson and Hunter, who I believe are the best 1-2 WR punch in the nation outside of Robert Woods and Marquise Lee at Southern Cal. The Gators will have to do so without starting CB Cody Riggs, who is ‘out’ indefinitely after breaking his foot at Texas A&M.
Also, UF will be without senior LB Jelani Jenkins, who could miss a month with a broken thumb. True freshman LB Antonio Morrison will get his first career start in place of Jenkins.
As a home underdog on Dooley’s watch, the Vols have limped to a miserable 1-6 spread record. Meanwhile, the Gators have gone 2-1 ATS as road favorites under Muschamp.
ESPN will provide television coverage at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Florida DE Ronald Powell tore his ACL in the spring game but was hoping to return to action sometime in October. That optimism went out the window earlier this week when he suffered a setback in rehab. Muschamp told the media this week that an MRI was inconclusive because of the swelling in his knee, so he’ll be re-evaluated next week. But the prevailing sentiment out of Gainesville is that Powell is done for the year and will be redshirted.
--On Friday, the University of Arkansas released a statement that QB Tyler Wilson would be a game-time decision Saturday against Alabama. However, according to a tweet from Bo Mattingly, who hosts the state’s most popular sports radio show, his sources have told him that Wilson has not been cleared and will not play against the Crimson Tide. As of late Friday afternoon, most books had ‘Bama favored by 20 with a total of 54.
--Alabama owns a 13-7 spread record in 20 games as a road favorite on Nick Saban’s watch.
--The last time the Razorbacks were underdogs of 20-plus points was at The Swamp in 2009. On that day in Gainesville, Arkansas easily took the cash in a 23-20 loss as a 24 ½-point underdog. As many of you will remember, the Gators were the benefactors of several controversial calls at crunch time.
--Sportsbook.ag updates the lines for its Games of the Year every week. Here are a few interesting numbers for upcoming games:
LSU -6 at Florida
LSU -11.5 vs. South Carolina
Florida -3 vs. South Carolina
Georgia -4 vs. Florida (Jacksonville)
Alabama -1.5 at LSU
Southern Cal -3.5 vs. Oregon
South Carolina pick ‘em at Clemson
--Sportsbook has also updated its futures to win the BCS Championship and Southern Cal and Alabama are now 3/1 co-favorites. LSU has 5/1 odds, followed by Oregon (7/1), FSU (10/1), Georgia (12/1), Oklahoma (15/1) and South Carolina (18/1).
--Click here to view my Power Rankings going into Week 3.
Brian Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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