The Florida Game Is Everything For The 2018 Tennessee Volunteers
The Tennessee Volunteers kick off against the Florida Gators at 6PM Central this Saturday on ESPN. The Vols’ entire season hangs in the balance on this game, as we get ready to go into a long streak of very tough games. Losing it could very well mean a three-win season. Winning it could mean we pick up some momentum and hope moving forward and could sneak out a six-win season. To tell put it bluntly, this team does not look like a very good football team so far. That’s why this game means everything. The good news is that Florida isn’t very good either.
We hate Florida. We hate losing to them, we hate their players, and we really hate their stupid gator chomp. I even have a little hate in my heart for Tim Tebow simply because he played at Florida. I think I hate every previous Florida coach besides Steve Spurrier. I hate Urban Meyer because he quit on Florida for “health reasons,” not to mention the more recent allegations at Ohio State. I hated Will Muschamp’s little fits he would throw and still hate them at South Carolina. I hated Jim McElwain’s nude shark photo and his butter looking teeth. I even hate Dan Mullen now because he’s been acting like unseasoned chicken and embarrassing the caucasian community.
I hate their stupid cursive Florida logo. It just looks dumb. I even hate their fans who have no clue about the history of the team. Prior to 1990, Florida had five win-less seasons, most in the SEC. Then, all of a sudden, Florida got good. They seem to think their team’s history started in 1990. Of course, I wouldn’t expect a Florida fan to know any history before 2016, anyway. Their brains can’t hold that much information at one time. Could be the heat down there. I don’t know.
Enough with the Florida hate, though. This is always a tough game.
There aren’t many things on this Earth worse for a Vols fan than losing to Florida. Maybe death of a family member and an overcooked steak are worse than losing to Florida, but that’s about it. Last year ended in a heart breaker and could be the point at which Butch Jones began his demise.
In 2016, we won and it felt like we had a legitimate shot of playing in the SEC Championship. It seems like it’s not only this year, but almost every year, when this game determines the course of our season. I don’t think I can overstate the importance of this game, but it’s especially important this season.
A Florida win and a 4-8 season is looked at in a much more positive light than a 3-9 season. Jeremy Pruitt needs this win because it will build the momentum behind this team and set them up to win more games that they shouldn’t win.
The whole 2018 season hangs in the balance here, and I see this year going one of two ways.
1. We lose to Florida and our only other win comes against Charlotte having the worst season in Tennessee history at 3-9.
2. We win against Florida and it’s much more likely for us to sneak out two more wins between South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt, or Kentucky, go 6-6, and get back to a bowl game. I’m not saying that will happen. I’m just saying a win against Florida will make it much more likely we can get more in-conference wins.
I am a big believer in momentum and the power of positivity and Iwinning this Saturday will give this team both moving forward. Not only that, but as a fan, it just feels good when we beat Florida regardless of what happens the rest of the season.
But, what is it going to take for the Vols to win?
They are 5.5 point underdogs at home, so Vegas isn’t thinking they’ll win. The first problem that needs to be addressed is that our anemic offense from last year continues to show up this year. However, there is hope since Jarrett Guarantano’s play looks to be much improved. He’s going to need to pass for over 200 yards in this one with much of that coming in the first half. We cannot get off to a slow start and I would even argue that we need to be the first one with points on the board to win.
The spark in this game may have to be Jauan Jennings and I imagine he will step it up. If this offense starts off slow, it’s going to be a long day. But, if we do get off to a fast start, I feel very confident about our stable of running backs being able to control the clock. If I’m Pruitt, I may put fresh legs in there as much as possible since all running backs have shown they can play. Just gnash the heck out of Florida’s defensive line and keep the ball out of Florida’s hands.
We can’t afford to give Florida a short field with 3 and out either. Our punting game has taken a significant step back since punter Trevor Daniel left for the NFL last year. A 3 and out could mean Florida gets it on the 50, and we cannot let that happen. Ideally, we get at least one big gain or touchdown from our return team. I just don’t trust that this offense can score more than two touchdowns against Florida and we’re going to need scrape up some points from other areas.
I would also say that since our offense is so anemic, that our defense cannot allow Florida more than 21. If Florida gets above 21, I think it’s going to be very tough to catch up. Pruitt is going to need this defense firing on all cylinders.
We cannot allow Feleipe Franks to throw another Hail Mary on us like he did last year and that means this secondary needs to step up in a major way. Our pass rush needs to dominate the line of scrimmage and we need Franks unbalanced all day. If we can’t generate a pass rush, it’s going to be hard for our secondary to keep up with Florida’s speedy receivers. I’m hoping Pruitt is planning the defense for this game and hopefully improvising where we have weaknesses, which is pretty much everywhere at this point.
This also might mean benching some guys who have under-performed and giving other guys a chance to step up. Sure we shutout UTEP and only allowed three against ETSU, but West Virginia absolutely dominated our defense. We’re going to need at least three turnovers to win this game.
This is the Florida game and weird things will happen. There will be crazy turnovers, player antics, and maybe even another Hail Mary at the end. Hopefully, fortune and luck favors the Vols and we’re able to pull out the win. Hopefully, some players step up and show us that there are some great players on this team. And, hopefully, Pruitt can game plan and scheme the heck out of this game and show us that he is indeed a football coach. It’s going to take everything this team has.
For the 2018 Vols, this is our National Championship and will determine the fate of the rest of the season. My orange tinted prediction is 24-21 Vols.
Smokey covers the Tennessee Volunteers for the SoBros Network. He loves a good backpacking trip, but hates taking a shit in the woods. Follow on Twitter: @SoBroSmokey