TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (2-0)
at FLORIDA GATORS (1-1)
Line: Florida -5.5, Total: 49.5
After a hurricane-induced bye week, #24 Florida is still looking for its first win.
For their 2017 season opener, the Florida Gators traveled to Jerry Jones' enormous AT&T Stadium for a national television tilt with Michigan, and came away humbled with a 33-17 loss as 3.5-point underdogs. After the tough opening-week loss , the Florida was slated to get something of a break last weekend with a home matchup against an FCS opponent in Northern Colorado. The Gators did indeed get a break, albeit not in the way that they'd hoped—due to the destruction of Hurricane Irma, the game was cancelled outright. Now, they must face conference rival Tennessee without having gotten a win under their belts this year. Tennessee beat Florida in Knoxville last season 38-28 as 4.5-point favorites. This season, the Volunteers are off to a 2-0 start. They somehow overcame two separate 14-point deficits in the second half of a 42-41 double-overtime win against Georgia Tech in Week 1 (GT +4). Week 2 brought the type of tuneup game of which Florida was deprived by the storm, and the Vols covered a 36.5-point spread in beating Indiana State 42-7. As head coach of Tennessee, Butch Jones is 1-7 ATS coming off of wins by 28 or more points. At Florida, Jim McElwain is 4-0 ATS when his teams are favored by 4.5-10 points. He is, however, 3-8 SU against ranked opponents. Nine players for Florida were suspended for the team's opener against Michigan, including WR Antonio Callaway and RB Jordan Scarlett. As of Tuesday, those players remain suspended indefinitely. Also questionable is where the game will be played. As of Tuesday morning, the SEC was still deliberating about whether to play the games in Gainesville, in Knoxville or find another arrangement.
During McElwain's tenure at Florida—and, before his, Will Muschamp's—the Gators have consistently had a defense that ranks among the very best in the country and an offense that ranks among the very worst in the SEC. Many were hoping that this year would be the start of a turnaround for the offense, as redshirt freshman QB Feleipe Franks and Notre Dame transfer QB Malik Zaire both appeared to present far more appealing options than Gator signal-callers of yesteryear. If we are to believe what we saw in Week 1, however, nothing has changed: In its 33-17 loss to the Wolverines, both of Florida's touchdowns were scored on defense. Franks got the start, completing 5 of 9 passes for 75 yards. Zaire ended up getting more time, though, and he completed 9 of 17 for 106 yards. Each fumbled twice and lost one of them to the Michigan defense. McElwain announced after the game that Franks would remain the team's starter. Being put in a timeshare situation is what caused Zaire to leave South Bend, and one imagines he has to be second-guessing his choice of Florida as a transfer destination. It didn't help either QB, of course, that the team's leading rusher and receiver were suspended in that game. But with it seeming increasingly unlikely that they'll be back against the Vols, they'll have to make due with what they have. RB Mark Thompson had 13 yards on the ground, RB Malik Davis had 8 and RB Lamical Perine had 8. A similar performance on the ground will all but guarantee another loss this week. Things were more encouraging out wide, where WR Josh Hammond had four catches for 91 yards and WR Tyrie Cleveland had four catches for 56 yards. When (if?) Callaway, Scarlett and others return, there's reason to believe this offense can improve upon years past. Until then, however, things aren't looking great.
No offense in the SEC saw more key skill position players leave over the offseason than Tennessee. QB Josh Dobbs is off to the NFL after leading the team in both passing and rushing, and RB Alvin Kamara skyrocketed up draft boards after showing game-changing talent as a runner and receiver. Junior QB Quinten Dormady is the new man behind center, and he certainly had a debut to remember in the wild win over Tech. He was decent overall but made big plays in key moments, and finished 20-of-37 for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 13 yards, showing that he's no Dobbs when it comes to toting the rock. He was efficient against the Sycamores a week later, completing 13 of 18 passes for 194 yards, two TDs and a pick. However, sources out of Knoxville believe a competition is still brewing as to who will be Dobbs' permanent replacement. Redshirt freshman QB Jarrett Guarantano is more dynamic, bringing a running ability that Dormady does not. He went 4-of-12 for 40 yards and a touchdown against Indiana State, and it should be noted that three of his passes were dropped. Headed into the matchup with the Gators, though, Dormady is the clear starter. The transition at running back has been seamless, as RB John Kelly got nearly as many carries as Kamara last season. Kelly already looks like one of the best backs in the conference, and he tore up Georgia Tech for 128 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries. He had 80 on 18 carries against Indiana State, and he has 10 catches for 90 yards between the two games. Leading returning receiver WR Jauan Jennings is out indefinitely after suffering an injury against Tech, which is undoubtedly a cause for concern for this offense. Kelly has the most receptions on the team, while WR Marquez Callaway has five catches for 152 yards and three TDs thus far on the year.