It's Football Time in Tennessee: #11/#9 Vols vs. Florida (9/16/23)

Recently: Tennessee played Austin Peay in the home opener and it went... ok? I guess? It certainly wasn't what any of us were expecting when we woke up on Saturday, and when I wrote in last week's game preview that UT would be able to name the score, I sure thought they'd name a number higher than 30. 

Look, a few years ago we lost the home opener to Georgia State. If you have to snap and clear a win, you're not really doing that bad. I've talked about it in the Five Factor Review and highlighted the top explosive and havoc plays on YouTube if you want more on that game. Otherwise, on to the Gators. 

Florida, who looked dreadful in the season-opening loss to Utah, manhandled McNeese Sate 49-7 in Gainesville. Suddenly, everyone's in on the Gators after writing them off in week 1. More on that down the page. 

Previously on Vols vs. Gators: Tennessee ended a five-year losing streak to Florida, beating the Gators 38-33 in Knoxville, just the second UT win out of the last 10 games in the series. We all know the Vols have had awful luck against UF, but it's pretty incredible that since the turn of the century Tennessee has more wins against Alabama than against Florida. 


Through two games in 2023, here's how Tennessee's offense stacks up against Florida's defense: 

So something's gotta give between the relatively high number of scoring opportunities Tennessee creates and the relatively low number of scoring opportunities Florida allows. Same goes for success rate. I see an opportunity for the Vols to be more explosive; that's been a weak spot for the Gators so far this year and an aspect that Tennessee needs to improve in. 

The glaring spot on the chart to me is at points per opportunity. Florida so far doesn't have much bend (only allowing 6 trips inside the 40 for opponents) but they do break if you get them there. Tennessee creates those opportunities and made them into touchdowns against Virginia, but settled for a bunch of 3s against Austin Peay. UT cannot settle for field goals in SEC play in general, but especially not on the on the road at a venue like the Swamp. Josh Heupel's offense has to cash in and finish off drives in the endzone. 

On the other side of the ball:

Florida's offense has only generated 11 scoring opportunities in two games, and 7 of those came against McNeese St. Tennessee has excelled in keeping opponents' PPO low and creating havoc plays. The Vols lead the nation in sacks per game, TFLs per game, total sacks, and are 2nd in total TFLs. Aaron Beasley leads the nation in TFLs with 6. And the havoc rate you see above is a little low even--calculating it by hand rather than using's numbers, it's around 38%

Schematics: The following info comes from, which is a paid site, so I'm not going to give away all his info for free (if you geek out about this stuff though, it's a pretty awesome site). But here are the top three run concepts and pass concepts Florida has shown so far this year:

Florida Offensive Tendencies

Run Concept Yds/Ply Share Success Rt.
Outside Zone 5.7 16.6% 60.9%
Inside Zone Read 5.8 9.4% 84.6%
Inside Power 3.6 5.8% 62.5%
Pass Concept Yds/Ply Share Success Rt.
Flood 8.8 8.6% 41.7%
Screens 8.4 7.2% 70%
Checkdowns 4.3 4.2% 50%

Run Concepts: Outside Zone

It's one of the most simple plays in football: OL step to the play side and pick up the first man that crosses them while the RB looks for a seam. Am I crazy for thinking UT's speed on defense matches up well with this play? I don't see UF being able to stretch Tennessee's front seven the way they do to McNeese in this clip. The only worry I have here is the cutback if Tennessee's defense over pursues. The Vols haven't seen a team with the athletes Florida has yet this year, and the cutback could be deadly. UT will need discipline to go along with the athleticism they've been showing. 

Inside Zone Read

Blocked similar to the outside zone, inside zone goes straight ahead looking for a seam or cutback lane  rather than horizontally. They run inside zone both as a read option play, like you see here, or as a straight run (as in the previous clip--they run outside zone as both also). I might regret saying this, but it UF is going to run read option with Graham Mertz, don't you almost want to dare Mertz to beat you with his feet? Who would you rather have running the ball: Trevor Etienne, Montrell Johnson Jr., or Graham Mertz? 

Inside Power

Notice the how none of the linemen go up to the second level immediately but rather double team defensive down linemen to ensure a push (why the play is known as "Duo Dive"). This is another one I feel the Vols' defense is equipped to stop. Also, Aaron Beasley isn't missing that tackle like #4 for McNeese did. 

Pass Concepts: Flood

This can be a tough one to defend. Notice the play action to freeze the second level of the defense and the three receivers (including the RB after the fake) crossing from left to right (thus "Flood"). It's fairly slow developing though, so pressure from the front 4 to make the QB rush the throw will be key against this scheme. 


Just like Tennessee threw a bunch of screens against Austin Peay, Florida relied on screens against McNeese St. It's an easy play to exploit a talent advantage with. It also dares the defense to play closer to the line, softening them up for deeper throws. Plus you get to use the infamous early season "don't show too much of the playbook" strategy. In UT's case, I think they wanted some easy throws to get Joe Milton's confidence up as well. 


I don't know man. It looks to me like there's open spaces for WRs to sit in and there's no real pressure. So why is Mertz just throwing the outlet here? According to, Florida is throwing checkdowns at almost double the rate (4.2%) that the rest of the conference is (2.3%). Obviously the play worked just fine this time, but I like the idea of spooking Mertz into dumping passes off. That seems like a win on most downs. 

Prediction: There has been a trend this week of national pundits jumping on Florida to upset Tennessee--not just cover the 6.5-point spread, but to straight up win the game. This just two weeks after every talking head wrote Florida off completely. The Gators' trip to Utah was a disaster, and projections had UF finishing the year at 4-8 or worse. The nickname "Sunbelt Billy" suddenly felt unfair, not to Coach Napier, but to the relative football powerhouses in places like Denton, TX and Greenville, NC. 

Apparently, though, all it took to flip the script was Tennessee under-performing against a FCS team and Florida regular-performing against a FCS team. Suddenly it's the Gators poised to shock the college football world; as if the cold, gray hearts of Vol fans even could be shocked after enduring the last 30 years of this series. Brother, I watched a Jessie Palmer pass ricochet off Jabbar Gaffney's chest for a "touchdown." I saw Casey Clausen fumble eight consecutive snaps in the rain. I saw a game changing  4th-and-a-billion get converted. That one probably covers half a dozen different games. You think anything that happens Saturday is gong to shock me? What is dead may never die. 

Is there even a real data point to base a prediction on? Florida played awful against a pretty good team in Utah. That game was played at altitude and from what I understand, the Gators didn't have much time to acclimate themselves to the thin air. The environment will be much friendlier Saturday night. Tennessee has played a couple of bad teams and looked pretty good against one and underwhelming against the other. 

Here's what I do know: regardless of the level of competition, Tennessee is running the ball at an incredibly high level. They're playing great defense. Yes, they give up some big plays, but college football is an offense-friendly game and that is just going to happen to some extent. There's been a lot of talk this week about Joe Milton and whether he's ready for a game like this. But Milton doesn't have to be great on Saturday. If Tennessee even gets just moderately-accurate Milton this week, the Vols will win this game on the strength of the running game and defense




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