This Saturday, Tennessee will take the field against hated rival Florida. Despite both teams just hoping to get to a bowl game, many things are still on the line. Some analysts have even gone as far as saying this Florida-Tennessee matchup “will be the biggest game in a decade,” and it’s pretty hard to argue against.
Here is a look at this historic and heated rivalry by the numbers:
The amount of rushing touchdowns Tennessee has given up this season. Through three games, the Vols’ rushing defense has improved greatly compared to recent years. So far, they have only given up 112.7 yards per game on the ground. This statistic is very reassuring since the team with the most rushing yards in the Tennessee-Florida series typically wins the game. It is quite unlikely that this number remains the same past Saturday, but it is a testament to the job that this coaching staff has done.
The number of tackles for loss Tennessee’s offensive line is giving up per game. This game, just like any other intra-conference game in the SEC, will be won or lost in the trenches. It has been obvious through three games that Tennessee’s offensive line is a massive liability. Despite being quite decent in pass protection (only 1.67 sacks allowed per game), the offensive line has been atrocious in the run blocking game. This is obviously problematic since Tennessee’s entire offense is based around getting the run game going. If Tennessee gives up too many tackles for loss and forces quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to complete long passes, it could be a long night in Neyland Stadium.
That number is the quarterback rating of Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks. That QBR is good for the No. 94 spot nationally and No. 12 in the SEC. Don’t let the nine touchdown passes (seven of which were against Charleston Southern and Colorado State) fool you. Franks has continued to struggle this season. Through three games, Franks has thrown two interceptions and has a measly completion percentage of 53.2. In comparison, Guarantano has yet to throw an interception and has a completion percentage of 72.2. Despite his less-than-stellar stats, Franks still has big play potential in him. Whether it be escaping the pocket to pull off a 12-yard run or throw a 63-yard touchdown pass to win the game (too soon?), Franks has the ability to punish opposing defenses. Getting to him early and rattling him will be a major key for Tennessee’s defense.
This is the down in which the game will be decided. Tennessee enters this game with a third down conversion percentage of only 36.1 which ranks No. 91 nationally. Compare that with Florida’s third down conversion rate of 40 percent (ranked 68th nationally), and you will see that neither of these teams have been very successful. With both Tennessee and Florida having mediocre offenses and many people, including Vegas bookies, thinking this game will be a low-scoring affair, converting on third down will go a long way in this game.
That is the number of years that Jeremy Pruitt and Dan Mullen have been at their respective schools. Even though there aren’t many tangible awards at stake, getting a victory on Saturday would pay huge dividends in terms of optimism and optics; not only for the fanbases but also for the recruits and the media. For Pruitt, securing a win against Florida in his first game would show the fanbase and the country that despite him being sixth or seventh on the coaching search list, he was the right man for the job. Winning a rivalry game would also be a refreshing sight to see for Tennessee fans since that always seemed to be a struggle for former coach Butch Jones. Jones was 9-16 in rivalry games at Tennessee and was 1-4 against Florida. A win against Florida would also be the first SEC win since Tennessee beat Missouri on Nov. 16, 2016 which was 674 days ago.