Game day: No. 20 Florida at No. 11 Tennessee (CBS, 3:30 p.m.)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee. — Because the game has traditionally dropped so early in the season, the Rocky Top faithful have let their imaginations run wild annually regarding the chances of their beloved Tennessee Volunteers.

And too often, their Big Orange dreams have been met with Orange & Blue reality, courtesy of the Florida Gators.

Here they are again.

No. 20 Florida (2-1, 0-1) and No. 11 Tennessee (3-0, 0-0) are set to renew their bitter rivalry in the Southeastern Conference East Division on Saturday against a Neyland Stadium full and salivating. 106,000-plus house. UF has won five straight in the series, as well as a whopping 16 of the last 17, since the 2005 season. And still East — 2022 — is the year the Gators get their comeuppance and the balance of power shifts. Does it have to be okay? At least that’s what the Vols have in mind.

If not this year, with UF reeling and rebuilding while UT appears to be in a second season of ascension, when?

[Read senior writer Scott Carter‘s comprehensive “Opening Kickoff” setup here]

Last year, while Florida crashed and burned with a 6-7 record and a midseason coaching change, Tennessee was 7-6 in the first season under Josh Heupel and finished second in the SEC East ( including a thrilling home win over the 18th-ranked). Kentucky), trailing only eventual national champion Georgia.

However, the Vols were bombed 38-14 on their September visit to Gainesville.

But after averaging 42.4 points and more than 500 yards during his final five games of the 2021 season (including a 671-yard rash in a 45-42 penalty shootout loss to Purdue in the Music City Bowl), Tennessee was destined to finish second. back in the division race (with Florida fourth) and has responded to optimism with more high-octane offense through the first three games of 2022, including a big upset on the road from No. 17 Pittsburgh.

uf linebacker Amari Burney (2) chases UT quarterback hendon prostitute (5) in the Gators’ 38-14 rout of the Vols in 2021 at the “Swamp.”
[Photo by Calvin Mattheis / Knoxville News-Sentinel]

Vols senior quarterback Hendon Hooker, in his second season as a starter after transferring from Virginia Tech, has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 844 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. UT is averaging 52.0 points and 553.7 yards per game (both first in the SEC, third in the country), with 182.3 of them rushing, courtesy of running backs Jaylen Wright (231 yards, 3 TDs), Jabari Small (94 yards, 3 TDs) and Dylan Sampson (89 yards, 3 TDs). Hooker’s main target is wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, with his 18 receptions for 267 yards (14.8 per person) and three touchdowns. The next-best receiver, Cedric Tillman, was injured in last week’s 63-6 win over Akron and is in doubt.

Defensively, Tennessee’s 344.7 yards per game is ninth in the league, with nearly half of the yards coming in Pitt’s overtime loss.

The numbers, Tennessee or Florida, don’t favor the Gators. No problem. In fact, Vegas installed the Vols as 10.5-point favorites, which is the largest UT differential since the 1950s.

Florida ranks 12th in the SEC in total offense (353.0 ypg) and scoring (25.3 points pg), both of which rank (barely) in the top 100 in the nation. anthony richardson he’s the lowest-rated starting quarterback in the league and is still looking for his first TD pass against four interceptions. Defensively, the 11th-ranked unit in the league (77th nationally) will be feverishly tested by a UT offense that operates at a breakneck pace and gets the ball out every 20.2 seconds.

The Vols (all of them) have been waiting for these circumstances for years.

Florida’s last loss at Knoxville came in 2016. The Gators took a 21-3 halftime lead, only to give up 35 unanswered after the break as the Vols roared to a 38-28 victory. The following week, UT stunned Georgia with a thrilling “Ave Maria” to go undefeated through five games, crack the top 10 and take complete command of the SEC East.

They then lost three in a row and the Gators won the division.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 pm on CBS, with Brad Nessler on play-by-play, Gary Danielson providing analysis and Jenny Dell working on the sidelines. For information on radio and television broadcasts, click here. The game will be played Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. and Thursday at 1 a.m., both on the SEC Network. Learfield Gator IMG Sports Network coverage, with Sean Kelly and Shane Matthews in the booth, and Tate Casey on the sidelines, will begin at 12:30 p.m.

Finally, follow the FloridaGators.com senior writer Scott Carter (@GatorsScott) on Twitter for commentary and analysis throughout the game. floridagators.com It will have full game coverage content on Saturday night and new follow-up content on Sunday as well.

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