No break for Vols defense against Gators

BY foxsports • September 18, 2013

After facing the most prolific offense in college football last Saturday in a 59-14 blowout loss at No. 2 Oregon, Tennessee's defense might feel a welcome relief in visiting No. 19 Florida this coming Saturday.
Not so fast, says Tennessee coach Butch Jones, whose team faces a Gators offense full of potential but has been its own worst enemy in a lackluster win over Toledo to open the season and a disappointing loss a week ago Saturday at Miami.
"They're extremely talented, physical and very active offensively, playmakers all over the place, another dual threat quarterback (in Jeff Driskel) who can run, who can pass," said Jones, whose Volunteers (2-1) yielded 687 yards of total offense to Oregon. 
"A little bit different schematically," he added, "but a lot of the same similarities as well, in terms of different reads for your linebackers, their eye discipline, play-action, unbalanced sets, and getting the ball in the hands of their playmakers."
Certainly, Florida (1-1) isn't completely elated with its offense thus far that has produced only 40 points in two games. In the 21-16 loss at Miami, the Gators turned the ball over five times, including three times in the red zone. Florida is last in the Southeastern Conference in turnover ratio at minus four.
"No one's been able to stop us when we haven't had a turnover or a penalty," said Driskel, who is 11-3 as a starter, including guiding the Gators to a 37-20 win -- Florida’s eighth in a row in the series -- at Tennessee last season. "So (it's) just worrying about us first and then taking care of the other team second. If we can handle us, we’ll be fine."
Tennessee's defense has to wonder what it can handle. Granted, Oregon offensively is a load to slow for any team. But the Volunteers did surrender 393 yards of total offense and 21 first downs in the previous game, a 52-20 win over visiting Western Kentucky.
"I've talked about eye discipline -- you're probably sick and tired of hearing me talk about see a little, see a lot -- but I think (the Oregon) game really exposed it," Jones said of the Vols' defense that had 16 missed tackles against the Ducks. "Lack of discipline with our eyes, staring in the backfield, individuals coming off on man coverage, not doing their job, just way too sloppy."
Even though Florida's offense might have struggled to score, the Gators have amassed more than 400 yards of total offense in each game. And in the loss to Miami, Driskel completed 22-of-33 passes for a career-high 291 yards.
And the Gators' offense also should get a boost from the return to full health of sophomore running back Matt Jones, who missed much of preseason drills and the season opener while battling a viral infection that hospitalized him for a week.
Against Miami, Jones carried the ball 18 times for 47 yards, but had a crucial fumble and was admittedly out of shape after regaining 10 of the 12 pounds he lost while out with the sickness. In the opener, junior running back Mack Brown rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns for the Gators.
"Getting back on the field was kind of tough," said Jones, who was expected to fill the gap this season for graduated 1,000-yard rusher Mike Gillislee. "I was fatigued a lot, trying to learn the playbook again, getting caught up with the game because the game is a little fast. It was definitely a tough process, but I think I handled it well."
Jones said that he is within two pounds of returning to his original playing weight of 226 pounds. And his growing strength and stamina have been noticed by Florida coach Will Muschamp.
"I think he had a really good off week and worked extremely hard," Muschamp said. "Again, it was the first game for him, which was the best part of it, and then coming off the issues he had medically. I feel good about where he is right now."
Florida's offense also gets the return of senior right guard Jon Halapio, who missed the first two games with a pectoral injury. But it is the sturdy Driskel, who at 6-foot-4 and 236 pounds puts the most pressure on opposing defenses with his strong arm and running ability.
"He's been elusive for us, and he's been able to run against us," Vols senior defensive tackle Daniel Hood said of Driskel, who passed for a career-high at the time of 219 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 81 yards in last year's win.
"Last year, I think we made everybody play good against us," Hood added. "We've just got to do a good job of containing him, forcing him to make throws, and then getting after him when we know it’s a pass down. We’ve got to keep our rushing points on the quarterback and not let him get outside to make those extra throws."
Tennessee's defense took a big hit last Saturday when sophomore defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry, who had been pushing to be a starter, injured a knee and will out for up to six weeks. The defensive front was already thin with senior defensive tackle Mo Couch being sidelined indefinitely after being implicated in a report that he allegedly accepted improper benefits from an agent.
"I thought going into the Oregon game and the valuable sets he gave us, he was probably the most improved defensive lineman that we had," Jones said of the 6-4, 291-pound Saulsberry. "He was really working into challenging for a starting position. To lose him was a major setback for us defensively."
During Florida’s eight-game win streak over the Vols, the last six games have been won by at least double digits and an average of 19 points per game. However, the Volunteers did almost upset Florida 21-20 in its national championship season in 2006. The last win by Tennessee came in 2004 when kicker James Wilhoit nailed a 50-yard field goal in the waning seconds for a 30-28 victory.
"It is a great rivalry game, versus a great football program, a well-coached football team with great football players on the road in a great environment," said Jones, whose team is a 17-point underdog. "It is a great opportunity, but it is going to take everything that we have. We must be the team that overachieves Saturday.
"Our players understand the rivalry, what is at stake. I think they understand what has gone on before them. The only thing we can control is our preparation and how we play on Saturday."


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