The Florida Gators travel to Knoxville this week to renew their annual rivalry with the Tennessee Volunteers. They will be aiming to leave Neyland Stadium with their twelfth straight win over the Vols. They will be doing so presumably with a backup quarterback, as it appears Luke Del Rio is out with a knee injury.
But beating the Vols with a backup quarterback is not unfamiliar territory for Florida. In 2013, starter Jeff Driskel was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury, and Tyler Murphy stepped in and led the Gators to a 31-17 victory. The following year, after falling behind 9-0 in the fourth quarter, Driskel was once again replaced, this time by Treon Harris. Harris lead the team to ten straight points en route to a 10-9 win in Knoxville.
This year, the role of backup turned lead guy will be played by fifth-year Graduate Transfer Austin Appleby. Appleby is in his first year with the Gators after spending his first four at Purdue, and will be making his first start for Florida on Saturday.
So what will it take to get yet another win over their rival? Here are my keys for a Florida victory on Saturday afternoon:
Protect the football
With Austin Appleby tossed into the starting role, protecting the football on offense will be vital. Appleby will not be asked to do much. The Gators will just try to put together some scoring drives and rely on their stingy defense to get the job done. So for Appleby and the offense, avoiding risky throws, as well as ball carriers holding on to the football, will be priority number one against the Tennessee defense.
Consistent play from the offensive line
Offensive line play for Florida has been shaky at times this year. With a backup behind center, it is even more crucial that the line controls the line of scrimmage and provides consistent protection Saturday. They must keep Appleby upright and give him a clean pocket to throw from.
In addition with providing protection for the passing game, it will also be very important that the O-line creates lanes for the running game to get going.
Get the running game going
So speaking of the running game, Florida has a stable of running backs that will look to eat up yards, move the chains, and alleviate pressure on Appleby and the passing offense. All four running backs that see regular time for the Gators are each averaging at least 4.7 yards a carry, and I imagine Florida will try to get them going early and often.
Get after Josh Dobbs
Florida’s defensive line vs Tennessee’s offensive line is a matchup that heavily favors the Gators. Tennessee is coming off a game against Ohio where the Bobcats racked up three sacks and eight tackles for loss. Meanwhile, Florida leads the nation with 16 team sacks.
Tennessee’s passing game has been woeful to this point, with Josh Dobbs only averaging 162 yards a game through the air. Florida will look to get after Dobbs all afternoon and make him as uncomfortable as possible, which could lead to creating turnovers.
Shut down Jalen Hurd
With Tennessee’s struggles in the passing game, as well as Florida boasting arguably the best secondary in the country, the Vols will turn to running back Jalen Hurd to provide a spark on offense.
Florida is only giving up 42 yards on the ground for the season, and knows that shutting Hurd down and not allowing him to get going will go a long way into leaving Knoxville with another victory.
Lastly, Florida just needs to play smart and avoid penalties. The Gators are confident they match up well against the Vols, and just need to play disciplined.
The offense needs to stay in manageable down and distances, and avoid penalties that create third and long situations.
The defense will play aggressive as usual, but will need to keep their heads and avoid giving Tennessee any unnecessary yardage.