If Tennessee is going to deliver on its considerable expectations for 2016, the Vols probably need to beat Florida on Saturday. Their meeting will give someone a leg up and someone an immediate setback in the race for the SEC East, making it one of the early season’s most consequential games. It’ll be tense.
The No. 14 Vols have the home field, and they’ll need it. They haven’t beaten Florida in 12 years, since 2004. The world was a drastically different place back then. Tennessee desperately needs a flash forward, or else it’ll be hard to get to Atlanta at the end of the regular season. That’s what’s at stake.
The same thing is on the line for the No. 19 Gators. If they’re to win, they’ll have to do it without injured starting quarterback Luke Del Rio. His replacement is Austin Appleby, one of two Purdue transfers starting critical SEC games this weekend. Sports are funny sometimes, aren’t they?
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS. The broadcasters are Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, and Allie LaForce.
Radio: Florida and Tennessee
Live Stream: College Football Live Stream
Spread: Tennessee opened as an 8-point favorite. That line has been shrinking.
Make friends: Get to SB Nation’s team blog chats for this game at Alligator Army (for Gators) and Rocky Top Talk (for Vols).
Three big things to know
1. Injuries have changed things. Del Rio is out for Florida, and so is the most dangerous player in the secondary he’d have been working against. Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton fractured an ankle against Ohio last weekend and won’t play. A few other important Vol defenders are nicked up, too, but Butch Jones expects linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin to play. Sutton’s absence comes as junior cornerback Justin Martin returns from an injury, and Martin will have a big job against Florida – holding down the left side of the field on a somewhat weakened defense.
2. The Gators are asking an awful lot of Appleby He hasn’t started a game since last November, when he threw for 322 yards and scored four total touchdowns against Indiana – for Purdue. He’s got a relief appearance under his belt this year, but Appleby’s never played in a game like this. It’s a hell of a situation to be tossed into, and now it’s on Appleby to rise up to it. We’ll see how it goes.
3. Joshua Dobbs has a pretty brutal job in front of him. Florida’s pass defense has been almost perfect this year. The Gators don’t give up big plays, and they don’t really give up medium plays, either. Opponents have thrown for 4.9 yards per attempt, and the Gators have intercepted four balls in three weeks. They’ve given up seven passes of longer than 10 yards and three longer than 30. If Dobbs can solve this riddle, he’ll be the first QB this year to do it.