Game Day File: Florida vs No. 11 Tennessee (7 pm)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Urban Meyer. Will Muschamp. Jim McElwain. Dan Mullen. Those are the four coaches responsible for Florida’s nine-game home winning streak in its rivalry series against hated Tennessee, a string that dates to the 2005 season. 
Lane Kiffin. Derek Dooley. Butch Jones. Jeremy Pruitt. Josh Heupel. Those are Tennessee coaches who have been on the losing end. Some were blowout UF victories (59-20 in 2007; 34-3 in ’19; 38-14 in ’21), others were memorable thrillers (Grier-to-Callaway in ’15; Franks-to-Cleveland in ’17). 
What a run it’s been, but now it means nothing, relative to Saturday night’s renewal between the Gators (1-1) and 11th-ranked Volunteers (2-0) in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams, a highly anticipated sold-out showdown at Spurrier/Florida Field. The Gators put together their streak at the “Swamp” because they were the better program over the last two decades and played like it in winning 16 of the previous 18 in a series that once was served up as the league’s annual marquee matchup. Such has not been the case for a long time. Since back when Spurrier was a coach, not a field. 
[Read senior writer Scott Carter’s comprehensive ‘Opening Kickoff’ setup here]
The Vols now have something of an upper hand, having won last year’s meeting 38-33 in Knoxville that helped propel them to an 11-2 record – their first double-digit winning season since ’07 and most wins in the program since the 1998 national-championship campaign – and run to blowout Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. That’s year’s outcome dumped the Gators to their first 0-2 start in SEC play since 1986 and into a tailspin that ended with a 6-7 record and second straight losing season for the first time since 1978-79. 
Tennessee will come to town as a 6½-point favorite. It’s anyone’s guess as to the last time that happened. 

UF coach Billy Napier

The Vols have a chance to win a second straight in the series for the first time since ’03-04, but the Gators have a chance – in front of what figures to be a wild and wanting crowd – to reset themselves with what would be a first signature SEC victory under Coach Billy Napier.  
UF bounced back from a disappointing, mistake-marred 24-11 season-opening loss at 14th-ranked Utah last week by doing what it was supposed to do in rolling over FCS-classified McNeese 49-7. This game figures to be nothing like either of those first two; not as far as energy goes.
Tennessee, with Heupel’s break-neck offense, started with a 49-13 win over an overmatched Virginia squad in Nashville, Tenn., and followed that by messing around with FCS-classed Austin Peay before a fourth-quarter score put away a 30-13 win. That the Vols were playing it safe and close to the vest last week is probably a safe assumption. Ditto the notion the playbook will be wide open Saturday night, what with quarterback Joe Milton (66.7 percent, 429 yards, 4 TD, no INT) leading an arsenal averaging 477.5 yards per game, split by a whopping 257.5 yards on the ground and 222.0 through the air. 

Coach Josh Heupel is 20-8 in just over two seasons at Tennessee, but winless (0-1) in his lone visit to the “Swamp,” like so many UT coaches before him.  

Milton, along with tailbacks Jaylen Wright (233 yards) and Jabari Small (162 yards), plus an electrifying receivers corps will represent the best test to date for a UF defense that, at least through two games, looks far more sound under new coordinator Austin Armstrong than it has the last several seasons. A year ago, the Gators ranked 100th nationally in total defense and third-from last in the country in third-down percentage surrendered (49.9), but so far – again, yes, it’s early, with a lot of good teams on the horizon – sits third in the country (191.0 yards per game), including eighth against the pass (115.5 yards per game). 
As for the Gators throwing the ball, Graham Mertz, the Wisconsin transfer, is completing nearly 74 percent of his throws for 526 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but the receiving corps unit is waiting on someone(s) other Ricky Pearsall (14 catches, 215 yards, 1 TD) to break out. Same with the Montrell Johnson Jr./Trevor Etienne-fueled rushing attack that was held to just 13 yards in the loss at Utah, but then flattened McNeese for 327 on the ground on the way to 560 yards of total offense. 
Tennessee’s defense is allowing 270.0 yards per game, only 87.0 on the ground. 
Time to find out if the balance of power in this long-running feud really has shifted. 
Coverage starts at 7 p.m. on ESPN, with the A-Team of Chris Fowler on play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit providing analysis and Holly Rowe working the sideline. The Gators Sports Network from Learfield will air with pregame coverage beginning at 4 p.m. and eventually give way to Sean Kelly, Shane Matthews and sideline reporter Tate Casey for kickoff. For stations, click here. 
The game will be replayed Sunday at 3 p.m. and again Monday at 5 a.m., both on SEC Network.
Finally, follow senior writer Scott Carter (@GatorsScott) for commentary and analysis throughout the game. will have complete post-game coverage from the game late Saturday night and fresh follow-up content early Sunday, also.



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