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It's Tennessee Week - Florida Gators Take On Their Rival Volunteers

SB Nation Tampa Bay checks out the huge rivalry game between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers.

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While the series certainly has lost some of it's luster due to the decline of the Tennessee program, there are few opponents that get the blood pumping in Gator Nation than the Volunteers.

So many great players and history has transpired on the fields of Gainesville and Knoxville that it is without question a game that should still matter.

As the Volunteers begin their climb back up the hierarchy of football and the Gators try to figure out their place in the landscape, once again Florida-Tennessee has become a defining game in the SEC East.

This game will tell both schools just where they are in terms of their progress.

The winner still harbors dreams of greatness (the victor in this game has gone on to play for the Conference Championship in 12 of the last 19 years) - the loser will try to figure out how far they need to go to get where they want to be.

Without further ado, SB Nation Tampa Bay's preview of Gators and Vols:

Records: #16 Florida 2-0, Tennessee 2-0

Series: Florida leads 21-19

Current Streak: Florida has won the last six meetings

Last Meeting: Florida 31, Tennessee 17

Florida Gators Passing Game vs. Tennessee Volunteers Pass Defense

Gator fans are trying to be patient with John Brantley. He comes from a long line of great Gators and seems to be best suited for Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis' offense. However, after two performances against weaker opponents where he produced 1 touchdown pass and had 2 interceptions, whispers are beginning to surface as to whether or not the Gators would be better off with the freshman Jeff Driskel at the helm.

Of course, the backup quarterback is always the favorite son and the starter is always the guy no one wants - unless his name is Tim Tebow.

Even though he didn't put up the touchdown numbers, Brantley has been efficient completing 67.3% of his passes and throwing for 424 yards.

Florida ranks 42nd in the nation in passing.

Tennessee's defense hasn't exactly been a power on pass defense, ranking 80th against the pass. There's inexperience throughout the Vols front seven which is led by 2nd team All-SEC senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson and junior linebacker Herman Gathers.

The Vols have just two sacks and one interception in their first two ballgames.

Advantage: Push

Florida Running Game vs. Tennessee Run Defense

One of the major advantages in this game could be Florida's running game. The Gators have been nearly unstoppable on the ground this season. The quadruple threat of Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Trey Burton and Mike Gillislee have combined for 497 yards and 7 touchdowns, good for 17th in the nation in rushing.

Demps has a shoulder injury but will play in the Tennessee game.

"He's (Demps) fine. He's going to be fine," Gators coach Will Muschamp told the Gainesville Sun. "He's been practicing."

What hasn't been fine is Tennessee's run defense. The Vols have surrendered 277 yds on the ground in their two games (4.6 yds a clip) and gave up 6.4 yds per rush against Big East school Cincinnati.

If the Vols can't control Florida's running game, they could get run out of the stadium.

Advantage: Florida

Tennessee Volunteers Passing Game vs. Florida Gators Pass Defense

For the first time in a long time, the Vols actually have a quarterback who can strike fear into the hearts of the Gator secondary.

Tyler Bray is off to an amazing start this season connecting on 78.5 percent of his passes for 698 yards with seven touchdowns and no picks. He also became the second quarterback in Vol history to throw for 400-plus yards in a game (I'm sure you can guess who was the first).

Bray's top targets this season have been Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, who've combined for 31 receptions, 502 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Tennessee has the 7th best passing attack in the nation.

The Vols will be facing a different level of defense when they head to the Swamp. Florida boasts the top scoring defense in the country (1.5 pts a game) and is 16th in the nation against the pass, surrendering just 124 yds a game in the air.

While the Gators have been solid on pass defense, they've yet to make a splash play. They've only registered 2 sacks and have no interceptions.

Advantage: Tennessee

Tennessee Running Game vs. Florida Run Defense

Tauren Poole returns for another go at the Gators and he again leads a pedestrian Tennessee rushing attack. Poole has gone for 199 yds and 1 touchdown in his first two games.

The Vols are ranked 73rd in the country in rushing.

The Gators will show no mercy on the ground game. Led by safety Mike Elam's 11 tackles, Florida has held opponents to just 50.5 yds a game on the ground, good for 11th in the nation. Opposing runners are averaging just 1.9 yds a carry against the Gators.

Advantage: Florida

Special Teams

Michael Palardy is the Vols place kicker (and part-time punter). He's 1-2 with a long of 37 on the year. Palardy also leads the Vols in punting average with a 40.5 average. Their primary punter, Matt Darr has struggled, only managing an average of 34.3 yds a punt.

Tennessee's primary kick returner is Da'Rick Rogers, who averages 24.8 yards a return.

Florida's Caleb Sturgis has been his reliable self, going 5 for 5 with a long of 51 yards. David Lerner hasn't gotten much work as a Punter this season, making two punts for an average of 29 yds.

Andre Dubose, the National Returner of the Year in 2010, has only returned one kick so far this season - and he took it 50 yards.

Advantage: Florida

Coaching

Will Muschamp is entering his third game as head coach of the Gators, he is 2-0.

Derrick Dooley is in his second season at Tennessee, he is 8-7 with the Vols and 25-27 overall as a head coach.

Advantage: Florida

By the Numbers

  • Since the series began in 1916, Tennessee holds the longest win streak in the series at 10 games.
  • Florida has won 14 of the last 18 meetings with the Vols.
  • Tennessee's last win in Gainesville was in 2003.
  • The most points ever scored by one team in a game was 62 by Florida in 1995.
  • Florida has won 10 of the last 12 meetings in Gainesville.

Quotables

"You can't spell Citrus without the U and the T," Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier, commenting on Tennessee's inability to get past Florida and routinely winding up in the Citrus Bowl.

Outlook

Florida and Tennessee will get their first true tests of the 2011 season as they face off in Gainesville. Is Florida's defense as good as advertised? Can John Brantley do enough in the passing game to keep 8 and 9 men out of the box on defense?

Can Demps and Rainey work their magic against a better opponent? Is Tyler Bray the real deal in Tennessee or has he just feasted on creampuffs?

The truth will be revealed on Saturday.

While I believe Tennessee is vastly improved and on the verge of relevancy once more, I think the Gators are just more talented in the key areas. I'm a strong believer in the notion that if you run the ball well and you stop the run consistently, you'll win most of your ballgames.

This game could come down to turnovers - something neither defense has been prolific in liberating from opposing offenses.

In the end, the Gators will make a play or two that will be the difference.

Prediction: Florida 24, Tennessee 16

Photographs by cstreet.us, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.