by Frank Martin
The Tennessee Volunteers and No. 17 Florida Gators enter the third week of the season primed for a showdown that figures to have lasting implications in the SEC East race. Both teams have slipped from their lofty perches atop the division in recent years but appear to be on the uptick in early 2012.
Florida rudely greeted Texas A&M to the SEC last week with a strong defensive showing in the second half, while Tennessee boasts one of the conference's most dynamic offenses led by quarterback Tyler Bray and dangerous weapons at receiver.
Florida Gators (2-0): The Gators appeared to be in trouble last week in College Station, Tex., before the defense clamped down and allowed Florida to outscore the Aggies 10-0 in the second half en route to a 20-17 win. Quarterback Jeff Driskel was sacked eight times, but has taken care of the ball and now appears to be entrenched as the starter after battling with fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett through the opening week. Driskel is 23-of-32 with 276 passing yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. And he's a running threat. The key to the Gators' offense, however, has been senior running back Mike Gillislee. He ran for 83 yards and two scores, allowing Florida to dominate Texas A&M in time of possession last week. He suffered a groin injury in the first half, but played through it and is expected to be fine for Saturday.
Tennessee Volunteers (2-0): The Volunteer passing attack has been as good as advertised thus far, with Bray throwing for 643 yards and six touchdowns as Tennessee has topped 500 yards of total offense in back-to-back games. Justin Hunter (17 receptions, 219 yards) has returned from a season-ending injury last season to lead the receivers, while junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson has filled the void left by DaRick Rogers, who was kicked off the team prior to the season. Patterson has nine receptions for 164 yards and scored on a 67-yard run in a 35-21 season-opening win over North Carolina State. The running game has been less consistent. Junior Raijon Neal has only 118 yards on 35 carries this season, but ran for two scores in last week's 51-13 win over FCS foe Georgia State.
1. Neither Florida nor Tennessee has won the SEC East since Florida’s last title in 2009. The two programs combined to win 15 of the first 18 division titles, led by the Gators’ 10.
2. Florida has won seven straight against Tennessee; the Volunteers have run for just 46 yards per game in that span.
3. The team with more rushing yards has won 20 of the last 22 in this series.
NCAA Football Prediction: Tennessee 27, Florida 24.
cordarrelle patterson - darick rogers - florida gators - jacoby brissett - jeff driskel - justin hunter - mike gillislee - raijon neal - tennessee volunteers - tyler bray