By Frank Gale
The Vol Nation has spent the week recovering from last week’s historic, 59-14 loss at the hands of Oregon. One positive is the Ducks had to come from behind to get this win. Not much to hang one’s hat on I realize, but in these games you take the positives (few as they were) where ever you find them.
This week, the Vols travel to Gainesville where they have not tasted success since the 2003 season. More bad news, the Big Orange is now winless in their last 17 games against ranked opponents. It would be a great time for Team #117 to reverse this trend tomorrow afternoon against the 18th ranked Gators. You can catch all the action on CBS at 2:30 p.m. CDT.
Florida had a bye week to contemplate the loss to in state rival Miami in their last game and to get ready for the Vols. This annual contest, in many ways, has evolved into a rivalry close to the one with Alabama. That would be No. 1 Alabama, who will host the Vols at the end of this stretch with five out of six games against top 20 teams.
It was just last year that both the Vols and Gators entered this game in the top 20! Remember the hype, Game Day on campus, the Vols playing well enough on offense to win before the defense took those dreams and shredded them in the second half. That was the beginning of the end for a season that started with so much hope.
The Vols' defense is still seeing ugly neon yellow uniforms streaking by them after last week, but are still vastly improved over last season’s unit. They should not see an opponent with that kind of overall team speed the rest of the year. Unfortunately, they still have to deal with some very talented teams left on the schedule. Note to Jim Butler — Vanderbilt is not among those that I was referring.
Tomorrow, the Vols will face a defense that could be better than the one they faced in Oregon.
There is a glimmer of good news this week. The Gator offense is still trying to find their stride this season. It would suit Tennessee fans if that search continued for one more week! To keep the Gator offense under control, it will have to start up front with a pass rush. Gainesville native and defensive end Jordan Williams could be the Vol that leads the charge tomorrow.
The Vols passing game should be improved with both Alton “Pig” Howard and Johnathon Johnson both back from injuries that kept them out of action last week. That certainly impacted the passing game against Oregon and was a factor in Worley’s poor performance.
The quarterback position was thrown open for competition by Coach Butch Jones this week. The “Swamp” might not be the ideal place for an inexperienced quarterback to make his collegiate debut; however, Coach Jones always makes calculated decisions and this one will be no different.
One of the staples of Butch Jones’ offenses at prior coaching stops has been the tight ends. Injuries and inexperience has taken it toll. The three remaining healthy tight ends have but a hand full of catches for 20 yards. If the offense is to be effective, the production from this group has to increase.
The number two team in the country exposed plenty of weaknesses last game and sent the Vols back to Rocky Top to regroup. This week, the Vols travel into another hostile environment still looking for their first SEC road victory since Vandy in 2010.
The Vols are a heavy underdog and are given little chance to reverse last week’s showing. That is why the Big Orange, under their motivated coach, will give the Gators all they want and more tomorrow. The Vols will fight to the final whistle against what could be an over confident bunch of reptiles. Go Vols!!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)