This season I’ll be breaking down a few of college football’s biggest games each week and giving out at least one bet I like from each matchup.
Let’s take a look at one of the SEC’s best rivalries as Florida hosts Tennessee.
Florida vs. Tennessee, current line:
Florida vs. Tennessee Best Bet Prediction:
Put some faith in the Vols’ explosive offense and take Tennessee against the spread:
- Tennessee at Florida, current line: TENN -6 points
When Tennessee is on Offense
Tennessee is known for its passing attack under head coach Josh Heupel, but his play calling actually skews toward a run-first offense.
In a neutral game script, the Vols ran the ball 53% of the time last year. It has been 55% of the time through two (mostly noncompetitive) games this season, according to Campus2Canton.
The Vols offensive line played a huge role in the success of the run game last year, based on these stats from Sports Info Solutions:
- Ranked 10th in opponent-adjusted yards before contact
- Ranked 3rd in contact rate allowed at or behind the line of scrimmage
Tennessee has not been tested by Virginia and Austin Peay, but through two games running backs Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright are averaging a combined 3.5 yards before contact per attempt.
Florida’s defense might be up for this challenge, however, as the Gators are allowing an impressive 0.5 yards before contact per attempt, per Sports Info Solutions.
That rate isn’t sustainable, but the improvement from 2022 is not a shock. Florida welcomed a number of transfers to the front seven including starting linemen Cam Jackson and Caleb Banks.
It’s also worth noting Tennessee’s tendency to run between the tackles (54.9% of carries this season). Florida has looked more vulnerable on inside runs, giving up 5.1 yards per carry, per Sports Info Solutions.
In the passing game, Tennessee plays fast and loves the deep ball. 27.9% of the Vols passes last season were 15 or more yards downfield, the 14th highest rate in the nation.
Joe Milton’s downfield passing rate sits at just 17.5% so far this year, but that’s likely due to the level of competition. While filling in for Hendon Hooker at the end of last season, Milton’s downfield rate was 35%.
Florida struggled to defend the deep ball last year, allowing a 45.5% completion rate on throws of 15 yards or more, which ranked 104th according to Sports Info Solutions.
Perhaps the Gators have improved 一 they’ve allowed just one completion at 15 yards downfield so far 一 but it’s hard to tell when they’ve played McNeese State and Utah with a backup quarterback.
Another factor in the downfield passing game is Tennessee’s ability to protect Milton. The Vols quick-strike passing attack makes pass protection relatively easy, but obviously Milton must hold the ball longer when attempting to stretch the field.
Florida ranked 30th in opponent-adjusted pressure rate last year, but there are some concerning red flags through two games this season.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Florida has generated a disturbing 18.8% pressure rate against traditional dropbacks (three or more steps), which ranks 116th.
Expect Tennessee to challenge Florida downfield early with Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton, and test their pass rush and ability to defend the deep ball.
When Florida is on Offense
The Gators are a run-centric offense under head coach Billy Napier, who calls his own plays.
In a neutral game script, Florida ran the ball 63% of the time last year, per Campus2Canton, and have replicated that with a 62% rate through two games this season.
Florida’s predictable rushing attack tends to allow defenses to stack the box against them, as the Gators’ running backs ran into a box with seven or more defenders on 61% of their carries last season per Sports Info Solutions. In Week 1 against Utah, that rate climbed to 75%.
Tennessee tends to prefer lining up with a light box, but had a dominant run defense last year in all formations, according to Sports Info Solutions:
- 2.7 yards per attempt allowed with stacked box, ranked 2nd
- 4.1 yards per attempt allowed with light box, ranked 6th
The Vols have not been tested yet this year, but they did lose a good amount of front seven talent to the NFL. It’s possible this unit takes a step back and Florida will undoubtedly attempt to challenge it.
In the passing game Florida’s offensive line has done a nice job protecting the immobile Graham Mertz so far, allowing a 15.7% pressure rate (21.6% against Utah) per Sports Info Solutions.
Despite the small sample size, there might be something to this trend, as Utah ranked 20th in opponent-adjusted pressure rate a season ago.
Tennessee ranked 50th in opponent-adjusted pressure rate last year, and it’s tough to judge the unit based on its performances against Virginia and Austin Peay:
- versus Virginia: 43% pressure rate
- versus Austin Peay: 17% pressure rate
Although the Vols’ performance against Austin Peay is mildly concerning, the Governors quick-strike passing attack was designed to limit pressure.
Austin Peay took a tradition dropback (three or more steps) on just 33% of passing plays last week per Sports Info Solutions. Mertz has a tradition dropback of 57%, which invites more pressure.
Last year with Anthony Richardson, Florida aggressively attacked downfield in the passing game, throwing 15 or more yards downfield on 29% of pass plays, the nation’s sixth highest rate.
Mertz does not have Richardson’s arm, however, and that trend likely won’t hold.
Against Utah, despite trailing almost the entire game, just 18% of Mertz’s attempts traveled 15 or more yards downfield. Last year at Wisconsin, Mertz ranked ninth out of 12 qualified Big Ten quarterbacks in catchable pass rate at that distance, per Sports Info Solutions.
Final Thoughts on Florida vs. Tennessee Best Bets
History tells us to take the Gators 一 the Vols have covered as a favorite in this matchup just once in the last 25 years 一 but I’m going to take Tennessee against the spread.
There’s some concern that Florida can slow the game down with a strong run game and defense. However, Tennessee’s passing attack is substantially more dangerous, so expect the Vols to eventually pull away even if Florida keeps it interesting early.