(Photo credit: Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK)
The Florida Gators hope home cooking is the recipe for an upset when the Tennessee Volunteers visit Gainesville in a marquee Saturday night matchup with College Football Playoff implications.
The Gators dropped their opener at Utah 24-11 before rolling past McNeese State 49-7 last Saturday. The Vols thumped Virginia 49-13 and Austin Peay 30-13.
This classic SEC duel resumes with Tennessee trying to improve the sudden questioned reputation of its conference. LSU and Alabama were trounced by Florida State and Texas, respectively, in consecutive weeks on the national stage.
We have news, trends, notes and quotes - along with our spread pick and a prop pick for good measure.
--Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
--Location: Brian Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
--Point Spread, Total: Tennessee -6.5, Total 58.5
There are a few stats and trends favoring the Gators' chances to keep the game close.
The opening number of Tennessee -7.5 was bet down to -6.5 by midweek as Florida backers decided the Utah loss had its positives.
Gators quarterback Graham Mertz, who threw for more than 2,000 yards with 19 touchdown passes last season for Wisconsin, completed 31 of 44 attempts against a strong Utah defense and could create trouble for the Vols DBs.
Mertz may have to establish the pass because the Gators managed only 13 yards rushing that day -- and they didn't finish drives.
Mertz led Florida inside Utah's 40-yard line on five occasions, but the Gators came away with only 10 points.
Tennessee has the advantage of playing what amounted to a pair of exhibition matchups, throttling Virginia and going through the motions against Austin Peay, keeping its offensive and defensive game plans very basic.
Vols QB Joe Milton is serviceable for now, but with the talent around him could become a bigger asset as the schedule rolls on.
Jaylen Wright (12 carries, 115 yards), Jabari Wright (13 carries, 67 yards) and Dylan Thompson (13 carries, 52 yards and three touchdowns), provided the backfield heft against Virginia.
The script calls for the Vols to fight the home-crowd juice and reach halftime feeling confident and capable. They should be able to keep putting up points but may find trouble keeping the Gators off the board late.
The pick: Tennessee 30, Florida 26
Tennessee linebacker Aaron Beasley and defensive lineman Tyler Baron have a combined 10 tackles for loss on a defense that sits tied for first with 11 quarterback sacks.
That defensive intensity should help mitigate the combination of Florida desperation and its raucous home-field advantage, though not enough to blow out the Gators.
Florida coach Billy Napier has a handle on the gravity of this one for his 2023 Gators.
"It's a big weekend for Gator Nation," Napier said Monday. "We play at home. We play a really good opponent. ... It's going to be a really important week."
The recent series results show Florida topping Tennessee in 2021 by a 38-14 count, and the Volunteers coming back at home in a 38-33 victory last season, despite allowing 594 yards of offense.
The Vols had dropped five in a row prior to last season. The Gators lead the all-time series 31-21.
THEY SAID IT
"They have great team speed, athletes that can go make plays in space. You have to bottle up the run game. That's a huge part of what they do, and it sets up their play-action pass. A year ago, they hurt us with some of that. We have to be able to fit the run, play assignment-sound and play the ball well when it's in the air."
-- Tennessee third-year coach Josh Heupel on the challenge of facing Florida.
The Gators push the ball downfield hoping to expose an average Tennessee secondary and should find success, perhaps as a backdoor cover -- and in helping push the total north.
The prop pick: Tennessee teased to -2.5, parlay with over/under teased to 51.5 points (110).
--Field Level Media