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September 16, 2009

Game Week: Tennessee Breakdown

The 'exhibition season' is over and done with and now this Saturday afternoon the 'regular season' finally gets underway - in a big way - when Florida welcomes the Tennessee Volunteers to the Swamp. InsidetheGators.net has the very latest on this heated SEC East rivalry in this Game Week Breakdown. Guerry Smith breaks down the Volunteers with his answers to five burning questions as well previewing five UT players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.

BURNING QUESTIONS: Guerry Smith provides answers to these five burning questions
1) Why are Volunteer fans burning Jonathan Crompton in effigy?
OK, that's an exaggeration, but the heat has been turned up incredibly high on Tennessee's embattled senior quarterback after his dreadful day against UCLA. He lost a fumble and threw three interceptions on four consecutive possessions as the Vols lost 19-15 despite holding the Bruins to 186 total yards. Crompton received little help from his offensive line or his receivers against UCLA, but he has shown next to nothing in more than a year as a starter (.515 completion percentage, four touchdown tosses in 2008). Backup Nick Stephens was even worse last season.
2) Can you believe the 28 point spread?
Sure. Florida has covered the spread 11 times in a row since losing at home to Ole Miss last October, one of the longest streaks in the modern era.

Tennessee is coming off a nail-biting loss to UCLA and an easy victory over a terrible team (UAB in 2008, Western Kentucky in 2009) for the second consecutive season. The Vols lost to the Gators 30-6 in Knoxville last year and have to travel to Gainesville this time. The Vols are getting used to new offensive and defensive schemes. Their offense managed only 13 points against UCLA, so it is hard to imagine Tennessee reaching double figures against Florida.

The Gators beat LSU and Georgia by more than 28 last year. There's no evidence Tennessee is as good as either of those teams.
3) How's Eric Berry's Heisman campaign going?
Quite poorly, through no fault of his own. Berry, the only player with a pick-six against Tim Tebow (the 96-yarder in 2007), is a tremendous talent, but defensive players for average teams don't factor into the Heisman equation.

New Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin put Berry close to the line of scrimmage against UCLA, where he essentially was an extra linebacker. He led the team with 10 tackles, including one for a loss. Look for more of the same this Saturday as Tennessee tries to slow down Florida's ground game first.
4) What will Tennessee try to do on offense?
After Crompton's meltdown against UCLA, the Vols probably will be very conservative. Tailback Montario Hardesty, who had 26 carries last Saturday, will get the ball early and often, although his 3.4 average per attempt was not encouraging.

Backup Bryce Brown, who gained 104 yards in the scrimmage against woeful Western Kentucky, will get his cracks, too. One problem: center Josh McNeil, a preseason All-SEC selection, is doubtful with a back injury that Lane Kiffin termed a possible career-ender a few weeks ago before backtracking.

If you are expecting to see Berry on offense, think again. Lane Kiffin said before the year that he would not use Berry in a Wildcat formation because he needed to spend all of his time learning the new defense. Berry was ineffective in a limited role last year, rushing seven times for 37 yards and catching one pass for three yards.
5) How can Tennessee hang in the game?
By dominating defensively. The odds of Lane Kiffin leading the Tennessee band in Rocky Top at the end of the game are one in a million, but he will be happy to get out of The Swamp without getting humiliated.

The Vols held Florida to a season-low 243 yards last year. Tebow rushed 12 times for 26 yards. It was not a fluke. Tennessee finished tied for third nationally in total defense and returns several key players from that unit. The defensive line, a concern entering the year, has held up well behind solid tackle Dan Williams. Defensive coordinator Monty Kiffin wants to keep running backs Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey from breaking long runs and force Florida's inexperienced receivers to make big plays.

Also, the Vols absolutely, positively need to cover kicks better. Brandon James returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown and had a 52-yard kickoff return last year. He scored on an 83-yard punt return in 2007 and had a 90-yard punt return nullified by a penalty in 2006.

FIVE VOLS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Here's a list of five Tennessee players Gator fans will want to keep an eye on
1) Eric Berry, 5-foot-11, 203-pound junior strong safety
Smith Says: With 487 yards on interception returns, Berry needs just 15 more to break the NCAA record of 501 set by FSU's Terrell Buckley.
2) Montario Hardesty, 6-foot-0, 215-pound senior tailback
Smith Says: UCLA stopped Hardesty a yards short on fourth-and-goal from the 2 late in the fourth quarter, but he is Tennessee's most reliable (only?) option on offense.
3) Rico McCoy, 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior weak side linebacker
Smith Says: McCoy, a second-team All-SEC pick the last two years, has 12 tackles through two games, including 1.5 for loss. He is fast and active.
4) LaMarcus Thompson, 6-foot-1, 221-pound junior strong side linebacker
Smith Says: Thompson has a team-high three tackles for loss, a sack and also has recovered a fumble. Tennessee's linebackers are tough.

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