After a week off for the Florida Football Team thanks to Hurricane Irma, the Gators are back in action for their first home game of 2017. The Gators play host to their hated rivals, the Tennessee Volunteers, this Saturday at 3:30 (Game can be viewed on CBS).
After an embarrassing loss in week one at the hands of Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines the Gators are looking for their first win of the season.
On the other side of the coin the Volunteers enter 2-0 after a down to the wire victory in week one over Georgia Tech and an easy victory over Indiana State in week two.
The Gators are 1-1 under Jim McElwain against the Volunteers and are a couple plays away from being 0-2. Under Butch Jones the Volunteers have been much better at home than on the road – in 2016 they were just 1-3.
Let’s take a look at five storylines for the Gators entering week three:
Jim McElwain is on the hottest of seats. The Gators offense was just as bad against Michigan as it has been for the last 8 years or so. When McElwain came to Florida, a little over two years ago, he boasted that he could coach anyone into becoming a good QB. Obviously, that hasn’t been the case. And despite being given an elite coaches contract, new facilities, and a recruiting hot bed in the state of Florida, Mac still hasn’t figured out how to get the Gators to score points on a regular basis. The Gators have talented QBs on their roster, but against the Wolverines in week one the Gators QBs didn’t have a chance. With poor play calling and an underperforming offensive line, the Gators have a lot to overcome if 2017 is to be a success. McElwain will send his embattled offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, upstairs to the booth in what appears to be a desperate move. The Gators offense NEEDS to show something against Tennessee in week 3.
How long of a leash will Feleipe Franks have? Franks was announced the starter at QB just days prior to the Gators week 1 matchup with Michigan. After an errant fumble to start the second half, Franks was pulled if favor of Malik Zaire, who proceeded to do . . . absolutely nothing positive for the Gators offense. Pulling Franks, again looked like a desperate move by a coach that’s running out of options. He should stick with his guy this week, instead of further weakening the confidence of his redshirt freshman QB. If Franks does get pulled in this one, it seems likely that Luke Del Rio will get a shot this week. The Gators most experienced QB was decent before injuries took over in 2016, and he may be the best chance at the Gators having a functioning offense.
Which offensive weapons will step up? Without Scarlett and Callaway the Gators will need some other offensive weapons to step up. At running back the Gators need Mark Thompson and LaMichael Perine to show something, anything. The tight ends weren’t much of a factor against Michigan, but Goolsby and Lewis are strong assets that need to be utilized. At receiver Tyree Cleveland appears to be the type of player you can force feed the ball, which is something the Gators should try to do a little bit more often this week.
The offensive playbook needs to open up. The Gators will have a few big play targets on Saturday with Tyree Cleveland, Brandon Powell and Kadarius Toney in uniform. Feleipe Franks has a big arm and the Gators should put it to work, testing the Volunteers downfield early an often. In addition to taking some shots, the Gators should work to get their explosive young players the ball in space, namely speedster Kadarius Toney, who didn’t see the ball nearly enough against Michigan.
Can the Gators defense hold up if the offense can’t sustain drives? The Gators defense played their hearts out against Michigan, but as we’ve seen so many times in the past, the defense can only hold up for so long while the offense continues to go three and out. The defense scored two first half TDs and gave the Gators the lead at the break against Michigan, but after the half the D ran out of gas. If the offense doesn’t turn things around, then this will be THE storyline to watch all year long. Can this Gators defense win the team games as the ones in recent years have done? Time will tell.
PREDICTION: The Gators have been really, really good at home under Coach McElwain. In the Jim McElwain era the only team the Gators have lost to at home is Florida State. The Volunteers struggle away from the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers might be a better team than the Gators when all is said and done in 2017, but I believe the Gators and their coach will find a way to get the victory on Saturday. They might even when by a touchdown or two. Every time that Gator fans, boosters, and media have been ready to write McElwain off over the last couple of years he’s responded in a big way. The Gators get the win and get an early leg up in the race for the SEC East crown over Tennessee.
SCORE: Florida 24, Tennesse 17