Sept. 21 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — Tennessee (1-2) at No. 9 Florida (3-0)

(Kyle Trask photo courtesy Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 21, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla., Noon EDT.

Florida’s season is riding on Kyle Trask now.

After rallying the ninth-ranked Gators to a victory following the season-ending injury to Feleipe Franks, Trask and Florida look to stay unbeaten Saturday when they host Tennessee in an East Division clash of SEC teams.

Franks’ season came to a sudden and gruesome end when he suffered a dislocated right ankle in the third quarter of Florida’s 29-21 victory over Kentucky last Saturday night. The senior quarterback, who was the starting Gators quarterback for 18 straight games, was dragged down from behind on a run and hit at an awkward angle.

Trask, a junior who had seen little more than mop-up duty in five games since the start of last season, calmly rallied the Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC East) from a 21-10 deficit by directing three fourth-quarter scoring drives and completing 9 of 13 passes for 126 yards. Florida scored 19 unanswered points to close out the game, with Trask scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a keeper from four yards out with 4:11 to play.

Tennessee (1-2) took out its frustrations from embarrassing home losses to Georgia State and BYU by blasting in-state FCS rival Chattanooga 45-0 last Saturday. Jarrett Guarantano threw three first-half touchdown passes as the Volunteers limited the Mocs to 227 total yards and recorded their first shutout since blanking UTEP 24-0 almost exactly one year ago.

Guarantano finished 7 of 8 for 142 yards and has gotten off to a fast start despite Tennessee’s struggles, throwing for 629 yards and seven TDs. He will be looking to atone for a miserable performance in last year’s game — a 47-21 romp by the Gators in Knoxville in which he finished 7 of 18 for 164 yards with two interceptions.

Though Jeremy Pruitt is 6-9 since arriving at Tennessee last year, he does have a pair of wins against ranked opponents. The Vols, though, failed in two attempts to beat a Top 10 foe last season and have lost a staggering 30 consecutive games to such rivals since a 51-33 win at then-No. 10 Georgia in 2006.

Vols set for first road game of 2019

Even going back to the days of Peyton Manning, “The Swamp” has rarely been a hospitable place for the Volunteers. Tennessee has lost seven straight games in Gainesville since a 24-10 victory in 2003 when Casey Clausen was under center and 13 of 14 overall between the teams.

“You want to go to the Swamp, where it is going to be crazy and loud and hot,” assistant coach and former Vols quarterback Tee Martin told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “You want that. That is what you want. That is why you come to Tennessee. That is why you come to the SEC. You don’t shy away from that. You welcome that. That is going to be the mindset this week.”

Guarantano was knocked out of last year’s loss, but he has confidence in his offensive line, which appears to be settled after Pruitt and the staff went through rotations in the first three games. Tennessee committed to the run throughout its first three games but only found success in the last two and rolled up 195 yards on the Mocs in their lopsided victory last weekend. It appears K’Rojhn Calbert and Darnell Wright have earned starting spots for this contest to help try and stave off Florida’s pass rush.

“You know, we’re going to the right folks,” Pruitt said at his weekly media availability. “We might not be taking the right path to get there, so to speak, so there’s lots of things technically that we need to clean up. But the positive is there’s very few mental errors.”

Guarantano has not played all that badly against ranked opponents despite a 2-6 record in those games, throwing for 1,202 yards and eight touchdowns with only one interception in 154 pass attempts. But holding onto the ball will be of primary importance considering the Gators forced six turnovers that led to 24 points in last year’s win, with five of them coming in the first half and the second-half kickoff.

“Well, I hope we learned a lesson that if you turn the ball over six times, it’s hard to win,” Pruitt said. “Last year’s game will have no bearing on this year’s game. We’ve got to get our guys, we’ll have a good plan. We’ve got to get our guys ready to execute the plan, play the right way and do it for 60 minutes.”

Mullen could opt for 2-QB approach with Trask and Jones

Trask has not started a game at any level since his freshman year of high school in 2012, but his familiarity with Dan Mullen’s system allows the Gators coach to add plenty of wrinkles for this contest. The most notable one is Mullen likely will rotate second-string quarterback Emory Jones into the game for snaps.

If a two-quarterback system and the Gators sounds familiar, it should because Mullen was offensive coordinator in 2006 when starter Chris Leak would occasionally give way to his dual-threat understudy Tim Tebow, and that pair brought a national championship to Florida.

“Each guy brings a little bit something different issue to the defense,” Mullen told the Orlando Sentinel. “But it crosses over a lot, too. I think that will be kind of fun for us offensively to put it all together.”

Jones, a redshirt freshman, received playing time in Florida’s rout of Tennessee-Martin and went 1 for 4 for 2 yards and had four carries for 31 yards and a touchdown. He did show some flashes in four games last season before being redshirted, completing 12 of 16 passes for 125 yards and a pair of scores.

Jones was expected to flash in certain packages even if Franks had not gotten injured.

Even with the potential sharing of snaps, Trask’s teammates noted the junior had command of the offense and confidence in his decision-making, which were two of the most important aspects of rallying Florida from 11 down to stay unbeaten.

“He was very decisive,” wide receiver Josh Hammond told the school’s official website. “I think he came into the game, and he knew where he was going to go with the ball, and there was no second-guessing about, ‘Should I do it? Should I not go it?’ He got the ball out pretty quick and wasn’t afraid to let it sling a little bit.

“Coach Mullen did a good job keeping the call pretty simple on the first play, to come out and throw a hitch, just to kind of get warmed up and get a feel for the game. He played at a really high level.”

Mullen will be counting on Hammond and fellow wideout Van Jefferson to make things easy for Trask. The pair have combined for 21 receptions and 330 yards thus far, but Florida does have a balanced receiving corps — five players have at least eight catches. They could prove decisive since the Gators’ ground game could struggle without Franks. If you remove Franks’ 68 rushing yards and Hammond’s 76-yard scoring run on his only carry, the Gators are averaging just 3.02 yards per carry.

Florida’s defense will also be asked to take some of the pressure off Trask. The Gators lead the nation with 16 sacks, with Jabari Zuniga leading the way with three. Jonathan Greenard and Ventrell Miller have combined for 4.5 takedowns, but Florida had just one sack versus Kentucky after totaling 15 in the wins over Miami and UT-Martin.

Notable Trends

Florida is:

  • 0-4 ATS in its last four SEC games.

Tennessee is:

  • 3-1-1 ATS in its last five road games vs. Florida.


  • The road team is 8-2-1 ATS in the last 11 games between the teams.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Tennessee 11-20 total points band (+178)

With the Volunteers playing their first road game of the season against a defense that will be eager to overachieve to help cover their new starting quarterback, the band in which Tennessee gets two touchdowns is an ideal one. Guarantano’s familiarity in facing Florida helps, as does a Tennessee offense which has been consistent through the first three games with an average of 33.7 points.

****4-Star Pick****

UNDER 49 points (-110)

Neither team has a high-powered offense, and the expectation is Mullen will not overburden Trask in terms of play-call selection. Florida’s defense has yielded 40 points on the season and likely will keep Tennessee under 20 in this contest. The line moving to a flat touchdown total is enough to make a slightly aggressive play with the under, but the key here is Florida being challenged to get traction in the running game without Franks’ dual-threat skills.

UNDER 24.5 points 1st half (-115)

The high-side hook on a TD+FG combination offers an opportunity at an aggressive play here with Florida’s offense in transition to having Trask under center. There is confidence in the Gators’ defense keeping Tennessee in single digits, so it is possible the under can hit here even with Florida scoring two touchdowns.

***3-Star Picks***

Tennessee +14 (-110)

The expectation is for the Gators to win this game but not cover in Trask’s first start. Even with the package, Mullen will have for Jones as a different look, Florida’s ground game is a concern without Franks. Additionally, Guarantano should have a chip on his shoulder from last year’s contest and play better than he did.

Despite a lack of success in “The Swamp,” the Vols have proven stubborn there — four of the last five losses have been by 10 or fewer points and none have been by more than 14. If Tennessee can keep Guarantano upright and create lanes for running backs Ty Chandler and Eric Gray, it should be able to keep this game in a two-score window.

Tennessee +7.5 1st half (-115)

The Vols have been within 10 points or leading at half in each of their last five trips to Gainesville, and with Trask under center for the first time, the feeling is it may take a possession or two for Florida to get going offensively. That gives Guarantano and Tennessee a window of opportunity to score a touchdown that would provide a chance for the hook to come into play on the side of the Vols.

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