High-scoring Tennessee offense savors chance to prove itself
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee is averaging 46 points, but the Volunteers' offensive production is somewhat deceptive.
With 138 points, the Vols (2-1) have their highest total over their first three games since the 1914 team had 171 points. The numbers seem misleading because two of Tennessee's first three opponents were Bowling Green and Football Championship Subdivision program Western Carolina.
In their only meeting with a major-conference school, the Vols lost 31-24 to Oklahoma in overtime after getting shut out in the last 42 minutes of regulation time. On Saturday, they face a stern test at Florida (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), which enters the heated rivalry with 10 straight victories over the Vols (2-1, 0-0).
''They may be the best defense we've faced since we've been here,'' said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who is in his third season at Knoxville.
Florida will be missing suspended cornerback Jalen Tabor, who sacked Justin Worley, knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble to set up the only touchdown in the Gators' 10-9 victory at Tennessee last year.
But that defense remains potent.
Florida had six sacks and two interceptions while allowing just eight pass completions last week in a 14-9 triumph at Kentucky. The Gators are eager to deliver a similar performance Saturday in front of their home crowd.
''We preach we don't lose at home,'' Florida safety Marcus Maye said. ''The past couple of years we've lost a couple of games, let a couple of games slip away. We're back to trying to get things back to how they usually are around here. Protect the Swamp.''
The Vols want to learn how far their offense has come the last two weeks.
Tennessee blew a 17-0 lead against Oklahoma because its offense wasted favorable field position and couldn't produce a game-clinching score. The Vols said afterward that they struggled to adjust to Oklahoma's blitzes.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord says the Oklahoma experience should help prepare Tennessee's offensive line for Saturday's test.
''An example would be the (Oklahoma) game we had some problems with protection, picking people up when we were trying to throw the ball deep,'' DeBord said. ''In this past game (against Western Carolina), we picked them up twice on a blitz and hit the ball deep.''
Aside from that second-half performance against Oklahoma, Tennessee has scored pretty much at will despite getting little production from some of their most notable receivers.
Alton ''Pig'' Howard, who led the Vols in catches and yards receiving last year, has only one reception. Jones said Wednesday that Howard ''is nursing some things'' and declared his status uncertain for Saturday's game. Jones indicated Monday that Howard had ''tweaked his ankle a little bit.''
Marquez North, who has caught at least 30 passes each of the last two seasons, has only four receptions for 38 yards.
The Vols have made up for it with their rushing attack. Tennessee leads the SEC with 158 carries and rank third in the conference with 246 yards rushing per game. Jalen Hurd has rushed for 300 yards and five touchdowns, while Alvin Kamara averages 7.5 yards per carry.
''They're going to play a long time beyond this league,'' Florida coach Jim McElwain said. ''They're really, really good players. We have to be really good tacklers this week and hopefully not give them a bunch of gaping holes.''
Tennessee's offense has done much of its damage so far against porous defenses.
Bowling Green is allowing 43.3 points per game. Western Carolina lost to The Citadel before coming to Tennessee and recorded its only win over Division II Mars Hill. The Vols believe they're ready for the Gators.
''We look at it as another opportunity to go out and show what we can do,'' Tennessee center Coleman Thomas said.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org
This story has been corrected to show that Western Carolina wasn't one of Tennessee's first two opponents.