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Gators' Billy Napier Talks Early Overview of Tennessee, Combatting Tempo

Billy Napier provided an overview of the Florida Gators' next opponent in the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers.

Another daunting task is ahead for the Gators in week four.

After playing in two close contests against Power Five opponents to begin the year, Florida squandered the rare opportunity of a "get right" game against the USF Bulls on Saturday. They struggled to get out of The Swamp alive, but late miscues by USF led to the 31-28 survival.

However, as they turn the page to week four, another SEC East foe stares them in the face.

Florida (2-1) will hit the road for the first time this season to take on Tennessee (3-0) in front of a raucous crowd of 100,000 in Rocky Top. To put more eyes on Florida's third matchup with a ranked opponent in four games, ESPN's College Gameday will be in Knoxville for the weekly pregame show next Saturday.

On Monday, Billy Napier shared what he's seen from Josh Heupel's squad early this season, offering insight into the team Florida is preparing for and how they will handle the uniqueness of the Vols' attack.

"Tennessee has got a good football team. You can see where coach Heupel and his staff have improved in their time there. A lot cleaner product in all three areas of their team on film. Much cleaner football — offense, defense, and special teams — maybe compared to last year."

A major source of the precision is a byproduct of the familiarity in the system in year two.

Bringing over the high-powered passing attack that allowed the likes of McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel to exceed their collegiate expectations with UCF, Heupel established an explosive, fast-paced identity at Tennessee. It's one that took some time to implement, given the vastly different look it presents, not just at UT but in the SEC as a whole.

After some early experiments with Joe Milton III in 2021, who started his final game against Florida, the offense settled in with signal caller Hendon Hooker.

The unit has clicked at a high level since the permanent switch occurred in Gainesville.

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From that point forward, Tennessee became a legitimately threatening offensive-oriented team through the utilization of a fast-paced passing attack. Last year, Hooker compiled nearly 3,000 yards, 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions through the air. His consistency and ability to take care of the football provided the perfect piece to Heupel's innovative system.

He's picked up where he left off against Purdue in the Music City Bowl last year with 844 yards, six touchdowns and no picks in 2022. Tennessee currently holds the fifth-best passing offense in the nation, averaging 371.3 yards per game. They're ranked third in total offense with 553.7 yards per game, with Hooker leading the way.

In order for Florida to contend with an offense scoring 52 points per game that runs a play every 20.5 seconds — intends to every 18 seconds — Napier spoke on the importance of disallowing the Volunteers to get in a rhythm.

"I think there will be some strategy when it comes to that, in terms of controlling the tempo of the game, and I do think that how you play offensively can ultimately influence how they play offense," he said.

"I think the key is first and ten's a big down when you play these teams, and certainly you've got to try to knock them out of their rhythm. It can become a problem for you when it turns into five, six, seven, eight-play drives. So it's a momentum system, right? I think that you've got to do everything you can do to slow down that momentum. That starts with playing well on first down."

Florida's early-season rotation efforts to build depth should aid the unit in combating the style and a bevy of deep shots that is the staple of the Vols' offense. However, high-level communication between the pieces that are on the field is what STAR nickel cornerback Tre'Vez Johnson views as the most important aspect. 

"We've got to communicate better, communicate faster," he said on Monday. "Especially on the defensive side, we've got a lot of vets that have played these guys a couple years in a row. We know what to expect. We're not overwhelmed. We understand how the game's going to go."

While the defense will be a significant factor when on the field, controlling the clock when on offense to keep Patrick Toney's unit off the field is imperative. Employing a heavy dosage of Montrell Johnson, Trevor Etienne and Nay'Quan Wright on the ground will be vital to that endeavor.

The efficiency in the rushing game so far this season should make that easy to accomplish, but it will be contingent on their ability to remain productive with an expected (and necessary) increase in volume.

Overall, the game plan is simple when preparing for Tennessee. Executing to stymie the explosive bunch is much more difficult. 

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