What's going on at quarterback with the Tennessee Volunteers? How much has Eric Gray improved from year one to two? Will Kivon Bennett's dismissal cause any major issues on Saturday?
Most importantly: What is the current state of Tennessee's COVID-19 situation?
In order to get some answers to all of these questions, and best preview Florida vs. Tennessee, today we are joined by Matt Ray of Sports Illustrated's Volunteer Country. Let's get to know the enemy!
1. What is the latest on Tennessee’s COVID-19 situation and could it have a serious effect on this game?
Matt Ray: Jeremy Pruitt reported another positive result on Wednesday but did not suggest if there is more of a contact tracing issue. Earlier in the week, the number was "about 16," but the Vols were optimistic about getting most of those guys back before Saturday. There is limited practice opportunity, and we do believe there will be a few starters among the group. Even if they get these guys back, which we believe a few will be missing, it seems the contact tracing will have an impact on this game.
2. What kind of growth have you seen from Eric Gray from year one to two? It’d appear he’s the focal point of the offense at this point?
Ray: Gray burst onto the scene at the end of 2019, and he has really been a workhorse for the Vols this fall. He has continued to develop in the passing game, but the biggest development is his ability to thrive at the second level. A lot of that comes from patience, which he lacked at times last fall. Also, he has added quality weight, and he has been able to wear on defenses throughout contests, but he has been limited more times than not by a lackluster offense.
3. Speaking of the offense, man, it seems Jarrett Guarantano has regressed this year in terms of efficiency? Which seems wild given his experience.
Ray: Guarantano has had more than his fair share of struggles this fall. In fact, he has given up as many touchdowns to the other team, as he has thrown through the air. It is hard for one to wrap their head around that. He was not always on target, but he looked in command of the offense through the first two weeks for Tennessee, and after an ugly start to the second half of the Georgia game, he has not been able to recover.
4. How drastic of a loss is Kivon Bennett? Tennessee seems to have been rotating edge rushers throughout the year, does that provide some comfort?
Ray: In the grand scheme of things, all of the guys behind Bennett have a higher ceiling than he does. Roman Harrison has been limited due to injury, and Morven Joseph has moved all over the board. Facing a potent passing attack like Florida should give them an opportunity to thrive with a more increased role, but the Vols pass rush has been obsolete for the most part, and Bennett has been the most consistent rusher. Tyler Baron will also see time on Saturday, but he has been more suited to help in rushing downs. It is a blow for Tennessee to lose Bennett going into this contest.
5. What do you think UT’s strategy will be to try to slow the roll of Kyle Trask?
Ray: It seems like everyone has tried something different against Trask to no avail. The Vols are going to be mismatched across the board, and Jeremy Pruitt has been hesitant to discuss who will be available in the secondary and who won't, but I expect Pruitt to try to mismatch coverages and get Trask to rush throws, but I do not believe the Vols will have much success. Teams have dropped seven and eight guys, but he is seeing the game at a different speed than everyone else and picking them apart. I think this all comes down to available personnel, but Tennessee has to get creative early and often.
6. Final score prediction?
Ray: There are a lot of question marks for the Vols coming into this one, and the only real question for Florida from an outside perspective is how badly will they beat Tennessee. I expect Tennessee to try to control the clock and shorten this game. I believe the Vols could find some offensive success but not nearly enough. Give me Florida 38 Tennessee 17.