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Tennessee-Florida: Vols have history against them and a QB issue

There is no reason that Tennessee shouldn’t go to Florida and beat the Gators on their home turf, other than tradition, history and, well, just the way things typically go in the annual series.

How many times has Tennessee’s fan base thought that this was “the year” to beat the Gators and fallen short? It seemed a constant theme throughout the 2010’s and even before. After a 30-13 win against Austin Peay in which the Vols were far from perfect, there’s still plenty of evidence that the Vols should, indeed, best the Gators on Saturday, especially after what happened last season.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Vols beat Florida last season before everyone knew that Tennessee was the shiny new thing in college football. Analysts and fans alike then realized that the Vols should be taken seriously. Well, despite their Gators’ various, well-documented problems, the Vols should take Florida very seriously no matter what happened last year. History screams that a potential upset could be in the making.

The Vols broke a five-game losing streak to Florida last season with a 38-33 win over the Gators. However, that was in Neyland Stadium, which is a far different challenge than playing in The Swamp, where Tennessee hasn’t won since 2003. The Vols also haven’t won two games in a row against Florida since the 2003 and 2004 seasons. As has been so many cases during this series over the last 20 years, the Vols should beat Florida, but whether or not they do is another matter, especially with a quarterback that has had some accuracy issues.

There’s a reoccurring theme as to why the Vols should be concerned about Florida. Quarterback Joe Milton has had two consecutive games in which he has gone through a cold streak in the first half, especially cold when he completed just one of his first eight passes against the Governors. None of those missed passes were costly enough to put either game in true jeopardy, but missed connections could easily be costly against Florida.

Playing in The Swamp will be much more difficult when the Vols take on the Gators. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is known for being one of the loudest stadiums in the nation. If the Vols and Milton start slow as they have this season, an understandably innerly concerned Florida fanbase will stay engaged throughout the first half and maybe longer. That will just make things more difficult. Tennessee’s schedule started with a semi-home game against Virginia in Nashville before the home win against Austin Peay on Saturday. The Swamp won’t be so comfy.

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There’s another way to look at Milton’s struggles. He has overcome in-game challenges and still managed to right the ship. That could still be enough to beat Florida and a sign that he has matured. Or he could struggle mightily and the Vols could lose. 

Milton may be able to hit a cold streak and still beat the Gators. However, there are bigger reptiles to fry this season and better teams, like Alabama and Georgia, that won’t allow Milton to turn in an incomplete game and still get the win. 

Milton doesn’t deserve all the blame for the Vols’ first half struggles, especially against Austin Peay. Some of his passes were just slightly off target and dropped. Perhaps the weather delay, threw off Tennessee’s timing. Nevertheless, there needs to be brighter days ahead for the Vols passing game if they hope to truly compete for a championship this season.

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