JOE BIDDLE: Vols face Florida week

(Courtesy: WATE)
(Courtesy: WATE)

All Tennessee fans and players have their minds on one thing.

This is Florida week.

The Vols have suffered for 11 years at the hands of the Gators who have not lost in this series since 2004.

Current Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs was nine years old.

Facebook was born that year. The Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship. Phil Mickelson won the Masters, his first major. Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby. The Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 in World Series.

And Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl.

All that is ancient history for the players who take the field Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.

Will this be the year the Vols break the streak?

They are 3-0, but have not been dominant with wins over Appalachian State, Virginia Tech and Ohio University.

Florida is also 3-0, beating UMass, Kentucky and North Texas, likewise non-impressive.

Saturday’s showdown may very well propel the winner to the SEC Championship Game.

Vols Coach Butch Jones is under a microscope in this game. This is supposed to be the Vols’ year. They had a top five recruiting class three years ago and those players are the strength of the Vols roster.

Florida Coach Jim McElwain is still in the honeymoon years, but he doesn’t want to be the coach whose team lost an 11-game winning streak to the Vols.

Both teams are missing key pieces. The Vols are without senior defensive back Cameron Sutton, a captain and coach on the field. They may be without senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the team’s best tackler.

Florida lost its starting quarterback Luke Del Rio to injury against Kentucky. McElwain closed practices this week to fans and media that cover the Gators.

Redshirt senior quarterback Austin Appleby is thought to get the starting nod and he is inexperienced.

The Gators returned only four offensive starters and six defensive starters. On the other hand, the Vols returned nine offensive starters and eight defensive starters, giving them a more experienced squad.

Tennessee needs this win because they travel to Georgia next week and make their first trip to Texas A&M, a difficult place for visitors to leave with a win. It doesn’t get easier as they host Alabama after the Aggies. Bama has its eyes on another national championship season.

Jones is concerned with recent fumbles from his players. Although they recovered all five fumbles against Ohio, Jones knows he doesn’t want to see the football loose on the field against the Gators.

The Vols cannot afford to be conservative on offense. They have the horses and they need to ride them. The game may well center on Dobbs, as it does on most quarterbacks in big games. Dobbs has to make good use of his legs arm to move the football.

He is far from being the most accurate on middle and long passes, but I feel he will have to hit some long balls to beat the Gators. Look for Dobbs to favor wide receivers Josh Malone and Josh Smith. Both can be game-breakers if Dobbs can get it to them.

It is on the Vols offensive line to afford Dobbs enough time to complete passes. It has been ineffective in the first three games against inferior talent.

They better get the Gators Saturday because Florida will only improve in the future as they are located in one of the top recruiting states in the country and McElwain is known as a deal closer when it comes to recruiting.

The odds are in the Vols favor, by a 6½-point margin.

It may well come down to the team who has the ball last.

Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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