This sucks. No, this truly sucks. Going into the game against the North Texas, I only wanted two things to happen for Florida football: win the game and come away healthy. Sure, the Gators won the football game; at no point were the Mean Green ever a threat to win that contest. But of course, in doing so, Florida lost one of its most important players for what is likely to be the most important game of the season.
Let’s not get this twisted: Luke Del Rio has been playing some good football. No, he hasn’t been perfect, and he’s made his share of mistakes, but I’m sure everyone can agree that this is probably the most consistent the quarterback position has been since the No. 15 was in school. I’ve been impressed with Del Rio’s poise and ability as a pure pocket passer. There should be no doubt that he gave the Gators the best chance to win football games from the quarterback position. But moving forward, he’s out for the foreseeable future.
Enter Austin Appleby. The former Purdue passer has been a shadow for a good portion of his career, until now, where he has the opportunity to become a Florida football legend and lead the Gators against one of our most hated rivals. Is the pressure on? You damn well better believe it. Before the season, he and Del Rio were in a hotly contested battle for the starting job that Del Rio won. If Del Rio had to unfortunately get injured, it happening early enough in the game for Appleby to get some “real life” reps was a small positive.
Now let’s be honest, North Texas is nowhere in the same neighborhood talent-wise as the Volunteers, but once again, it’s the live game reps that he needed. Think about this for a second: Back in 2003, Chris Leak replaced an injured Ingle Martin in the middle of the Miami game. He played so well in that game that it served as a springboard for Leak to start the rest of his career. Assuming that Del Rio will be out longer than one week, Appleby has the opportunity he’s wanted; for the sake of Gator Nation, I seriously hope he make the most of it.
So, it’s Tennessee week. In the past, this was generally the first SEC game that Florida played every year, but it has since been bumped down the list. A lot of people have asked how I think the game will play out.
Listen, I know Tennessee has an excellent backfield in Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd. They really are a good 1-2 combo, but I just don’t think they will have success against the Gators’ defense. Florida has a shit ton of talent at linebacker and in the secondary, but I still feel folks are vastly underrating the defensive line, which is how the Gators will win this game.
When I watch football, I generally don’t focus on the wide receivers or the quarterbacks; I love to watch the lines. Just a habit, I guess. Well, if anyone has watched Tennessee’s offensive line as of late, you can easily see that it is … well … offensive. Over the last three games, it has not played well and has been the main reason a lot of teams have come close to beating the Vols. Make no mistake, the Gators will be the best defensive team that Tennessee will face all season. Florida has a defensive line that is very athletic and shifty. If you got to watch it, think Appalachian State’s line — only bigger, stronger, and faster. There should be absolutely no reason that Florida needs to blitz Dobbs often in this game, as I think it will get plenty of pressure with the front four and a spy.
So here’s the bottom line: On paper, everyone thinks this game will be close. The media has hyped Tennessee up to expectations that it just has not proven it can meet.
I firmly believe that this game is Florida’s to lose. Meaning, Tennessee can’t beat the Gators, they can only beat themselves. The Vols have a good enough team to hit some big plays and win the game if the Gators are missing tackles and blowing assignments, as they have in previous weeks.
But, if Florida plays to its abilities, this game will turn ugly for the Vols. Yes, it is being played in Neyland Stadium, but it is not as loud and intimidating as you might think.
Fun fact: My record against Tennessee as a player was 2-2; ironically, both games we won were in Tennessee. So, if Florida takes care of business, it’ll have the inside track of going back to Atlanta. If not, we’ll have to hear that stupid-ass “Rocky Top” song for 12 months instead of four quarters. And that would suck.
A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He is now in his fifth year sharing his musings and will do so through the 2016 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.