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Thursday, September 17, 1998
Updated: September 18, 1:59 PM ET
Martin to say later Gators?

By Mike Gottfried
Special to

Teams have had success against Florida, running right at the Gator defense. Georgia did that last year, with a straight-ahead running game while also presenting the threat of some option. The results was a 37-17 upset in the Swamp. That's the blueprint Tennessee will try to follow this year.

The Volunteers are very different than they were in the Peyton Manning years. Now they have a quarterback who is very mobile, and the Vols will try to get Tee Martin around the corner of the Florida defense with some sprint-out passes. Martin can run the option, and Tennessee also has the big back to run right at the defense in Jamal Lewis. This team is going to be tougher to defend than it was under Manning.

 Jamal Lewis
 Jamal Lewis needs to rush for more than the 11 yards he gained last year vs. Florida.

With Cecil Collins gone from LSU, Tennessee's Jamal Lewis grades out as the best back in the SEC. Last year, Georgia's Robert Edwards had a big day against Florida, rushing for 124 yards and four touchdowns. Lewis will try to mirror that performance, taking it right at Florida.

I think you will see less blitzing by Florida because Tennessee's quarterback is so mobile. The Gators will want to minimize the number of times they shift into man coverage and blitz, because if Martin evades the pass rush there will be no one outside to make the tackle. Florida won't abandon the blitz completely, but when the Gators do blitz I think you may seem them shift into a zone to support the pass rush.

Florida's offense has always done well against Tennessee, using four-receiver sets and going to the inside receivers quite a bit. I think the Gators will continue to use the same package, keeping one back in the backfield to keep Tennessee's defense honest.

Defensively, the Volunteers have given up a number of big plays during the current five-game losing streak to Florida. Tennessee can look at the tapes from last year's Florida-LSU game and see that the Tigers pushed the Gators' secondary back, giving Florida the short completions before coming up to make the tackles. Florida passed for 346 yards against LSU, but never scored through the air in the 28-21 loss. I expect Tennessee to run a lot of two-deep and heavy three-deep zones.

Syracuse opened up some wounds on Tennessee's defense, and Florida will see what worked: power plays like draws and traps. When Florida comes out of a win, it usually shows more running plays than passing attempts. Against Florida, the key is stopping the run and then not giving up any big plays.

The Gators have gotten big plays against the Volunteers, and coach Steve Spurrier knows what he's up against. He does a better job of coaching quarterbacks than anyone else in the country, and his quarterback will be prepared. Florida quarterback Doug Johnson wasn't patient against LSU last year, and I think the Gators will be a little bit more patient under Jesse Palmer. Florida will feature a number of short routes, not trying to hit the bomb all the time.

The Volunteers gave up so much yardage and so many points at Syracuse, but Syracuse is one of the most formidable offenses in the nation. But defense is the question mark for Tennessee. Offensively, the Volunteers are going to be fine, but it's a question of whether or not the Vols defense can stop the Gators offense.

Tennessee has been beaten so badly by big plays in the past five meetings that if the Volunteers can escape Saturday without giving up a big play, they will have a good chance of coming out on top.