🏈 Why Tennessee needs to beat Florida

Tennessee faces its first test of 2023

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • Why this Florida game means so much for Tennessee

  • Joe Milton doesn’t (and can’t) lose in Florida

  • Colorado vs Colorado State has gotten “personal”

  • Deion Sanders trying to swipe one of Tennessee’s top recruits

FLORIDA WEEK!

It’s Florida week.

The name brings a different feeling for Tennessee fans.

📍 Gainesville, Fla.
7:00 PM ET
📺 ESPN
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal/WIVK

Simply mentioning the Gators will energize UT fans in a way that other SEC opponents can’t match.

This game always means something for both sides.

And this year’s game is no different.

A few reasons this year’s Florida game means so much for Tennessee:

  • The Vols haven’t won in Gainesville in 20 years

  • Tennessee hasn’t beaten Florida in consecutive seasons in 19 years

  • Tennessee has SEC title aspirations — beating Florida seems like a prerequisite

  • The Vols haven’t had the best start to the season. A loss at Florida would create more problems

The last item brings us to Tennessee’s offense.

The Vols’ passing game looked ugly against Austin Peay.

Joe Milton III and his receivers couldn’t get in sync throughout the game.

Wide receiver Dont’e Thornton, who received all kinds of hype from people at Tennessee during the off-season, was benched after a bad drop.

Senior Ramel Keyton fumbled the ball a week after his own drop on a long pass against Virginia.

Tennessee marched down the field and scored a touchdown on the opening drive against the Cavaliers.

That’s the Vols’ only first-quarter touchdown of the season.

Milton and the receivers should be thankful for Jaylen Wright.

If not for his running, Tennessee’s offense would have major question marks entering the Florida game.

The Vols should ride Wright and Jabari Small (will we see more of Dylan Sampson?) this week.

The passing game still has all kinds of potential.

No one should be surprised if Tennessee connects on big pass plays this week.

But this offense is built around the running game.

Tennessee hopes center Cooper Mays will make his debut on Saturday.

He practiced this week, although it’s unknown how much.

“Anticipate him being ready to play,” Josh Heupel said on Thursday.

That’s not the same as saying Mays will play on Saturday, but it’s trending in a positive way.

(Florida will get its own starting center, Kingsley Eguakun, back this week after he missed the first two games.)

Another positive for Tennessee: the defense.

The Vols are tied for the nation’s lead in sacks and rank second in tackles for loss.

Yes, Tennessee has played less-than-stellar competition the first two weeks. But the Vols’ defensive numbers are impressive.

And how good is Florida’s offense?

They have talent at the skill positions.

Running backs Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne are solid, but they couldn’t find success against Utah.

Senior receiver Ricky Pearsall had 103 receiving yards against Tennessee last year, and freshman Eugene Wilson can GO when he gets the ball.

Will quarterback Graham Mertz get it to them?

There are several keys to victory for Tennessee.

Here are three:

1️⃣ Pressure Mertz and force him to make plays
2️⃣ Slow down Florida’s running game
3️⃣ Run the ball and avoid mistakes

That’s technically four keys, but avoiding mistakes has to be mentioned.

Moving the ball into the Red Zone but committing penalties and settling for field goals would be costly in the Swamp.

Tennessee should win the game.

The Vols are favored by a touchdown, something that NEVER happens in Gainesville.

So go win it, Tennessee.

JOE RETURNS TO FLORIDA

As much as I try to emphasize running the ball, there’s no denying the importance of this game for Milton.

Tennessee’s receivers have to take responsibility for their mistakes last week.

But the quarterback gets most of the attention.

If that’s the case when credit is coming, it goes that way with the blame, too.

Milton reportedly shouldered the blame when Tennessee’s players met earlier this week after the Austin Peay game.

No one at Tennessee is questioning Milton’s leadership.

His teammates have his back and want him to succeed.

Milton just needs to make more plays on the field.

To repeat: his teammates have to help him, too.

It’s never all on the quarterback.

Milton’s quote about winning in Florida is, though.

At the Manning Passing Academy this summer, Milton was asked about winning the Orange Bowl in his home state of Florida.

“I don’t lose in Florida,” Milton said in his response.

That line has come back up a few times in Knoxville this week to inspire confidence.

But don’t you think it’s come up in Gainesville this week to inspire motivation?

The quote shouldn’t affect how either side plays on Saturday.

But the result of the game will affect the narrative.

Win the game and Milton will find more supporters in Knoxville.

Lose on Saturday and, well, you know how it goes in college football.

Add it to the list of reasons why this game means so much.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 Speaking of Milton, ESPN’s lead story on Wednesday was the legend of Joe Milton’s arm.

🏈 Colorado State coach Jay Norvell made this week’s game at Colorado personal, according to coach Deion Sanders.

🏈 Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin are facing a lawsuit from defensive tackle DeSanto Rollins, who said he was kicked off the team for missing practices and meetings during a “mental health crisis.”

🏈 The Tuoys have “vehemently” denied" Michael Oher’s claims against them in a filing.

🏎️ Bristol Motor Speedway will host a huge playoff race on Saturday night. Here’s a preview to get you ready.

One Knox SC will return home on Saturday — one of only two remaining home games for the regular season.

The Braves clinched their sixth straight division title this week with all eyes turning toward World Series aspirations.

STICK TO SPORTS!

The Internet took off (when does it not?) this week when word traveled about a UFO hearing in Mexico’s congress.

A Mexican journalist and longtime UFO enthusiast showed two tiny “bodies” that he claimed were found in Peru in 2017 — and he said they weren’t related to any human lifeform.

The images from the congressional hearing, the first of its kind in Mexico, sparked international curiosity as well as substantial scorn.

Former U.S. Navy pilot Ryan Graves, who also attended the hearing to share his personal experience with sightings of "unidentified anomalous phenomena," or UAP, heaped criticism on the presentation.

"Yesterday's demonstration was a huge step backwards for this issue," Graves said on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter. "I am deeply disappointed by this unsubstantiated stunt."

So what are we to believe?

Whatever you want to most likely.

But it might not be a bad idea to brush up on such films as Aliens, E.T., and Independence Day just in case.

ONE LAST BYTE OUT THE DOOR

This sets up to be an important recruiting week for Tennessee.

Florida has recruited well under coach Billy Napier.

The Gators have the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class for 2024, according to On3’s Industry Ranking.

But what if they lose on Saturday and drop to 1-2 on the season?

Florida fans won’t like it and recruits will hear about it.

Tennessee has a chance to hurt its conference rival in more than just the standings.

The Vols could make a run at a Florida commit or two before December.

Beating the Gators would help that effort.

Tennessee wants to maintain its own recruiting momentum.

The Vols had a big summer on the trail, which vaulted their team ranking into the Top 10.

But news came out that in-state commit Boo Carter will take an unofficial visit to Colorado this weekend.

There’s no reason to sound an alarm, but Tennessee’s coaches can’t like one of their top commits taking a visit to see Coach Prime.

Carter told the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

“I'm still committed to Tennessee. With all the TV that'll be there and the environment they'll have at Colorado, it should be exciting. I just wanted to be a part of that. I’ve got one chance in my life to visit these schools so I wanted to take this.”

Carter has turned into a recruiter for Tennessee since he gave his pledge in June.

The Vols will try to lock that back in after his visit to Boulder.

Colorado is a hot name in college football right now.

Mantrez Walker, another Tennessee target, told On3 this week that his interest in Colorado is “serious.”

“Colorado has been recruiting me since our scrimmage and I believe in Coach Prime. I love what they are doing. They are on fire and I really think he’s making big things happen.”

A big week for Tennessee would help the Vols keep their name in the headlines, too.

We talked about recruiting and Tennessee’s matchup with Florida with Austin Price or Volquest this week. Check out the conversation below. ⬇️⬇️

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