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Potent Tennessee Vols offense could test Florida Gators defense

Tennessee sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray, left, with receiver Zach Rogers, leads the SEC in passing yards this season (698).

Associated Press

Tennessee sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray, left, with receiver Zach Rogers, leads the SEC in passing yards this season (698).

GAINESVILLE — If statistics were the end-all in football, the Florida defense would be considered nearly unstoppable.

The Gators are tied for first in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 1.5 points per game. But those opponents were Florida Atlantic and UAB.

On Saturday, Tennessee will bring in a surprisingly more high-powered offense than might have been anticipated before the season, and the Gators fully expect to get a true test of how good their young unit really is.

Particularly their secondary and pass rush, which coach Will Muschamp said must improve.

"We need to get pressure with four guys rushing," Muschamp said. "That's the best pass defense in America. We need to rush four guys and do a better job at that."

The Gators don't necessarily need the nation's best defense, but they'll need a good performance. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray is coming off a career performance last week, and the Vols will bring a strong rushing attack.

Bray, a sophomore, is fourth in the NCAA and No. 1 in the SEC in passing yards this season (698). He leads the SEC in passing efficiency (204.2), passing yards per game (349) and touchdowns (seven). And at 6 feet 6, 210 pounds, he has the physical attributes to make things tough on UF's defenders.

"You look at their team right now offensively, Tyler Bray is playing some really good football — completed close to 80 percent of his passes," Muschamp said. "They've turned around their offense from last year as far as their production is concerned."

In the first two games, the Vols have averaged 485 yards. Last season, they averaged 363.8 yards.

Meanwhile, the Gators will benefit from the return of sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who missed the first two games of the season for violating the NCAA's improper benefits rule. Floyd's size and athleticism will be key to bolstering the pass rush.

"He's a great athlete, real strong guy, real powerful," said UF center Jonotthan Harrison, who faces Floyd in practice. "Sharrif is an amazing pass rusher. He's real good, real versatile, everything on the line. His power and his quickness, he's still pretty quick for a big guy."

While UF's front is trying to get pressure, the Vols hope to take advantage of the Gators' inexperienced — and injured — secondary. Bray's early success has come with the aid of 6-4 sophomore Justin Hunter and 6-3 sophomore Da'Rick Rogers — the Vols' leading receivers who have combined for 31 catches for 502 yards.

"They are size guys; that is one thing that jumps out at you," Muschamp said. "They have vertical speed down the field. It's what they do with the ball after they catch it. They're both really good football players. Everyone recruited them, and everyone in the country wanted them. They've done a nice job getting the ball to those guys in different situations vertically down the field and in the quick passing game to make sure they get them the ball and get their touches."

The Vols' running game is led by Tauren Poole — the lone senior starter on offense. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Poole is beginning to approach the game with a different attitude, which has led to an improvement in his overall game.

"I think (last week) he just really was less concerned with making the right cut and more concerned about running, getting your pads down and hitting it," Dooley said. "There were about four or five times where he would put the brakes on looking for a move and he just put his pads down and get another 4 or 5 yards. That adds up over the course of the game."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Potent Tennessee Vols offense could test Florida Gators defense 09/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 8:34pm]
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