Vols glad to return to 'regular defense,' even with Gators' unknowns [photos]

Vols glad to return to 'regular defense,' even with Gators' unknowns [photos]

September 13th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College

In this Sept. 24, 2016, file photo, Florida, left, and Tennessee NCAA college football teams line up during a game in Knoxville, Tenn. After inspecting the stadium, meeting with campus and city officials, and assessing available resources, Florida decided its Southeastern Conference opener against Tennessee would be played as scheduled. So it's game on in Gainesville. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Vols' two quarterbacks have big moments in 42-7 rout of Indiana State

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KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's defense can take a collective sigh of relief knowing it will finally face a traditional offense this week.

The only problem is that the No. 25 Volunteers (2-0) don't yet know whom No. 23 Florida (0-1) will put on the field when the teams meet in Gainesville on Saturday afternoon in the Southeastern Conference opener for both schools.

Florida suspended 10 players for its season-opening loss to Michigan two weeks ago. Among them were starting running back Jordan Scarlett and star receiver Antonio Callaway.

Their statuses, along with the status of the other suspended players, remains uncertain for Saturday's showdown.

"Certainly, we've watched the Michigan game where they didn't (play) and we've watched games from last year when they did," Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said Tuesday. "We have a lot of respect for both Callaway and Scarlett, and we're preparing to play against whoever they put out there and are very well aware of those two players."

Tennessee secondary coach Charlton Warren, left, and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop look on as Tennessee's players stretch before practice on July 30, 2017.

Tennessee secondary coach Charlton Warren, left, and defensive...

Photo by David Cobb /Times Free Press.

Either way, the Gators, under offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, present a standard offensive look compared to the flexbone attack Tennessee faced in a season-opening win over Georgia Tech and the motion-heavy offense the Vols saw in a 42-7 win over Indiana State on Saturday.

Shoop said he thinks his players are looking forward to the normalcy, even if it comes with uncertainty over who will be on the field.

"Just like Indiana State and Georgia Tech, there's a lot of people that might play, might not play," junior safety Micah Abernathy said. "Georgia Tech had two quarterbacks. They didn't have a quarterback that we knew was going to play. Same with Indiana State: They had two quarterbacks. Any position, really, you just have to be prepared."

Florida's offense mustered just 192 total yards and three points in a 33-17 loss to the Wolverines without Callaway and Scarlett. The Gators' two touchdowns came on interception returns.

Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks started at quarterback, but Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire also played. Both struggled in the loss, though neither was intercepted.

Zaire and Franks are listed as co-starters on the depth chart in Florida's game notes this week.

Shoop said the uncertainty over the status of Callaway and Scarlett has "not really" affected the scouting process and noted the Gators "probably have as much question at the quarterback position, too."

Shoop said he reviewed tape this summer of Zaire from his time at Notre Dame.

"He and Franks are both talented, and they're good players," Shoop said. "They're a scary team to me, because they certainly have talent at most every offensive position."

Monday's practice was Tennessee's best of the year defensively, Shoop said.

Abernathy noted, "It's pretty exciting to get back to our regular defense."

"I think the players are very excited for this opportunity," Shoop added. "I think they respect Florida's scheme and their offensive coaches a lot, but they're looking forward to this challenge."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.