KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee is downplaying Florida’s decade-long hex over the Volunteers rather than using the possibility of ending the streak as a motivational ploy.
”That’s for you guys to talk about all week long,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC) has beaten Tennessee (2-1, 0-0) 10 straight times heading into Saturday’s renewal of this annual series. Tennessee safety Todd Kelly Jr. was an eight-year-old cheering from the stands the last time the Vols beat the Gators, a 30-28 thriller in 2004 featuring James Wilhoit’s 50-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
Kelly said that night was the loudest he’d heard Neyland Stadium as a fan, before the Knoxville resident started playing for the Vols.
Florida hasn’t given Tennessee fans any reason to celebrate since.
Naturally, the Gators are more willing to talk about this streak, their second long run of success against a Southeastern Conference East Division foe.
”You don’t want to end it now, especially on our home turf,” said Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell, who committed to Tennessee before signing with the Gators. ”So it’s something we’re looking forward to motivate us and come out (of) this game with a `W.’"
Florida won 14-9 at Kentucky last week for its 29th straight victory over the Wildcats. Florida coach Jim McElwain noted that the state trooper who served as his bodyguard Saturday reminded him before the game about a potential exit plan ”because they may rush the field when they beat us.”
Now the Gators want to keep another streak going.
”To me, it’s what makes college football so much fun – rivalries, streaks, whatever they are,” McElwain said. ”And yet no matter what, every coach will tell you each game is an individual event.”
That’s the message Jones is sending his team.
Jones notes that only 12 players from Tennessee’s traveling squad for its 2013 trip to Florida remain on the Vols’ roster. Tennessee lost that 2013 game 31-17, and Jones said Monday that ”really, really I don’t know if they truly believed they could win.”
He said this year’s Tennessee team is much more confident.
”I believe our players expect to win every time they stop out onto the football field,” Jones said.
But they haven’t won lately whenever they’ve faced Florida. Tennessee was favored over the Gators last year, yet the Vols still blew a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead at home as Treon Harris came off the bench and rallied Florida to a 10-9 victory.
Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin dismissed the idea that the recent history of this series might give Florida a mental edge over the Vols.
”There’s no mental edge to it,” Reeves-Maybin said. ”Every season’s a new season. Every week’s a new week.”
Jones says he doesn’t need to discuss the streak with his players. He says they already realize the magnitude of this game.
”They understand what’s at stake, understand the importance of the game,” Jones said. ”Now (if) you put all this undue pressure on them, you can be fatigued mentally. We have to be mentally fresh, mentally alert, going to a hostile environment playing a top-quality upper-echelon opponent in our conference.’
Although neither team engaged in much trash talking Monday, Florida appeared to take a gentle jab at Tennessee via social media.
Tennessee ”checkered” the Neyland Stadium stands in the Vols’ school colors for last year’s game with Florida, as fans were asked beforehand to go online and enter their ticket information to find out whether they should wear orange or white. Florida responded this week by tweeting that fans should ”check the stadium map to see what color to wear” and linking to a photo of the stands in solid blue.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org