Tennessee-Florida Preview

Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley says he sometimes

sings along to “Rocky Top” while hearing it over and over again

whenever the Gators face Tennessee.

“Something gets so annoying, you got to make the best out of

it,” Easley said.

Lately, that’s about the only way Tennessee has been able to

bother Florida.

Florida has beaten Tennessee eight consecutive times, which

represents the Gators’ longest winning streak in the 42-game

history of this series. The 19th-ranked Gators try to continue

their recent mastery of this rivalry Saturday at The Swamp.

Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 SEC) hasn’t defeated Florida (1-1, 0-0)

since a 30-28 victory at Neyland Stadium in 2004. The Vols also

have lost their last 17 games against ranked opponents and are 1-23

versus Top 25 teams since 2008.

“Our players understand the rivalry, what is at stake,”

Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “I think they understand what has

gone on before them. The only thing we can control is our

preparation and how we play on Saturday.”

Tennessee hasn’t come particularly close to ending the streak

recently. The Gators squeaked past the Vols 21-20 in their 2006

national championship season, but the last six Florida-Tennessee

games had an average margin of 19 points, with each of them being

decided by double digits.

Jones is in his first year at Tennessee and wasn’t involved in

any of those previous losses to Florida. But he knows all about

Tennessee’s recent frustrations against the Gators and how it could

test his team’s resolve.

Tennessee already is coming off a 59-14 loss to No. 2 Oregon

that represented the Vols’ most one-sided defeat since 1910. Now

the Vols are going back on the road to face a rival that has

dominated them. Jones is challenging his team this week to make

sure the Vols enter Gainesville in the right frame of mind.

“Right now, moving forward, we are not a very mentally tough

football team,” Jones said. “Everything we do in our football

program is about mental conditioning, mental toughness, and when

you go on the road you have to have a road focus about

yourself.”

Tennessee needs the same focus Florida showed at Neyland Stadium

last year.

The Vols were undefeated, playing in front of a sellout crowd

and leading the Gators 20-13 in the third quarter last season

before everything fell apart. Florida scored the game’s final 24

points to win 37-20.

Tennessee wasn’t the same the rest of the season.

“I think it was just our immaturity last year as a football

team,” Tennessee defensive tackle Daniel Hood said. “We never

really developed that mental toughness to overcome the bad things

that happened to us in a game last year, so that will be the test

this year. OK, we’ve had the bad thing happen to us. How do we

respond?”

Florida expects to get Tennessee’s best shot. That’s the nature

of this rivalry.

“We know those guys are going to come down ready to throw some

punches,” Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. “We’ve beaten

them (eight) times in a row. Obviously they see that and they want

to get one on us.”

Tennessee, a 17-point underdog, knows it must play its best to

have a shot at ending the streak. During a team meeting Sunday,

Tennessee’s upperclassmen emphasized the importance of this rivalry

and the necessity to avoid dwelling on the loss to Oregon.

“We talked to the whole team (to) keep your head up,” offensive

tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “This is Florida week. This is one of

the most important weeks. It’s SEC time.”

Both teams enter with issues at the quarterback position.

Florida’s Jeff Driskel sprained his left knee in a 21-16 loss at

Miami on Sept. 7 but says he is fine to play following the team’s

bye week. However, many Gators fans are less concerned about his

health than they are his play. Driskel has 10 turnovers in the

team’s last three losses, including three costly ones against the

Hurricanes.

“No one’s been able to stop us when we haven’t had a turnover or

a penalty, so just worry about us first and then taking care of the

other team second,” said Driskel, who has completed 70.9 percent of

his throws for 444 yards. “If we can handle us, we’ll be fine.”

One of Driskel’s best performances came at Tennessee last year,

going turnover-free as he completed 14 of 20 for 219 yards and two

TDs while rushing eight times for 81 yards.

“He’s been elusive for us,” Hood said. “… We’ve just got to do

a good job containing him, forcing him to make throws and then

getting after him when we know it’s a pass down.”

It’s unclear who Driskel’s counterpart will be after Jones said

earlier this week he was opening up the Vols’ quarterback

competition.

Junior Justin Worley started the first three games, but his 6.53

yards per attempt are the fewest in the SEC and he’s the least

mobile of Tennessee’s four quarterbacks. Redshirt freshman Nathan

Peterman has gone 6 of 12 for 40 yards, though Jones didn’t rule

out the possibility of starting Riley Ferguson or Joshua Dobbs even

though neither freshman has taken a snap.

“Whatever quarterback has the best week of practice will be the

starter for Tennessee when we play Florida,” Jones said. “If that

means a freshman quarterback, that means a freshman quarterback.

We’ll add more quarterback run into our package this week. We just

need to find ways to generate big explosive plays.”

Jones expects to have defensive end Corey Vereen available for

the first time. The heralded freshman missed Tennessee’s first

three games after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his

right knee during training camp.

Linebacker Curt Maggitt, however, remains sidelined as he

recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.