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
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
Tennessee needs the same focus Florida showed at Neyland Stadium
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
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
“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
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.