Meyer, Gators wary of 1st road trip at Tennessee

BY foxsports • September 16, 2010

''Rocky Top'' blared through oversized speakers during practice, along with deafening crowd noise. Quarterback John Brantley worked on hand signals to and from the sideline. Center Mike Pouncey focused on silent cadence.

No. 10 Florida has done everything it can to prepare for its first road trip of the season, at Tennessee on Saturday.

Still, coach Urban Meyer has concerns. After all, he has a quarterback making his first road start, several others who have never played in front of 100,000-plus fans and four new assistants who aren't sure what to expect in the Southeastern Conference.

Throw in the fact that eight of Meyer's 10 losses at Florida have come away from The Swamp, and the coach might have reason to worry.

''That's one of the most difficult environments in the country to play in,'' Meyer said of Neyland Stadium.

The Gators (2-0) have won the last two meetings in Knoxville, Tenn., and four of the last five. But they've never won three in a row there, failing to pull off the feat in 1990, 1998 and 2004. They enter Saturday's game as two-touchdown favorites to make history.

''Every time you travel to a hostile environment, you always want the fans to go crazy and talk a lot of crap,'' offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert said. ''At the end of the game, when you see them emptying the stadium, that's pretty cool. So we'll look forward to hopefully seeing the same thing.''

The Gators have won 10 consecutive road games in conference play, adding to their reputation as one of the league's biggest bullies. With that, comes a price.

Meyer, offensive coordinator Steve Addazio and then-backup quarterback John Brantley received dozens of calls and taunting text messages before last year's game at LSU. They apparently came from Tigers fans trying to get in their heads before the game.

Former quarterback Tim Tebow had similar issues in 2007 at LSU. He received hundreds of messages leading up to the game, and several fans wore T-shirts with his cell number printed on them. Tebow responded by pretending to dial a phone after a touchdown pass in the game.

Tennessee fans seemingly have something new to taunt the Gators about. Orange ''Time to die'' T-shirts are being sold in Knoxville, with some fans apparently eager to poke fun at receiver Chris Rainey's arrest earlier this week. Rainey was charged with aggravated stalking after allegedly sending threatening text messages to his girlfriend. One of the messages read ''Time to die.''

Although Rainey won't make the trip following his indefinite suspension, Meyer expects his team to be close to full strength against the Volunteers (1-1).

Safety Will Hill returns from an apparent two-game suspension, and left tackle Xavier Nixon is back in the starting lineup following arthroscopic knee surgery. Nixon's return allows Gilbert to move back to right tackle and slides Maurice Hurt to guard.

Will they make a difference on the road?

''We are going to help this team a little bit more,'' Nixon said.

Nixon and Hill have played in several big road games before. Brantley, however, has played sparingly outside Gainesville and certainly hasn't dealt with the jeers he'll hear Saturday. He only played once on the road last season, filling in when Tebow left with a concussion at Kentucky.

Brantley was 4 of 6 passing for 30 yards and a touchdown against the Wildcats, giving him confidence heading into Knoxville.

''I am (ready),'' Brantley said. ''It's going to be a tough first road start, but I'm really looking forward to it. I got a little taste of it a couple of years ago. I have a good idea what the atmosphere's like already. To be able to sit back and watch it, I definitely learned from it.''

Brantley has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 285 yards and four touchdowns this season. He's been plagued by several dropped passes, some bad shotgun snaps and a few miscues of his own. Meyer made it clear this week that he wants more from the passing game.

''He has got to be a 200-plus-yard passer,'' Meyer said. ''He's doing a better job. So much of playing quarterback is giving us a great protection, making the right check, management of the offense, and this will be really challenging. It is nice when everyone quiets down at home and you do your deal. Now we are really going to challenge him on the road. But we need more production.''

But can it come with ''Rocky Top'' blaring in the background?

''We recruit guys that come in and are game ready,'' Pouncey said. ''I don't we're going to freeze up.''

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