Vols defense confident heading into Florida matchup
By Riley Blevins
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Think of it like swinging a baseball bat with a donut on it.
Baseball players habitually stride to the on-deck circle, slide the weighted ring down the barrel of their club and swing it from side-to-side.
Side-to-side, side-to-side. Repeat.
When the actual at-bat arrives, swinging the bat feels effortless. They're used to the much heavier version.
Oregon is Tennessee’s donut.
Or so Vols players think.
Tennessee players feel well prepared to defend Florida’s dual-threat quarterback Jeff Driskel after preparing all last week for the unparalleled speed of Marcus Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas and other Ducks.
“Both (Mariota and Driskel) are very athletic quarterbacks,” defensive lineman Jordan Williams said. “Last week was a good practice game to get us prepared for what Driskel is going to be like. We feel real prepared. I think it’s a big advantage.”
But Driskel and Mariota aren’t the same player. Not by any means.
Driskel has only rushed for 71 yards this season on 17 attempts.
Those numbers are bland at best when compared to Mariota’s 262 yards with an average of 17.4 yards per rush.
But that doesn’t mean defending Florida will be a breeze. Not even close.
The Gators can beat you other ways.
The Ducks are predicated on beating you to the edge. Florida isn’t so finesse.
The Gators will get down and dirty, banging the football between the tackles. It’s a black-and-blue style.
Vols players feel this is their true challenge as they venture to “The Swamp.”
“These guys can really power it in,” Williams said.
Florida averages 192 rushing yards per game. Oregon posted 216 yards on the ground against the Vols last Saturday.
The question was asked again and again.
Again and again, it was answered with blank stares, lengthy pauses and head shakes from Tennessee players.
Where were you the last time Tennessee beat Florida?
The last time the Vols came out on top against the Gators was in 2004. Tennessee players were in middle school.
“I was in CiCi’s Pizza watching that game,” Corey Miller said. “I was like 11.”
Tennessee headman Butch Jones hasn’t been sweeping the unsightly statistics under the rug. He’s been in the player’s face with them all week.
“We’ve been hearing about it all week,” safety Brian Randolph said.
But Jones isn’t the only one doing the reminding.
Senior defensive lineman Marlon Walls has suffered through three losses to the Eastern Division rival. He’s been darting around the practice field and leaning into younger players’ ears.
“(Walls) keep saying ‘eight years’ into all of our ears,” Randolph said.
The reminders are needed for guys like Randolph.
“I was probably in middle school on the play ground chillin’,” Randolph said.
Jones wasn’t shy to talk up the pageantry of the Tennessee-Florida rivalry post-practice Tuesday.
“This is what makes college football – rivalry games,” Jones said. “This game should live with you for the rest of your life. For our seniors, this is their last opportunity to play Florida. … It’s an important game.”
Conversely, Jones also wasn’t afraid to address the dying flame beneath the rivalry.
“Well, it’s a great rivalry,” Jones said. “But in order for us to continue to make this a rivalry we need to start winning some football games.”
The measuring stick for a starting quarterback is simple.
It’s all about results.
Tennessee’s current battle for the starting signal-caller job is no exception.
“We’re in a performance-based business,” Jones said. “I told our quarterbacks that a starting quarterback is like a starting pitcher in baseball. At the end of the day you’re measured on results. What are the results? Wins and losses.”
Jones said post-practice Tuesday that the quarterback competition will last all week. He won’t name a starter any time soon.
“I’ll know a little bit more when I watch the film, But I saw a little bit more of a competitive spirit amongst all of them, a little sense of urgency,” Jones said.
Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman split first team repetition during wide receivers and quarterbacks passing drills. True freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson did not take a single rep.
However, Worley took all the first team repetitions during walk-through session. Again, Dobbs and Ferguson watched from the sideline.
While media availability was limited Tuesday, Jones’ said increased competition level between the quarterbacks was clearly apparent. Both Worley and Peterman barked out cadence louder than ever.