published Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Tennessee Vols take 8-year drought to Florida

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones watches his team warm up before playing Western Kentucky.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones watches his team warm up before playing Western Kentucky.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

AT A GLANCE

What: Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 SEC) AT NO. 19 Florida (1-1, 0-0)

When: 3:30 p.m.

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.

On the air: WDEF-TV/106.5 FM

TENNESSEE (2-1, 0-0 SEC) AT NO. 19 FLORIDA (1-1, 0-0)

3:30 p.m. * Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla. * WDEF/106.5 FM

The matchup

Regardless of who plays quarterback for Tennessee or whether there’s a change under center before or after kickoff, the Vols need their receivers to step up and play better, and they’ll have to do it with a Florida defensive back in their facemasks all afternoon.

As they always do, the Gators will play press coverage at the line of scrimmage, and Tennessee’s young wideouts will have to fight through that challenge and play more consistently than they have this season. The Vols have to win their one-on-one matchups to create separation and must generate more big plays. It’s a tall order against the likes of Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins, Louchiez Purifoy and freshman Vernon Hargreaves.

“They’re everything you want in your DBs, so we’re going to have to play perfect in order to beat them,” Vols receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “I don’t know if you can simulate their physicality and their speed. I mean, we’re talking about some of the best DBs in the country that they have.

“When you have a young group of receivers — I mean this — I worry about them lining up and running the right depth. I worry about them blocking the right guy. We train physical, so hopefully that’ll play off versus a physical group.”

One to watch

Tennessee needs to know where No. 8 in blue is from the moment he comes out of the tunnel for pregame warmups.

Florida’s Trey Burton has terrorized the Vols with five touchdowns in the past three meetings. He scored twice in Gainesville in 2011, and last season Burton scored twice out of the wildcat formation, including the game-changing — and season-wrecking — 80-yard gallop where he stiff-armed and outran Marsalis Teague.

“They ask him to do a lot of different things,” Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek said. “They get him the ball in a variety of ways. We know he’s going to be very challenging. We’ve just got to do a good job of tackling, because he’s a bigger guy, and when he’s down the field, he does a good job of getting his body on you and getting you out of the way.

“We’ve got to know where he’s at and be aware of him at all times.”

In the end

According to the coaching staff, Tennessee has had about as good a bounce-week as possible for a team that just suffered a 45-point loss. Though this trip doesn’t look as daunting as the one to Oregon, the Vols will have their mentality again tested by the opponent and the atmosphere. Tennessee is a 17-point underdog, and despite its loss at Miami (FL), Florida is still a big factor in the SEC East race.

The Swamp is not the place to go if you’re still figuring out your quarterback situation, and the Gators won’t make anything any easier for Tennessee’s wobbly offense. Florida’s offense will challenge the Vols’ physicality, and despite its turnover issues against Miami, the Gators have averaged 414 yards in their two games. Tennessee must force some turnovers, play mistake-free offensively and avoid any special teams swing plays to get the game into the fourth quarter — where anything can happen.

Prediction: Florida 30, Tennessee 10

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The reminder has boomed over the speakers at Haslam Field this week.

Tennessee's seniors have one last shot at rival Florida, and first-year coach Butch Jones has made it a point to make them aware of it.

Tennessee's freshmen were in the fourth grade the last time the Volunteers beat Florida in 2004, and though the players say they don't talk about the Gators' eight-game winning streak in a series that once determined a spot in the SEC championship game, they're aware of it and how long it's been.

"It'd mean everything to the senior class, because we're setting the example for not only ourselves, but for young guys in the state of Tennessee," defensive end Corey Miller said this week. "If we can go out there and get a win against Florida, it'll jump-start the Tennessee program back to where it needs to be.

"We're definitely aware of [the streak]. We're aware, but this is Team 117. We're looking for a new dream right now and looking forward to a new era of Tennessee football, so we're going to try to go out there and get the job done."

As Jones said this week, his team will need to overachieve to knock off a team that's among the power programs in the SEC in its own stadium.

Tennessee's losing streak against ranked teams extended to 17 at Oregon last week in brutal fashion, as the Ducks hammered the Vols 59-14. Despite the emphasis he's put on the process since taking the Vols' job, Jones stressed after the game and earlier this week that such results are unacceptable.

Since the clock hit 0:00 in Eugene last Saturday, it's been about Tennessee's response.

"I think we're going to reap the benefits as the season progresses, but not just this year, but two or three years down the road," Jones said. "We're going to refer back to this game for a number of years. This game will be a measuring stick for us, especially for our younger players as we continue to progress and move forward with this football program."

Jones pointed to a similar game in his first season at Cincinnati. In 2010, the Bearcats split their first two games prior to a nationally televised Thursday night game at North Carolina State, then led by quarterback Russell Wilson, who was the NFL's Rookie of the Year for Seattle last season.

The Wolfpack jumped out 14-0 and led 30-7 early in the fourth quarter before Cincinnati scored twice to make the score more respectable.

"They physically dominated every single aspect of that football game and embarrassed us on national television," Jones recalled. "That game was a game that we pointed to for the rest of our tenure at that other place. As we continue to move forward, there are great lessons to be learned.

"Sometimes you can learn more from losing than you can from winning. I think sometimes when you win you sweep things underneath the rug, but when you lose, everything is exposed and it's all about getting better. We just have to get better."

The next measuring stick will be in Gainesville this afternoon. Florida began the season ranked in the top 10 before it lost to Miami (Fla.) in a game the Gators controlled but blew due to turnovers. The Gators, 11-2 last season, still are loaded with talent and play with physicality and aggressiveness, and Tennessee knows it faces an uphill battle.

"It's going to take everything that we have," said Jones.

That's especially true for an offense that goes into the game unsettled at quarterback and still inexperienced and a little banged up at wide receiver.

"As offensive linemen, I feel like we have to play perfect," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "We've got a lot of guys that haven't been out there in this college football league and haven't played in the SEC a lot and have the ability to make those big plays but haven't made them yet. If we're perfect, we can make their job a little bit easier."

Tennessee's schedule didn't get much easier going from Oregon to Florida, but with the difficulty comes another opportunity.

"Florida's one of the most confident teams I've seen on the field. They believe they can beat anybody, and they're a very talented team," Miller said. "At the same time, we also believe in ourselves and we believe in the program Coach Jones has set up for us. It's going to be a great chance for us to go out there and put on for Tennessee."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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