Game Preview: Florida vs Tennessee
Saturday 19 Sept 2009
3:30 pm ET
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL
I guess Lane didn’t read the sign.
Back in December at his introductory news conference, Vol Head Coach Lane Kiffin joked that he looked forward to singing “Rocky Top” all night long after beating Florida this season. And, in February, he accused (falsely) Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer of a recruiting violation.
Instead he put gasoline on a fire that has been burning since October 13, 1990 when Tennessee and Florida began what is now an annual match of good natured (and sometimes not so good natured) hate. The Vols won that day in Knoxville 45-3. The Vols are 5-13 since. During that time, Florida has won by some pretty big scores: 59-20 (2007); 31-0 (1994); 62-37 (1995); 30-6 (2008); 30-13 (2002).
Needless to say, based on Coach Kiffin’s motivational speaking prowess he has displayed since donning the orange and white, the Gators are looking to see if they can score the most points ever against the Vols and win by the greatest margin ever. To do that, they will have to score at least 63 points and win by at least 40.
Chris Low of ESPN picks the Gators to do neither, and at the same time predicts Florida to prevail by 38 (48-10). That would be a failure to reach their goals. Low says that the Vols have too much pride on defense to allow the Gators to run up 60 or more, but predicts that the game will get away from the Vols on special teams and from turnovers (seven turnovers by the Vols in their first two games this season).
And knowing that this is a home game for the Gators, who have scored 40 or more points in 9 of their last 11 games (five of those in the SEC).
Kiffin announced earlier this week that Jonathan Crompton is still his man at QB and will start Saturday in Gainesville. So, he’s taking option #2 from our UCLA game recap post. Fine. As long as this is Crompton’s last game in an Orange or White jersey, I don’t care.
So it comes down to our defense and the ability to make big plays via special teams and turnovers. The agenda you might think is to watch Monty Kiffin’s boys fill the backfield in pursuit of Gator QB Tim Tebow. Like him or utterly hate him, you have to admit that he is a helluva player, and an even better competitor. But his one attribute that may make it impossible to “take him out” is his size. As Randy Moore writes, Tebow at 6-3 and 250 pounds is bigger than all of the Tennessee first-team defenders except tackles Dan Williams (6-3, 327) and Wes Brown (6-4, 257).
All pointing to mission improbable, isn’t it?
Are we just wasting our time even talking about this?
The strategy has to be to win time of possession by a considerable amount to keep the ball out of the hands of Tebow and Co. who are under the stewardship of new offensive coordinator Steve Addazio. To accomplish this, they will have to try to get the Gators to throw the ball and keep them from running the ball down our throats all day long, keep the Gators from scoring more than 2 TDs, get and score from at least three turnovers, and not turn the ball over a single time.
The chances of the last part happening, with Crompton at the helm, are nil. The other components are intriguingly possible. Thus, some good old fashion luck will have to land in the Vols’ lap. You know, like a blind-sided bash from behind by Rico McCoy on Tebow as his arm is moving forward; and injury or two; you know, things like that.
So considering the improbability of such Tom Foolery thinking, you would think that the Gator Nation is simply frothing at the mouth with anticipation.
Are the fans sharpening knives and loading guns?
Read these posts from a couple of Florida fan blogs. First from Orange and Blue Hue on 13 September 2009:
Kiffin’s arrival has brought a cheap, plastic-like feel to Tennessee football. It’s all talk, no walk. Phil Fulmer might have extended his career at Tennessee just a few seasons too long, and he was unfortunate enough to be on the backside of his coaching powers curve just when Urban Meyer arrived at the height of his own. But he was a good and decent man, who represented Tennessee with class, and earned the respect of friends and foes alike.
It seems unlikely that Kiffin will really change the true fabric of Tennessee football. That basic essence will outlast him, even if his stay in Knoxville is longer than I and many others outside of Tennessee imagine it will probably be. Maybe a humbling loss to the Vols’ arch divisional rival will help Kiffin mature into a true leader; a man with perspective, insight, and true charisma. But that can be quite a painful process for a man who possesses an ego of such massive proportions.
And now from Alligator Army on 14 September 2009:
It is entirely possible Tennessee could shock the world and play with the Gators for four quarters or win. Their defense against UCLA was good enough to win, and they broke the jaw of the Bruins’ quarterback on a safety. But the Vols will be walking into an environment they created; facing a champion who should be content, suddenly inspired to destroy. The violence and force we expect out of the Gators should be unlike anything we have seen. As for this game’s impact on the rest of the season, it is the perfect thing to jolt the Gators out of their preseason nap. While Tennessee is not as good as LSU or Georgia, they are a team that wants what the Gators have. Florida’s intensity Saturday will be a measure of how serious this team is about defending their crown.
Both accounts are reasonable stances to take. Temperate. Considered. Rational. Spot on as you might say.
But here’s a surprise, from Alligator Army on 16 September 2009:
The biggest mistake the Gators and other SEC teams can make is that they underestimate Kiffin. Maybe Florida, Georgia and Alabama all beat the crap out of the Vols this season. Wasn’t Urban Meyer’s losses in his first season to Bama, LSU and South Carolina just as bad? We won’t know until next season how many losses in 2009 were because Kiffin sucks or he doesn’t have the players. It seems more likely to me that Kiffin will be successful and 2009′s losses have more to do with Phil Fulmer’s inability to recruit. Tennessee has to recruit nationally since their state lacks the talent of Florida, Louisiana, Texas or California. Recruiting nationally will not be impacted by Florida defeating Tennessee by 29. It will be impacted by the perception of that margin. Think of it this way, what do you think of first; Florida’s margin of victory against Miami and Georgia in 2008? Or Meyer sending out his kicker with the game in hand against the Canes and Meyer calling time outs to finish the UGA game? Kiffin might not avoid those blowouts, but he could avoid the perception that the Vols were embarassed.
Maybe Kiffin got this gig based on his last name, but not everyone who benefits from nepotism sucks at their job. Kiffin has been successful enough to coach at USC and the NFL, even if it was for Oakland. You don’t get that far on being handsome with a famous dad and a hot wife. You actually have to be talented. Kiffin has it and he has already shown that he knows how to use it.
A devil’s advocate stance from a Gator perspective indeed.
Who’s gonna win?
But it’s simply not in the cards, folks. A Vol win on Saturday against the Number One team in the country, in their own backyard, against fans, players, and coaches that want to blame us, maim us, disgrace us, would be something equal to, oh let’s say like 25 February 1964 in Miami Beach when then Cassius Clay “shook up the world” by defeating Sonny Liston.
But I’m afraid the Vols ain’t no Muhammad Ali and the Gators aren’t an aging has-been.
So, folks, the tea leaves say that we’ll have to wait for another day.
Florida 51 Tennessee 10
This Week’s Games Involving Upcoming 2009 Opponents
Saturday September 19
Louisville at Kentucky (12:00 pm ET)
North Texas at Alabama (12:20 pm ET)
Cal Poly at Ohio Univ (7:00 pm ET)
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt (7:00 pm ET)
Florida Atlantic at South Carolina (7:00 pm ET)
Tennessee-Martin at Memphis (7:00 pm ET)
Southeastern Louisiana at Mississippi (7:30 pm ET)
West Virginia at Auburn (7:45 pm ET)
Georgia at Arkansas (7:45 pm ET)
This Week’s Games Involving Past 2009 Opponents
Saturday September 19
Central Arkansas at Western Kentucky (7:00 pm ET)
Kansas State at UCLA (10:15 pm ET)
Televised SEC Games
Thanks to Chris Low at ESPN.com, here is this week’s SEC TV schedule.