Gator Navel Gazing
For Vol fans, the annual Florida game has been an anxiety-ridden affair for the past several years.
Coach Dooley has taken the Anti-Kiffin approach to this week’s game by heaping praise (rightfully) on the Gators squad, thereby adding to our collective anxiety. Here are some quotes from Monday’s press conference.
“They (Florida) probably have the most talented defensive line in the country, two big play makers on offense, and I would say probably the best special teams in the league as far as generating plays for them. They have been doing it for a long time. It is going to be a great challenge for our team.”
“We don’t have a lot to go on (with regard to Florida’s offense) because in both games they just overwhelmed their opponents and it’s like watching a preseason game. I don’t think they showed a lot. I know they are going to show a lot more against us… They are going to be fresh… We are going to have to be prepared for a lot more than what we saw in the first two games.”
“This is going to be a big test for our o-line. These guys (Florida’s defensive front) across the board are as talented as any group in the country.”
“Speed. Speed. Speed. Fast and elusive. And they use them (Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps) for their return game, they use them to block punts – they are all over the field. They are faster than everybody out there. They have playmaking ability (and) that competitive character and want to make the impact play of the game. When you combine those two things – watch out.”
“It (our running game) just depends on how your throwing game is. If your throwing game is what it looked like last week, you don’t need a lot of running game. But if your quarterback’s getting hit, you’re getting confused back there and the o-line’s struggling to protect them, you’ve got to have a running game… We’ve got to keep improving there.”
But, that’s just the way things sit. For us to say that Florida owns a slim edge over the Vols in the 40-game history (21-19 Gators) is self-flattery.
We have only won four games since 1998: 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2004. Two of those were in Gainesville.
The 2001 war, a 34-32 victory, was memorable: (1) it was postponed to late in the season due to the 9-11 attacks; and (2) we clinched the SEC title.
Those were the days…
Today… the Gators have won the last six – the longest losing streak for Tennessee in this series. In those six games, the Vols have scored 20 or fewer points.
Florida is now ranked 16th in the AP (17th in the USA Today). The last time the Vols defeated a ranked team on the road was a satisfying 51-33 whipping of Georgia (ranked No. 10 at the time) in 2006.
And it’s not like we don’t play ranked teams very often…
Well, enough of the self-flagellation. How about some referencing for the soul?
The history of the Florida series that we’re living reminds me of when I was a student at UT.
Back then, we were in a tailspin vs. Alabama. After I attended my last ‘Bama game as a student in 1978, we had lost eight in a row.
I had never witnessed a win over the Crimson Tide in person (the 1970 win, a 24-0 smacking, was seen on TV when I was in High School).
I really thought that we would never defeat Alabama again.
We again lost again in ’79, ’80, and ’81. Eleven consecutive defeats. I had given up.
Then, it all seemed to change in a flash. A trip to Birmingham. Legion Field. The incredible 1982 victory in Birmingham, 35-31 (Johnny Jones?), followed by three more wins in a row.
How could things change so quickly and decisively?
But that was followed by seven more consecutive losses and eight of nine during 1986-1992. Back to losing hope…
…until Fulmer finally had a squad full of his own recruits. The Vols went on a streak of utter domination over Alabama. We won seven in a row and 10 out of 12 from 1995 to 2006.
The point of all this is that today, the young Alabama fans can’t remember what it was like to lose 10 out of 12 to Tennessee.
And the young Tennessee fans of today probably can’t even imagine beating Florida.
My experience living through long droughts against Alabama, and seeing them change on a dime to wonderful winning streaks over the Tide remind me of our current plight against the mighty Gators.
Things can change very quickly. And when they do, the new world can be something to enjoy and behold.
Who knows? The winds of changes could shift 180 degrees this Saturday in Gainesville, and start a new streak with a different shade of orange, just like they did on a memorable 1982 afternoon in Birmingham to make the utterly discouraged believe that the seemingly impossible really is possible.