Once upon a time, a Tennessee-Florida football game was not just a main event in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division, but in the country.
Now it’s just another game for these programs. It’s been made that way by Alabama’s dominant 13-year run and Tennessee’s stunning fall from being a national power to its conference’s version of Miami or Texas, a team badly in need of something good to happen sooner instead of later.
The Volunteers (2-1, 0-0 SEC) will have that chance Saturday night in Gainesville, Fla., albeit against a program they’ve beaten once since 2005. Tennessee will have to come up with something special to pick up the first big win of the Josh Heupel era.
“We’ve got to do the ordinary at a really high level in a big game like this against a really good football team,” Heupel said.
The 11th-ranked Gators (2-1, 0-1) distinguished themselves far more in last week’s 31-29 defeat at home against No. 1 Alabama than in non-conference walkovers against Florida Atlantic and South Florida.
Florida was the more physical football team for long stretches, rolling up 245 yards on the ground and nearly overcoming a 21-3 deficit in the first quarter. But the Gators were unable to convert a game-tying 2-point run with 3:41 left and couldn’t get the ball back until just four seconds remained.
While the consensus among college football experts was that Florida proved its chops despite losing, coach Dan Mullen said his players weren’t celebrating making a good showing by any means.
“Our guys expected to win the game, to be perfectly honest with you,” he said. “I mean, they’re pretty disappointed that they didn’t. There wasn’t much praise or happiness or smiles (Monday) morning in the team meeting.
“There’s some positive things that we can take out of it, and there are things that we need to get corrected. It’s making sure we embrace that. Let’s actually build off what we did well and do it even better.”
The Gators’ showing in the trenches drew lots of attention. The last time the Crimson Tide was pushed around that consistently on the defensive line, coach Nick Saban was trying to figure out a way to win with the Miami Dolphins in 2006.
Florida Gators rushing attack poses a threat
Malik Davis rushed for a game-high 86 yards on just 10 carries, while quarterback Emory Jones added 77 yards on 19 attempts. But he also tossed his fifth interception in three games that was quickly turned into one of Alabama’s three first-quarter touchdowns.
Jones was 18 of 28 in the air for 195 yards, playing the entire game with backup Anthony Richardson (hamstring) sidelined. Mullen said Richardson could return this week.
The quarterback position is also a question for the Volunteers. Starter Joe Milton sat out a 56-0 rout of FCS foe Tennessee Tech last week with a leg injury. Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker played efficiently, completing 17 of 25 passes for 199 yards and three scores while adding 64 yards and a score on the ground.
Heupel said Milton would get work in practice Tuesday or Wednesday.
“We’ll see where we are at at that point, as far as whether he’ll be able to play or not,” the coach said.
Tennessee is averaging 42.7 points, but this will be its first road game. And it will be in a venue where it hasn’t won since 2003.
–Field Level Media