Published: Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 1:16 a.m.
Staff writers Robbie Andreu and Jon McDonald take a closer look at Week 3 in Knoxville.
Return of the rivalry?
Not too long ago, the Florida-Tennessee game was THE game in the SEC East every year, with the winner getting a huge leg up on winning the division. But the Vols and Gators have slipped into the background in recent years with their struggles on the field. But maybe the rivalry is about to rev up again. Both teams are ranked for the first time since 2007. That's a good sign. College GameDay is in Knoxville. That's a sign. And some UT players have talked a little smack this week. Another good sign. Georgia and South Carolina are still considered the teams to beat in the East, but the winner of tonight's game will be elevated to contender status in the SEC.
Gators do the Tennessee waltz
Florida always seems to be pretty comfortable playing at Tennessee, despite the hostile environment. Maybe that's because the Gators have pretty much owned the state over the past dozen years. Since 2000, Florida is 22-3 against teams from the state of Tennessee (UT, Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee). All three losses, of course, came against the Vols, two in Gainesville (2001, 2003) and one in Knoxville (2004). All-time, the Gators are 59-29-2 against teams from Tennessee.
Vols on offensive roll
While the Gators have struggled with consistency on offense with an inexperienced true sophomore quarterback, the Vols have been flying up and down the field with veteran quarterback Tyler Bray. The Vols gained more than 500 total yards in each of their first two games. That's the first time that's happened in consecutive games at UT since 2000. Bray is averaging 321.5 yards passing a game. And what's really helped to stoke the offense is the fact the Vols have generated a solid running game (187.5 yards a game) to give the offense the balance it was lacking last season.
UT gets a boost from the JCs
As the Gators have experienced in the past, junior college studs don't always pan out when they get to the SEC. But the Vols have received a huge lift from the junior college ranks so far this season. Through two games, UT's biggest offensive playmaker has been JC wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who has produced 360 all-purpose yards in the first two games. The Vols also have an impact JC player on defense, where 377-pound nose tackle Daniel McCullers has given UT great size and strength in the middle of its defensive line. The Gators also have a junior college transfer who is contributing — backup defensive tackle Damien Jacobs.
3rd win in September
Florida has started every season with a 3-0 record since 2004. Coincidentally, Tennessee has not started with a 3-0 record since that same year. The last time the Vols beat the Gators was a 2004 win at Neyland Stadium during Ron Zook's last year at UF. The 3-0 start isn't as prestigious for Florida as it used to be, though. The Gators began the 2010 and 2011 seasons at 3-0 (and 4-0), but ended up with 8-5 and 7-6 records, respectively.
Popping back in
After missing the first two games for unspecified reasons, defensive back De'Ante “Pop” Saunders returns to the Gator lineup at the perfect time. With corner Cody Riggs out after being injured in last week's win at Texas A&M, Saunders' return should keep the secondary just as deep. Also, corner Jeremy Brown, who played sparingly last week in his return from missing all of 2011, could further bolster the Gators' defensive backfield if needed.
Vote of confidence?
Since the league went to a 12-team format in 1992, one of these two teams has represented the East in the SEC Championship game in every presidential election year. The winner of this game has won the division in each of those years except 1992, when Florida lost to Tennessee, but ended up in the title game (then held in Birmingham, Ala.) after the Vols suffered three straight SEC losses in October. Florida is 3-for-4 in SEC Championship games in these years (1992, 1996, 2000, 2008.) Tennessee is 0-for-1 (2004.)
With the game tied at 10 in the third quarter in Knoxville in 2010, Omarius Hines took a direct snap on a fake punt on fourth-and-6 and ran 36 yards down to the Tennessee 25. The Gators scored a touchdown on the drive and managed to grind out a win that was much closer than the 31-17 final score. Last week against Texas A&M, Hines had a 39-yard reception to the Aggies' 18 early in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Mike Gillislee scored the game-winning touchdown from 12 yards out. So far, those may be the two most memorable plays in Hines' career at UF. Could he make another game-changing play today?