All offseason the Florida Gators were repeating the mantra instilled by head coach Will Muschamp about starting fast, winning two tough games early and going 4-0 in the month of September before taking on a treacherous four-game stretch in October that includes three preseason top-10 ranked teams and an up-and-coming program.
“Part of our motto this year is: Start fast. We go to College Station to play Texas A&M and then we go to Neyland Stadium to play Tennessee. We need to start fast in those games. I look at it as a great opportunity and a great motivating factor for our football to start the season with great opponents.”
At 2-0 (with one league victory) after defeating Bowling Green 27-14 in their season opener and Texas A&M 20-17 on the road in week two, Florida is realistically one more big win away from making that fast start a reality.
The Gators will take their seven-game winning streak against the Tennessee Volunteers on the road this season as they travel to Knoxville, TN to face-off with their long-time rivals. No. 17/18 Florida and No. 23 Tennessee are both ranked heading into the game for the first time since 2007 yet neither feels like it has a particular advantage.
Just like the Gators had the edge of already having played a game before travelling to College Station, TX, Florida is more battle-tested this week, too. While the Volunteers were at home throwing all over N.C. State and Georgia State, Tennessee has yet to either play an SEC game or face an opponent as talented as Texas A&M.
The advantage the Volunteers do have going for them, aside from being the home team of course, is their passing game, which is currently ranked ninth nationally. The Gators, however, boast one of the best secondaries in the nation, a unit that is looking forward to the opportunities that UT quarterback Tyler Bray may present them on Saturday.
“It’s a big challenge for us as a group,” UF sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson said this week. “He’s a good quarterback. He forces balls, and he’s got a strong arm. He’s a daredevil and a good guy, just forcing the ball – we like that.”
Roberson said Florida’s secondary does not feel any added pressure heading into the game but is instead excited for the chance to make some plays now that they are facing a true drop-back passer.
“We like that as the secondary,” he said. “I trust all the guys that play. We all just trust each other with our technique and ability to make plays on the ball.”
The Gators’ defense as a whole is pumped up for the showdown.
“If I could jump from Saturday to Saturday every week, I would,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Taylor said.
Read the rest of this story…after the break!
Redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter noted that this is the best Tennessee team he has seen on film in his five years but that, at the end of the day, both the Gators and the Vols have to prove that they deserve the win on the field.
“When you get to these rivalry games, all the talent is the same,” he said. “Everybody wants it as bad. It just comes down to assignment football and who plays the best assignment football.”
Taylor does not personally believe Saturday’s contest between two long-time rivals is anything too special in the grand scheme of things considering both teams have to attack their upcoming opponents on week-by-week basis and not look too far ahead.
“Every game has been a big game. Every game will be a big game from here on out,” he said. “In college football, you can’t really lose a game if you want to go to the big ‘ship. In the NFL it’s different; they take out of your division. But in college football, if you want to go to the big ‘ship, you got to win every game. So every game is going to be a big game.”
Taylor may be right but the “start fast” mindset has segmented the season somewhat, and Florida is about 60 minutes away from completing one of their major offseason goals. (UF would still have to defeat Kentucky next Saturday to start the season 4-0 but owns a 25-game winning streak in the series dating back to 1986.)
“I feel pretty great about this game,” said junior wide receiver Solomon Patton, who took three carries for 31 yards against Texas A&M. “We just started off 2-0, and I just feel real good about our team and our chemistry.”
Chemistry is exactly what the Gators will need Saturday as they take on the Vols in a road game that will be featured on ESPN’s College GameDay for a second-straight week.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Redshirt junior center Jonotthan Harison on sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel’s first start: “I saw that he was real motivated, real determined to make sure we came out successful in that game. Although everything didn’t go as we would have liked it to on offense, he just kept playing through all that adversity and made sure we came out on top.”
» Harrison on the offensive line not being blamed for many of last week’s sacks: “We still are going to take the blame just because we want to be a solid unit. We don’t want to be considered the weakness of the team as a lot of people have been saying. We’re just going to keep working hard to ensure that Driskel is protected and we keep him safe throughout the season.”
» Harrison on the offensive line being called the strength of the offense: “Our job is crucial. It’s one of those positions – all work, no credit. The more we work together and the more we’re in these games, it’s just going to help us mesh as a unit even more. We hope that just helps us be a productive unit for the rest of the season.”
» Hunter on freshman LB Antonio Morrison: “He’s very physical, first of all. He’s an extremely hard worker; he comes out every day at practice and goes hard. He’s got a great motor. For a young guy he’s very focused and very mature.”
» Taylor on redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed: “He’s pretty hard to cover. You better get a safety on him, that’s what I’m going to say. Covering him with a linebacker is difficult; linebacker better have some good hips, that’s all I’m going to say.”
» Taylor on senior running back Mike Gillislee: “A lot of people try to say he’s a power back but people don’t know that he’s actually really, really fast. It was camp and he got a screen one time and he took it like 80 yards probably in less than two seconds. I know it probably wasn’t less than two seconds, but he got ghost. It was crazy. Gillislee is definitely something like a good back. He’s a great back but especially going against him in practice, it just gets you that much more better for everybody you’re going to face in the game because he’s got the speed, he’s got the power and he can make a cut on any down.”