Image Credit: UAA
Call it what you will, but the Florida Gators do not appear to be feeling the pressure entering Saturday’s tussle with the Tennessee Volunteers.
Florida’s not worried about playing its first road game of the season, not concerned about a Tennessee offense that (at times) ran through one of the nation’s top defenses in 2015, not thinking about only beating Saturday’s opponent by two combined points in their last two meetings, and not apprehensive about continuing an 11-game winning streak that has coincided with two national championships and a lot of success for the Gators.
No, Florida’s continuing the bluster started by junior cornerback Jalen Tabor in the offseason, which while fun and entertaining is pretty uncommon for the Gators.
“You ever seen a duck pull a truck?” junior CB Quincy Wilson asked rhetorically this week when questioned as to whether Tennessee would win Saturday. “A duck don’t pull a truck.”
Later, Wilson added (per the Orlando Sentinel), “Florida Gators are going to win, simple as that. … We have a message from DBU to Tennessee.”
During the offseason, senior linebacker Jarrad Davis said he enjoyed playing the Vols because the Gators always win. Senior wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood said this week that the Florida-Tennessee rivalry is so intense because UT thinks it can beat UF, insinuating that Saturday’s opponent hasn’t in more than a decade.
The Gators’ last two coaches, Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp, likely would have been less than receptive to their players being so vocal, particularly when speaking directly to the media. Current head coach Jim McElwain has not taken that stance.
“These guys are who they are,” he said Wednesday. “I’m not into, you know, censorship. And you know, he better go back it up, I guess, whatever he said.”
Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray has taken the stance of, “Well, what else do you expect these guys to say?”
“You want your guys to be confident. How else are you going to answer certain questions? We’re not going to say we’re not going to win,” he explained. “You want to have confidence. We’re confident in how we’re preparing and we’ll see on Saturday.”
Gray also noted that this Florida secondary, which has done most of the trash talk over the last few months, is the most confident group he’s ever coached.
“I haven’t had a group that’s playing with the confidence that this group is playing with right now,” he said. “They’re really executing, and it’s how those guys are really playing in practice. I’ve been very impressed with the way we’re handling our business, going about our business. And it’s showing up on Saturdays.”
He continued: “It’s fun because those guys, they’re big personalities, but they really have a great chemistry with each other. It helps them to be able to mesh all that and come out and play together.”
Defensively, the Gators have more to worry about than the words coming out of their mouths. One year ago, Florida allowed Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs to rumble for 136 yards on 18 carries, complete 10-of-17 passes (albeit for 83 yards) and succeed on a trick play where he caught a 58-yard pass for a touchdown.
Let’s just say McElwain has not forgotten about it.
“This guy’s as good as there is. He hurt us a year ago. Let’s face it, they ran it down our throat a year ago. I’m sure they feel pretty good about that, and they should,” he said. “We’re going to have to maintain our rush lanes when they do throw and get him hopefully a little uncomfortable and not get his feet set like he wants to. And yet, not let him take over the game with his feet like he did last year. We got a great challenge.”
McElwain attributed the Gators’ struggles last season to poor tackling and “guys trying to do too much.” He guessed that Saturday would be a “walk in the park” for the Vols, which he suggested are exceedingly confident coming out of last year’s performance, despite its ending. Gray, however, said there has been a “huge emphasis” in tackling this week and does not expect it to be an issue on Saturday.
Above all else though, McElwain is excited for the intensity of the rivalry, which he believes is the reason why Florida is so juiced for the game, no matter how that excitement displays itself.
“Here’s the great thing when you’re playing at Florida: We’ve got, really on your schedule, these rivalry things — there’s three of them. I’ve been at some places where you’re just trying to make up rivalries, you know? I’m thinking this is cool and a lot of fun and people get excited about it,” he said.
“To me, that’s what makes college football what it is. And yet, we’ve got a bunch of young guys. This will be their first time for them playing and stuff on the road. What a great environment to do it in. I don’t know. I think it’s a lot of fun.”
As for how the Gators will play and whether all the talk has been a distraction?
“Any time you have an opportunity to go out and prove yourself, go out and do it — and have a good time doing it,” he said.