The Opening Kickoff
No. 19/18 Florida vs. Tennessee
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Info | Game
– Over the years there have been many classic games in the
Many of them took
place in the 1990s when the winner of the Florida-Tennessee game not only moved
into the driver's seat for the SEC East title but also became a front-runner to
win the national title.
The schools meet for
the 43rd time on Saturday when the Gators host the Vols at Ben Hill Griffin
While the rivalry
has been dominated by
Florida in recent years, Saturday's matchup at The Swamp will have an
The reason is a guy
named Danny Wuerffel.
One of the rivalry's
great games -- at least for Florida fans -- happened 17 years ago to the day
from Saturday. Wuerffel and Florida's defense were the stars.
In the first meeting
between the schools when both were ranked in the top five, the No. 4-ranked
Gators traveled to Knoxville to face the No. 2 Vols on Sept. 21, 1996. In front
of more than 107,000 fans at Neyland Stadium Wuerffel threw four touchdown
passes and the Florida defense forced six turnovers in a 35-29 win.
The Gators raced to
a 35-0 lead in the second quarter and then held on as Peyton Manning
engineered a Tennessee comeback that fell short. Florida coach Steve
Spurrier offered one of his gems afterward.
"We didn't want
you to accuse us of running up the score,'' Spurrier told reporters.
The victory was the
first in school history for the Gators over a team ranked No. 1 or 2 and
launched Florida toward the program's first national title.
Now, back to
Wuerffel, who thanks to that huge early lead 17 years ago, he threw only 22
times for 155 yards in Florida's memorable road win on his way to winning the
Wuerffel will be
back on the field at The Swamp on Saturday. He won't be playing quarterback. Instead,
he is taking a turn as
Mr. Two Bits.
That is worth a
cheer as one of Florida's all-time greats makes his return. Wuerffel is also
being honored for his recent induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Let's take a look at
Saturday's matchup with The Opening Kickoff:
Five Storylines to
- This is the SEC
opener for both schools and each is coming off a game they would rather
forget. The Gators lost at Miami two weeks ago and are itching to get back
on the field. The Vols traveled to No. 2 Oregon last week and got drilled
- The Gators have
owned this rivalry of late. Florida has won eight consecutive over the
Vols, including the last six meetings by an average of 19 points. They
will try to make it nine in a row on Saturday with Wuerffel watching. For
the record, Wuerffel was 4-0 against the Vols in his career.
- While the
Gators have tripped of late away from The Swamp -- all three of Florida's
losses since the start of last season have come in NFL stadiums -- they
have won eight in a row in front of the home fans.
defense was shredded for 687 yards in the loss at Oregon. Meanwhile,
Florida's offense leads the nation in time of possession, holding on the
ball an average of 39:04. How that translates on the field Saturday will
be interesting to watch.
defense has been dominant in the first two games of the season. The Gators
lead the SEC in total defense (208.5 yards per game) and lead the country
in third-down defense (limiting opponents to 2-for-24 on third-down
conversions). The Gators' biggest challenge Saturday will be going against
the Vols' offensive line, which returns four starters and weighs a
collective 1,561 pounds.
Cast of Characters
quarterback Jeff Driskel threw for a career-high 291 yards in the
loss at Miami. However, that was overshadowed by Driskel's two
interceptions in the red zone and his fumble that led to the Hurricanes'
final score. The Gators are looking for better decisions from Driskel when
they drive deep into Tennessee territory.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones makes his first trip to Florida Field.
Jones climbed the coaching ranks under Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
as an assistant and replaces Derek Dooley. Jones is the fourth
Tennessee coach since the Vols last beat Florida in 2004.
quarterback situation is much more stable than Tennessee's. Jones held off
this week on naming a starter and said that junior Justin Worley,
who started the first three games, could start, and so could redshirt
freshman Nathan Peterman or true freshmen Riley Ferguson and
Joshua Dobbs. Stay tuned.
- Senior right
guard Jon Halapio returns for the Gators after missing the first
two games due to a torn pectoral muscle. Halapio provides the offensive
line with a veteran leader and perhaps the unit's strongest run blocker.
defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III isn't shy about introductions.
Hargreaves has an interception in each of his first two college games, the
first UF true freshman to do that in records dating back to 1996.
Hargreaves' quick start prompted head coach Will Muschamp and
defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to say this week that Hargreaves
is essentially a starter.
The Quote File
- "They are
definitely going to come out with a different edge because we're a
rivalry. They know us. We know them. They are not going halfway across the
country to play us. They're coming right down the street. They know what
they are getting themselves into." -- Gators linebacker Michael
Taylor on facing the Vols
- "I think
he is much closer to what we need him to be." -- Gators offensive
coordinator Brent Pease on running back Matt Jones, who made
his 2013 debut at Miami after missing time with a viral infection
- "You just
canít give up big plays. We canít afford that to happen. Youíve got to
tackle better. Marcus knows that. Jaylen [has] played well at safety for
us. He will still play some corner. But heís a guy that covers well.'' --
Muschamp on decision to move Jaylen Watkins ahead of Marcus Maye
- "Just like
any position in our program, it's open. Whatever quarterback has the best
week of practice will be the starter for Tennessee when we play Florida.
If that means a freshman quarterback, that means a freshman quarterback. We'll
add more quarterback run in our package. We just need to find ways to
generate big explosive plays." -- Jones on the Vols' quarterback
10 Quick Hitters
- The Vols are
1-23 against Top 25 teams since 2008 and have lost 17 in a row to ranked
- Gators senior Trey
Burton is fourth in the SEC in receptions per game (5.5). Burton had a
career-high six receptions at Miami and the Vols remember him for his
80-yard touchdown run that shifted momentum in Florida's 37-20 win at
Tennessee last year.
Purifoy's blocked punt against Miami was the Gators' 13th blocked
kick under Muschamp and special teams played a big role in Tennessee's
last visit to The Swamp in 2011, a 33-23 Florida victory.
- Tennessee has
forced nine turnovers in three games while the Gators have forced only two
in their two games. The Gators are minus-4 in turnover margin, a key area
of concern for Muschamp.
- Tennessee has
lost eight consecutive SEC games on the road, last winning an away
conference game in November 2010 at Vanderbilt.
- A pair of
Tennessee assistants has close ties to the Gators. Vols receivers coach Zach
Azzanni was on Urban Meyer's final staff at Florida in 2010,
and former Gators running back Robert Gillespie is in his first
season as Tennessee's running backs coach.
- Florida could
use another big day from its starting receivers. Quinton Dunbar
caught seven passes for 98 yards against Miami and Solomon Patton
hauled in a career-high 118 yards receiving, including a 46-yarder from
- Muschamp said
Gators starting right tackle Tyler Moore is battling an ankle
sprain. If Moore is unavailable, look for the versatile Kyle Koehn
to move over to tackle. Koehn has filled in at right guard in Halapio's
- The Gators are
still looking for more production from their tight ends. The foursome of Clay
Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Colin Thompson and Kent
Taylor has only one catch in the first two games.
- Driskel has
completed 70.9 percent of his passes (39-for-55) through two games, second
in the SEC behind Georgia's Aaron Murray (37-for-52, 71.2 percent).
The Bottom Line
The Gators' win
streak over Tennessee is one they want to keep alive for a myriad of reasons,
most notably to start the SEC season off on a good note and flush the Miami
loss from their system.
Florida is a heavy
favorite and CBS analyst Gary Danielson, who is calling the game with
play-by-play man Verne Lundquist, considers the Gators the most
underrated elite team in the country.
Florida fans hope
Danielson is right.