In 2004, George W. Bush was preparing to run for re-election, Ciara had a No. 1 hit, Peyton Manning was in the midst of his then-record breaking 49 touchdown pass season (a record that has been broken twice since then) and Facebook was only seven months old.
It also marked the last time the Vols beat Florida.
In order to defeat the Gators for the first time in ten years, the Vols need to take focus on these key matchups for 60 minutes:
Tennessee running game vs. Florida front seven
The Vols have been criticized for being unable to overcome the mental hurdle of winning big games. This is true for their games not only against Florida, but other SEC opponents, as well as Oklahoma. A hurdle they must overcome against Florida, specifically, is their ability to run the football. In the past ten games against the Gators, the Vols have collected 502 yards on 256 carries (1.96 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
While the Gators have the nation’s No. 7 rush defense, they have yet to face the rushing attack the Vols possess. None of Florida’s opponents going into this game have ranked higher than No. 85 in the nation in rushing yards per game. The Vols rank No. 17. Star running back Jalen Hurd only rushed for 39 yards on ten carries in last season’s heartbreaking 10-9 loss at Neyland Stadium to the Gators. This year, Hurd will get more opportunities to leave a larger impact on the game and help get the Vols over the hurdle.
Tennessee wide receivers vs. Florida secondary
The Florida secondary has been regarded by many as one of the best in the nation, led by highly-touted defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III. The Gators’ secondary is known for its prowess in press coverage, something the Vols’ wide receivers have struggled with thus far. Quarterback Josh Dobbs has completed only 58 percent of his passes this season, and while the Vols need to run the ball effectively against Florida, Dobbs can’t have the performance he had against Oklahoma. This will be his biggest challenge of the season, so the wide receivers need to find a way to get past Florida’s tight coverage so the Vols can strike balance in the game.
Vols’ defensive line vs. Gators’ offensive line
Last week against Kentucky, Florida at one point had three freshmen starting on the offensive line. The Vols’ defensive line should be able to attack the offensive line and apply pressure to whoever the Gators are starting at quarterback.
Butch Jones vs. “big game blues”
Thus far, under Jones, the Vols have not been able to win the big game. Jones is 0-2 against Florida and 0-2 against Oklahoma. However, with a win against Florida, the notion can begin to change.
Last season, the Vols had the perfect chance at home to finally defeat Florida, leading 9-0 going into the fourth quarter. However, after preventing the Gators’ offense from scoring any points, Tennessee allowed the Gators to score ten points to end the game. Similarly, two weeks ago against Oklahoma, the Vols had a 17-3 lead going into the fourth quarter, but again, the defense that had played so well in the first three quarters began allowing the Sooners to score.
Two leads blown in the final quarter, two heartbreaking losses.
Ultimately, what Jones and the Vols have to do to win against Florida is use the advantages they have and exploit Florida’s weaknesses for four quarters. No leads are safe until the clock strikes zero.
Edited by Cody McClure