Hunter Watched UF-UT Rivalry as a Kid

Growing up cheering for the Georgia Bulldogs, the Florida-Tennessee rivalry always had interest to Omar Hunter. He was always trying to figure out if there was a way for both teams to lose. After watching the game without a rooting interest as a kid, Hunter knows the importance of the rivalry. His understanding has only increased after playing in the game three times.

"It's just a big rivalry game," Omar Hunter said. "That's probably my favorite rivalry to play in, either that or Florida State. Growing up, I always watched the Florida-Tennessee rivalry, but being from Georgia, they were both teams that I hated. I always grew up watching Florida and Tennessee games, so it has always been fun to me."

It's the hatred between the two teams that always had Hunter drawn to the rivalry. As of late, the hatred has been one-sided. Florida is currently riding a six-game winning streak. The last time Tennessee beat the Gators came in Knoxville during the 2004 season, the year before Urban Meyer took over the Florida program.

That's not something that is spoken about much in the Florida locker room.

"I didn't even know it was a six-game winning streak," Hunter said.

The anticipation in the locker room this week feels similar to past matchups for the players, but the physical appearance of the locker room and football offices is different. Meyer and his staff used to plaster the walls with pictures and quotes from games in the history of the rivalry.

Those aren't there anymore.

It's another sign of change for the Florida program. The players had grown used to it in recent years.

"That is a little different," Hunter said. "Coming in before the Tennessee game and not seeing pictures and posters, but it's a new coaching staff and you'll see their own little thing they like to do."

The tradition of both teams opening SEC play against each other can be good and bad. It gives one team a leg up in the conference standings, while the loser has to rebound in a hurry.

"We would love to jump out on top of the SEC schedule," Hunter said. "It's a tough conference, and we'd love to be on top of it."

The Gators know there is a lot of work to be done before the game. Florida has recorded only two sacks in the first two games, both coming in the season opener against FAU. Coming off a week with zero sacks against UAB, it will be a focus this week.

With reigning SEC offensive player of the week Tyler Bray coming in with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions this season, the Florida defensive line knows it has to get to Bray early and often.

"This week in practice, we need to have some good pass rushing sessions," Hunter said. "We need to get better at our pass rush. In the UAB game, I think we could've got to the quarterback a lot more. That's a big emphasis for what we need to do this weekend."

The youth in the Florida secondary makes the pressure even more important. Two freshmen have started in the secondary during the first two weeks, and that leaves some uncertainty on the back end.

"As a defensive line, we talk about that before games," Hunter said. "We want to put the pressure on ourselves because we're the most experienced group on the field."

The defensive line will get a boost with the return of sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd. He was deemed ineligible by the NCAA for the first two games of the season, but the team said he kept in good spirits while he sat out.

"It's going to be a big emotional boost," Hunter said. "Sharrif is a great teammate, and we all love to have him on the field with us."

Fightin Gators Top Stories