Rivalry with Vols big for Watkins

Florida meets Tennessee on Saturday in The Swamp, and many players on both teams can't remember the last time the Gators lost to the Volunteers. Many weren't following the team they now play for or even interested in college football the last time it happened. With an eight game winning streak on the line, Florida's Jaylen Watkins is excited for the SEC rivalry and wants to win it as much as any.

Don't tell Florida senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins that the battle with Tennessee this week isn't a big one. Throw out the eight game winning streak over the Volunteers, this game means a lot in the eastern division of the Southeastern Conference.

Gators of the nineties and before understand the rivalry with Tennessee without the conference implications. The fans still feel it on game day and Watkins knows all about it now after being a part of it for four years.

"It would mean a lot," Watkins said of winning the game. "This is a big rival for us. I didn't realize the rival until I got here. I only knew about Florida State and in-state rivals. But this is a great rivalry and it would be great to leave knowing I never lost to Tennessee."

There is not taking the Vols lightly. When these two teams meet on the field, there will be sparks flying.

"The teams are gonna come play no matter what their record is and no matter what our record is," Watkins said. "We're gonna go out and play hard like we're in the national championship or something.

"We know those guys are gonna come down ready to throw some punches. We've beaten them four times in a row. Obviously they see that and they want to get one on us."

Watkins will savor the victories over Tennessee and whoever wins Saturday will be the same, but hearing the fight song of the Vols is something he won't miss hearing.

"Yeah, it's bittersweet," he said about playing for the last time. "Obviously I've enjoyed my time here, but all of us hate ‘Rocky Top'. It'll be good to not hear it anymore."

Florida head coach Will Muschamp will tell you that the only statistic that matter is the scoreboard and the Gators gave up their last game to the tune of a 21-16 loss to Miami. Still, the defense of which Watkins is a part of has been pretty good in two contests.

One statistic the Gators are king at right now is 3rd down conversions. They have only allowed two third down conversions in 24 attempts against two teams that were supposed to be solid, if not explosive on offense.

Watkins understands the importance of the situation every time the Gators get to third down.

"Getting off the field on third down gets our offense the ball, obviously, and it wears their defense down," he said. "That's the type of football we like to play here. But when we don't get off the field, we stay on the field a long time, we get gassed and it gives the other teams defense time to get their wind back." Focus is the key in making every 3rd down situation count.

"Just paying attention to detail and taking pride in getting off the field on third down," he said. "We have to do that a little earlier in the game and I think we'll be fine. That's something we did all last year and that's why we were a top defense."

The Gators are top five nationally in many defensive categories, but Watkins believes this unit can do better.

"I feel like we haven't played up to our best," he said. "Just like last week (against Miami), it looked like a good game for us but we could have been a lot better. We definitely have the potential to be better than we were last year. We're looking forward to coming out this week and trying to reach that."

There are several new starters on defense this year, but most saw plenty of playing time a year ago. Still, experience is coming fast to the guys that have played a lot in the first two games of the season.

"We have guys who have been in the system for two years and we have a couple new guys out there but that should be out of the way by now," Watkins said. "We are two games into the season so those guys that had those first two games should be ready to go and know what to expect."

One person that wasted no time in getting into the groove is freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. The speedster was the top rated cornerback in high school as a senior last year and has lived up to that billing so far in 2013 with the Gators only two takeaways on the year having nabbed an interception in both of the first two games.

Hargreaves has made himself an integral part of the defense already.

"He comes in and he knows what to do," Watkins said of the youngster. "That allows us in the secondary to be more versatile. I can go back to safety with him stepping in and filling that void. He's made plays when the coaches asked him to and he will continue to make more.

"I don't think I've seen a freshman come in their first two games and get an interception. Big-time plays, too. We're very proud of him and fortunate to have him."


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