Will Muschamp didn’t want to hear players talking about it later in the week. He knew players would be asked about it and didn’t want it to consume their minds or give them confidence because of things that happened in the past. Florida center Max Garcia wasn’t surprised by the talk and thinks it rallied the team to focus on the goal this week.
“He said, ‘We’ve got these guys nine years in a row, but it doesn’t mean anything. They’re going to fight, they have new excitement for this year. They feel like they played really well against Georgia, they have confidence and they’re going to come after us like ever team does,’” Garcia recalled from Muschamp’s speech.
The rivalry has been one-sided since Urban Meyer’s first year at Florida. The Gators squeaked out a nine-point win over the Volunteers in 2005 and a one-point win in 2006. Florida has won every game since then by double digits, including a 14-point win last season after Jeff Driskel went down in the second quarter and Tyler Murphy took over to secure the win.
The 2012 matchup, the last time the teams played at Neyland Stadium, even hosted College Gameday. Many picked the Volunteers to end the streak that year, but the Florida offense put up 555 yards to continue the dominance. The team has made sure to put that behind them and work as if the nine-game winning streak over Tennessee didn’t exist.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Garcia said. “You see Kentucky came in here, 37 games or whatever winning streak and they gave us a good fight. It’s this year’s team against this year’s team, so 2014 Gators vs. 2014 Volunteers. That’s just the way it is. We can’t rely on anything in the past -- that has no merit for 2014, so I’m just taking every game like it’s the most important game because it’s the next game. That stuff really doesn’t matter.”
It’s easy for the Florida players to ignore the recent success, especially since they are now an underdog heading to Knoxville. The Gators opened as a one-point favorite on Sunday, but the line has swung to make Tennessee the favorite from anywhere between one and three points.
“It’s no surprise to me,” Garcia said about being an underdog. “I feel like every year we’re always the underdog when we go against Tennessee for some reason, no matter what we’ve done in the past, so we’re going to approach the game like we have done.”
The Gators will face a lot of new faces on the Tennessee defensive line this weekend. The Volunteers were hurt by defensive line losses following last season, forcing new players to step up. Florida natives Curt Maggitt, Corey Vereen and Jordan Williams have done that.
The Florida players mentioned this week that the defensive line is slightly undersized, but they make up for it with quickness and activity.
“Playing in the SEC, you’re always going to have good defensive linemen and I feel like they’re getting a little more confident in the way that they’re playing on the defensive line,” Garcia said. “I feel like they’re getting really confident in their scheme. When guys stay in just one front, it just creates consistency and guys they know what to do. We’re going to face a good team, but we’re going to be ready for them.”
The Florida offensive line will also get a boost with the return of D.J. Humphries. He’ll start at left tackle, pushing Chaz Green back to right tackle and Roderick Johnson to the bench. It gives the Gators depth, but it’s also an important piece to the offensive line. Humphries is an experienced player that has dealt with tough road atmospheres before, and he’s also one of the leaders at the position.
“I love having D.J. on the field,” Garcia said. “Just having his energy really lifts us all up. You could really tell when he was out, during practice we just didn’t have that much fire that D.J. brings every day. I’m just really excited to have him back, and it’s going to take him a little bit to get him back to where he was, playing to the speed of the game after being out. But I’m sure he’s going to do a good job on Saturday.”TAILGATER Wooden Ice Chest Giveaway