Running game holds keys to Gators - Vols matchup

During the past 14 years as the Florida-Tennessee football rivalry has intensified with every year, one thing remains constant: the team that runs the football successfully almost always wins the game.

Coach Ron Zook and his Gators are well aware that for Florida to come away with a win Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, it is imperative to get the running game going offensively, and defensively, UF has to stuff the Vols at the line of scrimmage.

"I can tell you it doesn't matter whether you're on the high school, collegiate, or professional level, the team that usually controls the running game has the opportunity to win," said Zook at Tuesday's press luncheon. "You have to run the football, play good defense and have a sound kicking game. There's no question that this is what this game will come down to."

For the Gators, the running game will feature Ciatrick Fason, who had a dazzling 44-yard run among his 106 yards and two touchdowns in Florida's 49-10 season opener against Eastern Michigan. Fason has become an increasing force in the Florida attack since a breakout game against LSU last season. The junior from Jacksonville has that rare ability to break a long run any time he touches the ball. But, it is his all-around ability that has impressed Zook.

"I am very happy for Ciatrick because he has worked extremely hard," said Zook. "He's an excellent back and not only can he run the ball well, but he's also a great pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield. He's worked hard at learning to catch the ball out of the backfield and improve his pass blocking and he's doing all the things that he has to do to become an all around great running back."

Tennessee's game plan hasn't changed much in 25 years. The Vols basic strategy has always been to line it up, knock people off the ball and establish the running game. The Vols like to throw off play action and the success of the passing game is usually tied directly to the success of the running game.

"Tennessee is going to run the ball no matter what" said senior safety Corey Bailey "They're going to line up and run the ball to see where your hearts at. And if you don't have any heart, and they know they can run the ball down your throat, they're just going to keep pounding at you. If they're scoring, they're going to keep running the ball."

Sophomore middle linebacker Channing Crowder loves this kind of game.

"We put it on the front seven," said Crowder. "I talk to Earl Everett and Travis Harris all the time. This is our game. This is a linebackers game. We've got to play hard. They think they'll out tough you and run straight at you. We've just got to just hit them harder than what they hit us."

Tennessee's running game centers around a talented crew of three tailbacks headed by Cedric Houston. Houston has been slowed with a high ankle sprain, but he is expected to be the starter Saturday night. Gerald Riggs is a big back with speed and goal-line specialist Jabari Davis has a knack for finding the end zone. There is an added dimension to UT's running game this year with quarterback Brent Schaeffer, a threat to take off and run any time he touches the ball.

"You have one you better have a handle on because he can run and do all the things that remind me a lot of Cornelius Ingram in terms of being very athletic," said Zook of Schaeffer, who is from Deerfield Beach.

Schaeffer will alternate at quarterback with Erik Ainge, another true freshman and the nephew of Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge. While Schaeffer scares people with his feet, Ainge is a pure pocket passer. The Gators are well aware that both quarterbacks have the talent to make big plays.

"Schaeffer can move a little bit better than Ainge, so that might help him out a little bit more," said Bailley. "If he can get out of the pocket more, he'll do better. But Ainge is more of a pure pocket passer and he's got a nice touch."

Crowder has a simple solution to the dual quarterbacks.

"Well, with any quarterback, you just hit them, and once you start to hit them a couple times, they'll start thinking about you coming," he said. " It hurts when you get hit especially when you're looking down the field. They've got a passing quarterback and a running quarterback and either quarterback, once you hit a few times, he'll start slowing down worrying about you instead of the receivers."

Zook sees both quarterbacks as a challenge for the Gator defense.

"These guys are pretty good players because they have shown the poise that is necessary to play the game as a true freshman," said the Gator coach, whose first road victory at UF came at Knoxville two years ago.

Zook believes the game's outcome could very well hinge on which team can maintain its poise throughout the game.

"We talk to our guys about poise and being smart," he said. "We emphasize them not being selfish and putting themselves above the football team, because that's what we are is a team and that's our whole concept here."

With Hurricane Ivan making landfall sometime Thursday somewhere on the gulf coast, the forecast for Saturday's game calls for rain and wind. The previous three weeks with hurricanes Charley and Frances have the Gators well prepared for a soggy field and a windy day.

"Last week we practiced in rain three out of the five days, so we're ready for the rain," said Bailey. "When we went into Tennessee two years ago, the field held up great. I'm not really worried about the rain. As long as it doesn't snow, we'll be alright."

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