Bernie Taupin may not have penned the lyrics for his 1973 hit “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” with the Tennessee/Florida game in mind, but this Saturday night at eight o’clock, the action is in “The Swamp” or on CBS.
The winner of this one will be an early favorite for an expense paid trip to Atlanta to play for a conference ring on December 3rd. Coach Urban Meyer and his staff have preached being the favorite since their arrival. Meyer’s doctrine has seemingly been to be a favorite on and off of the field everyday of your life.
All of those hours spent preparing throughout the winter and summer weight room sessions, the running, spring practice, and fighting through the heat and humidity of August drills can make you. For those who didn’t prepare physically and mentally, it can also break you.
“There is a winner and loser in everything” Florida coach Urban Meyer.
One request from Coach Meyer…For the sake of all that’s fun in college football, will you please have a UT bumper sticker placed in the urinals in the Florida Press Box. It’s not like C.J. Leak doesn’t have a closet full of them set aside for this very purpose.
Tennessee offensive line vs Florida defensive front
Tennessee offense: Multiple
Florida defense: Multiple, 4-3
Center Richie Gandy will get his first work of the season after injuring his knee in August drills. Gandy was expected to battle David Ligon for the starting job this August, but Ligon injured his ankle in practice. Two weeks ago, the Vols used guard Rob Smith at center and freshman Ramon Foster at right guard.
The Vols are in terrific shape at guard and tackle. Three starters return from last year’s Florida game in Knoxville. The Vols line consists of threee seniors and two juniors, which must have offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens smiling. Smith was a two-time Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week in 2004. He started all 13 games. Opposite guard Cody Douglas has started 15 games over the past two years. However, he only started one of the Vols last five games. Douglas struggled with a foot problem last season.
Left tackle Aaron Sears is expected to emerge as the star of the Tennessee offensive line. Sears did an outstanding job last year at guard, and when needed at left tackle. Sears worked at left tackle against Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. He has had recurring ankle problems though.
City College of San Francisco transfer Albert Toeaina started eight games in his first season with Tennessee last season. Toeaina has pretty good footwork and is very strong.
Tennessee scored on three of their first four possessions against UAB. They also missed a field goal. They only went three and out one, and that was because of an interception.
Injuries…Center Richie Gandy is expected to return for his first action of the season after suffering a partial dislocation of his kneecap on August 18th. Gandy was returning to action after tearing his ACL in an intramural basketball game last spring which was repaired surgically on March 4th.
Center David Ligon is out with an ankle injury. He suffered the injury on the first day of practice.
Ramon Foster, who started at right guard because of the injury to Gandy, sprained his right foot, but is expected to be ready for the Vols.
#74 Richie Gandy 6-5 312 Sr. 1L Darlington, SC
#52 Rob Smith 6-4 306 Jr. 2L Fort Thomas, Ky.
#70 Cody Douglas 6-4 330 Sr. 3L La Marque, Tx.
#76 Aaron Sears 6-4 330 Jr. 2L Russelville, Ala.
#72 Albert Toeaina 6-6 355 Sr. 1L Antioch, Ca.
By the way…Florida defensive coordinator and former Notre Dame defensive line coach Greg Mattison and his ’04 Fighting Irish were the only team to hold the Vols under 100 yards rushing. Tennessee lost the game 17-13, and finished with 58 yards rushing.
The Florida defense gave up a few early yards up the middle and over right tackle in the first quarter. Louisiana Tech has a talented interior line. The Vols also boast the same. Defensive linemen Marcus Thomas, Steven Harris, Ray McDonald, and Jeremy Mincey will have to be ready for a typical Fulmer appearance. He wants to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball.
Linebacker Todd McCullough made a beautiful interception last weekend when a Tech quarterback tried to go over his head for a receiver that was cutting across the field. McCullough, Earl Everett, and Brandon Siler teamed up for eleven tackles, an interception, a quarterback hurry, and a pass broken up.
#44 Marcus Thomas 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Jacksonville
#93 Steven Harris 6-4 281 Jr. 2L Miami
#20 Joe Cohen 6-2 275 Jr. 2L Melbourne
#98 Clint McMillan 6-1 282 So. 1L Oviedo
#95 Ray McDonald 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Belle Glade
#57 Jeremy Mincey 6-4 265 Sr. 1L Statesboro, Ga
#91 Derrick Harvey 6-4 260 Fr. Sq Greenbelt, Md.
#40 Brandon Siler 6-2 239 So. 1L Orlando
#30 Earl Everett 6-2 231 Jr. 2L Webster
#47 Todd McCullough 6-5 233 Sr. 3L Jacksonville
#13 Brian Crum 6-3 237 Jr. 1L Woodbine, Ga.
#55 Jon Demps 6-4 219 Fr. HS Pensacola
#42 Billy Latsko 5-10 230 Jr. 2L Gainesville
Analysis: The advantage for Tennessee is returning four of five starters. These guys aren’t going to be intimidated coming into “The Swamp”. That doesn’t mean the crowd won’t make life unbearable for them though. There are advantages for Florida as well. Coach Greg Mattison, serving as defensive line coach at Notre Dame last year, led a unit that played very well against them. Furthermore, the Gators are a much more assertive group than under Ron Zook.
Depth is a concern for Tennessee. The Vols can’t afford to have problems with cramping, ankles, or knees. I would expect the Vols to take a few shots at cornerback Vernell Brown. They’ll want to test the undersized Gator versus a taller, athletic receiver.
Florida has to play with ultimate intensity. They can’t let the Vols control the line of scrimmage, a Fulmer trademark. I would expect the Gators to send a message via the blitz early and serve notice. If they can get some pressure on the Tennessee offensive line and Clausen, Florida could help set the tone.
SLIGHT EDGE: Tennessee
Tennessee Skills Positions vs Florida secondary
The Volunteers have their most experienced and talented group of receivers in several years. Each of their top four receivers average 6-2, and they have good speed. The top returning receiver from last season is junior Jayson Swain. He hauled in four receptions against the Blazers for 46 yards. He caught two passes for 24 yards and a score last year against the Gators.
Sophomore Robert Meachem caught two passes for 35 passes. He is probably the Vols most heralded wide receiver. He didn’t catch a pass against the Gators last season, and really only started to emerge toward the end of the season. Junior C.J. Fayton caught five passes for 97 yards and a score against UAB two weeks ago. He didn’t have a catch against the Gators last year.
Senior Chris Hannon caught three passes for 31 yards and a touchdown. Hannon torched the Gators secondary last season for eight receptions for 89 yards.
Quarterback Rick Clausen will be making his first start against the Gators. In fact, he did not play until the ninth game of the year in 2004. Clausen completed 17 of 24 for 217 yards and a touchdown against UAB. He was only hurried twice by the Blazer defense.
Fellow quarterback Erik Ainge drove the Vols to a game winning touchdown pass against the Gators last season. His three touchdown passes against the Gators tied a season high by an opponent. Florida’s secondary is now an aggressive one that he probably won’t recognize.
Running back Gerald Riggs Jr. ran for 63 yards against Florida last season. He had 23 carries for 110 yards against UAB, with a long run on 15 yards. Fullback Cory Anderson had only one carry, but the Vols will throw to him.
By the way…The largest crowd in Tennessee history was set a year ago when 109,061 attended last season’s 30-28 win over Florida.
Injuries: None noted
#16 Rick Clausen 6-3 210 Sr. 1L Thousand Oaks, Ca.
#10 Erik Ainge 6-6 212 So. 1L Hillsboro, Ore
#45 Cory Anderson 6-3 275 Jr. 2L Knoxville
#21 Gerald Riggs Jr. 6-0 217 So. 3L Chattnooga
#28 Chris Brown 6-3 239 So. 1L Destrehan, La.
#17 C.J. Fayton 6-2 205 Jr. 3L Virginia Beach, Va.
#13 Chris Hannon 6-4 200 Sr. 3L Sarasota
#3 Robert Meachem 6-3 218 So. 1L Tulsa, Ok
#1 Jayson Swain 6-1 218 Jr. 2L Huntsville, Ala.
The Gators reserves Reggie Lewis, Reggie Nelson, and Tony Joiner played an even greater role last Saturday, and each of them performed very well. There guys can play in the nickel and dime or sub for starters without a big dropoff. When was the last time that could be said of a Florida defense?
Dee Webb dropped another certain interception, but found the handle later for his first pick of the season. Vernell Brown also had an interception. Wyoming and Louisiana Tech tried to pick on the 5-7 Brown, to no real avail. You can bet the Vols will try to exploit the size differential Saturday night.
Each of the Florida safeties played well. Kyle Jackson was all over the field, just as was much of last year. Jackson picked off a pass and teamed with Herring and Joiner to keep the Louisiana Tech passing game under wraps.
#15 Dee Webb 5-11 190 Jr. 3L Jacksonville
#16 Vernell Brown 5-8 165 Sr. 2L Gainesville
#22 Reggie Lewis 5-10 195 Jr. 2L Jacksonville
#32 Reggie Nelson 6-1 175 So. TR Melbourne
#4 Avery Atkins 5-11 189 Fr. HS Daytona Beach
#46 Jarvis Herring 5-11 205 Sr. 3L Live Oak
#3 Kyle Jackson 6-1 200 So. 1L Jacksonville
#19 Tony Joiner 5-11 200 So. 1L Haines City
#49 Terrance Holmes 5-11 202 Jr. 2L Glassboro, NJ
Analysis: With only one game under their belts, it’s hard to imagine that timing isn’t an issue in the Tennessee passing game. Noise and talent can be a lethal mix for a club that still needs some to get their timing down in a game situation. There’s an old adage that states-Practice makes perfect, but there’s nothing like experience to make for a better football player. Florida has to be able to create turnovers and take advantage of them.
I would expect the Vols to come out much as they did against UAB and utilize the ground game with Riggs, short to intermediate passes to the wide receivers, and an occasional pass to fullback Cory Anderson. They’ll have some success, they’re far too good not to, but Florida should temper that under Mattison and Strong.
The Gators have been licking their chops for this one since last year. They’re eager to prove that they can play an aggressive style of defense in coverage, and not just lay back. This is a much better Florida group then last year and they get a…
SLIGHT EDGE: Florida
Tennessee Defense vs Florida offense
The irresistible force meets the immovable object. You’d be hard pressed to find an aspect of the Tennessee/Florida matchup that isn’t intriguing. That is especially true when the Florida offense takes to the field against the Tennessee defense. Grizzled Florida linemen Mike Degory, Randy Hand, and Lance Butler will attempt to outmuscle talented Tennessee front seven members Jesse Mahelona, Parys Haralson, and Kevin Simon.
“That's their strength against what should be our strength,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “It's not there yet, but it's coming. We have four seniors, and their (Tennessee) defensive line is without question marks. They're big and fast, and they're experienced. They are a better D-line than they were last year. If you watch the film last year and you watch them this year, they're noticeably quicker, stronger, and you can tell they're more experienced. If you want to win this game, you have to block those guys”
Florida offensive line vs Tennessee defensive front
Florida Offense: Spread
Tennessee Defense: 4-3
Last season the Gators scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions against Tennessee. The drive that stalled was due to a Chris Leak interception on the seventh play of the possession. The second adjustments and focus were not present. Florida was forced to punt on three of their five second half possessions.
Focus and perseverance has been a big part of the Meyer handbook since his arrival on campus. The Gators scored on three of their five second half possession against Wyoming and three of their first four possessions (second half) against Louisiana Tech. He couldn’t have been pleased with either. Meyer’s introductory comments seem to bear that out.
Center Mike Degory picked up a Champions club invite after last weekend’s victory over Louisiana Tech. An Victory over Tennessee will give him a leg up on a potential invite to Atlanta. Degory has been Florida’s leader for two years now. There is no question that he’ll have a few words for the unit and team about pride and getting things done.
Jim Tartt and Drew Miller both played with the first unit last weekend against Tech. Both are very strong, very young, and figure to start for the Gators for a long time. Tartt has the more aggressive reputation. They will have to team with Tavares Washington and Degory to push the Tennessee middle.
Tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler will have their hands full as well. Haralson and Hall are outstanding. The duo combined for three tackles and a quarterback hurry. They seemingly should have something to prove.
#68 Mike Degory 6-6 304 Sr. 3L Melbourne
#79 Steve Rissler 6-3 310 Jr. 2L Sarasota
#67 Drew Miller 6-5 310 So. 1L Sarasota
#76 Tavares Washington 6-4 320 Sr. Sq Greenville, MS
#63 Jim Tartt 6-3 315 Fr. Sq. Sopchoppy
#79 Steve Rissler 6-3 310 Jr. 2L Sarasota
#72 Lance Butler 6-7 315 Sr. 2L Lexington, NC
#74 Randy Hand 6-6 310 Sr. 3L Ft. Myers
#77 Jason Watkins 6-6 300 Fr. Sq. Lake Gibson
#75 Phil Trautwein 6-6 310 So. 1L Voorhees, NJ
By the way…Eighteen players will represent the media’s All-SEC selections when the Gators and Vols take the field Saturday night.
The Gators will face the toughest defensive front of the season this weekend. The Vols return five of the seven starters from last year’s Florida game. Only right end Jason Hall and linebacker Omar Gaither didn’t start for Tennessee last season.
Defensive tackle Justin Harrell continues to pick up the hardware. He was named All-SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week after his performance against UAB two weeks ago. Harrell was also named MVP in the Cotton Bowl after Tennessee’s 38-7 victory over Texas A&M. Tackle Jesse Mahelona recorded two tackles for loss and a sack last year. He has the Vols only sack of the year and is the only Tennessee defensive lineman with a tackle for loss.
Weak side linebacker Kevin Burnett proved to be a thorn in the Gators side last season recording 16 tackles. He has since moved on and is being replaced Jason Mitchell, who moved over from strong side linebacker.
Middle linebacker Kevin Simon injured his knee in the Florida game last season. It was the second time Simon has seriously injured his knee, with the other being in 2002. He was an All-SEC performer in 2003. It will be interesting to see how assertive Simon is against the Gators. Strong side linebacker Omar Gaither is second on the team in tackles. He recorded four tackles last season.
Injuries: None reported
#92 Justin Harrell 6-4 306 Jr. 2L Martin, Tn.
#55 Jesse Mahelona 6-2 297 Sr. 1L Kailua-Kona, Hi
#98 Parys Haralson 6-2 248 Sr. 2L Baton Rouge, La.
#94 Jason Hall 6-3 260 Sr. 3L Marietta, Ga.
#2 Kevin Simon (M) 5-11 234 Sr. 2L Walnut Creek, Ca.
#44 Omar Gaither (S) 6-2 230 Sr. 3L Charlotte, NC
#35 Jason Mitchell (W) 6-1 227 Sr. 3L Abbeville, La.
Analysis: The battle in the trenches is not just an overblown cliché. I don’t see the Florida interior linemen wearing out Mahelona, Harrell, and Simon. Can they wear them down a little though? That will be a battle that takes an entire game and the discipline that Meyer and his staff have tried to impress upon them. Hand and Butler have to keep Haralson and Hall away in pass protection.
Much like the Gators, the Vols demand a lot from their linebackers. The Gators will try to get a mismatch with Mitchell and Gaither matched where they wouldn’t want to be. We’ll find out just how good they are in coverage and on the blitz.
The Gators had to create a running game after failing to open holes in the season opener. This is no Louisiana Tech. This is the real test. Obviously, the vanilla will be extracted from the offensive game plan and the Florida offensive line will need to knock Tennessee backwards. Until then…
SLIGHT EDGE: Tennessee
Florida Skills Positions vs Tennessee secondary
Leak had an outstanding game in Knoxville last year with a 22 for 31 performance. He threw three touchdowns and one interception. The junior also completed 39 of 56 for 539 yards and five touchdowns. Leak has not thrown an interception to date.
The Florida running game emerged with DeShawn Wynn and Markus Manson.These two backs are averaging over six yards per carry. Wynn caught a 24 yard touchdown pass and used his power game to pick up a 101 yard performance. Manson demonstrated tremendous speed to get through the offensive line.
Florida’s top three receivers, Chad Jackson, Dallas Baker, and Andre Caldwell average 16 receptions and 236 yards per game. Jackson is the only Florida receiver to score a touchdown this season. Tight end Tate Casey has caught one ball, but dropped a certain touchdown reception last week.
#12 Chris Leak 6-0 210 Jr. 2L Charlotte, NC
#4 Josh Portis 6-4 210 Fr. HS Woodland Hills, Ca.
#21 DeShawn Wynn 5-11 230 Jr. 2L Cincinnati, Oh.
#2 Markus Manson 6-0 210 HS Sq Tuscaloosa, Ala.
#8 Chad Jackson 6-1 205 Jr. 2L Hoover, AL
#5 Andre Caldwell 6-1 200 Jr. 2L Tampa
#81 Dallas Baker 6-3 204 Jr. 2L New Smyrna Beach
#6 Jemalle Cornelius 5-11 190 Jr. 2L Fort Meade
#17 Gavin Dickey 5-11 205 Jr. 1L Tallahassee
#3 Kenneth Tookes 6-2 209 Jr. 1L Jacksonville
Cornerback Jason Allen was credited with 14 tackles, including one interception, one-half tackle for loss, and one-half sack in last year’s game against Florida. He leads the Volunteers in tackles with 14. Roshaun Fellows started nine games for the Vols last season. He had three interceptions in ’04.
Safety Jonathan Hefney secured seven tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and one-half sack last season. He started 12 starts at cornerback, but had only one interception. Stewart didn’t play last season as he was rehabilitating a knee injury sustained in the spring.
#18 Jason Allen 6-2 202 Sr. 2L New Orleans, La.
#36 Roshaun Fellows 6-0 184 So. 1L Hattiesburg, Ms.
#33 Jonathan Hefney (F) 5-10 174 So. 2L West Monroe, La.
#24 Antwan Stewart (S) 6-0 193 Jr. 3L Shreveport, La.
Analysis: UAB quarterback Darrell Hackney completed 27 of 38 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown. The Vols only interception was made by defensive end Justin Harrell. There is no question Tennessee is a very talented secondary. But, they haven’t faced a group of receivers like Florida.
Pick: The Gators defensive line and secondary aggressively seek some much needed respect from the Rocky Toppers. Offensively, the vanilla is extracted from the Florida game plan. Florida goes to 1-0 in the SEC East.