The Florida Gators didn't allow more than 28 points in all of 2006, and yet the Troy Trojans put 31 up on the board this past weekend. And Tennessee is in the same boat. The most the Vols allowed last season was 33 points in a high scoring affair with Georgia, but they gave up 45 to California in the season opener two weeks ago.
Both the Gators and the Vols have the talent on offense to score, but which team stops the other on Saturday?
The Gators only allowed seven first half points to Troy, but came out flat in the third quarter. It's not the kind of defensive effort they can afford to have against Tennessee.
"I was very pleased with the performance in the first half," Urban Meyer said. "When I talk about playing great defense, that is a team concept. The third quarter was very poor defense, but that is team defense."
The Gators defense was burned for nearly 300 yards in the air, still Meyer is pleased with the direction that his young corners are going.
"A week ago they looked like the Bad News Bears out there, but now I am really proud of them," Meyer said. "Joe Haden is really coming along."
Wondy Pierre-Louis may have started for the last time, though, with Markihe Anderson's right knee finally healing after a mild sprain that sidelined him during week one. Anderson played a few snaps against the Trojans, but was a non-factor.
One thing Meyer is looking for the entire defense to do is force more turnovers. After zero takeaways against Western Kentucky, freshman Justin Trattou picked off a pass on Saturday and Dustin Doe scooped up a fumble.
"Dustin Doe is one of the most improved players right now on the team," Meyer said. "Earl Everett played that position last year and set the standard, and Doe is trying to live up to that. It was one of the first times I saw the demeanor that we expect at that position."
"I think we are coming along great," Doe said. "We are taking our mistakes and we're learning from them. As long as we learn from our mistakes and build upon them I think we will continue to grow."
So as the defense continues to learn and grow, the offense looks to become more polished. Last year in the fourth quarter with the Gators trailing the Vols 20-14, Tim Tebow came in and picked up a fourth down conversion. Two plays later, the Gators were in the end zone, taking a 21-20 lead. Gator fans were already well aware of what Tebow was capable of, but after that play, the SEC and a primetime national television audience saw the legend in action.
With how much publicity Tebow has attracted, it's almost surprising that Saturday will be his first SEC career start.
"I'm really excited about it," Tebow said. "It is my first big start, my first conference game. Having some experience by playing in last year's game gives me some confidence going into it."
Tebow won't have one of his go-to receivers in Andre Caldwell who will miss Saturday's game because of an MCL sprain, but he is still surrounded by one of the most talented and deepest receiving corps in the nation.
"I think we've got good people there," Meyer said. "I think that at any given time in a spread offense, if your mind's not right you're not going to be prepared to play."
It may be Tebow's first SEC start, but after being a huge contributor in the Gators' national championship run last season, he's not a player that needs to be educated this week on the Tennessee series.
"For me to sit there and explain to Tim how big this game is he's looking at me like I'm nuts," Meyer said. "He's everything that you want him to be and he knows. That decision to put him in on that fourth down, that put Tim in an elite status. If you want to go look at archives of Florida football, in my opinion that's one of the great plays in the history of this great school. Tim's all set."
"Every week you try to prepare the same way, but when you get to a game like this, there is something different and special about it," Tebow said. "The way you go out there to practice, the intensity, everything raises up another level."
One of Florida's greats
Florida has had plenty of talented wide receivers over the years, but Meyer is already trying to lobby one of his former players onto the list of Gator greats.
"In my opinion Jemalle Cornelius is one of the greatest receivers in Florida history," Meyer said. "He's got a national championship and his degree. He was one of the most accountable guys."
Can't say enough
Brandon James returned one punt on Saturday for 39 yards and averaged more than 40 yards on his three kick returns. James epitomizes the emphasis Meyer puts on special teams.
"He's really good," Meyer said. "Certain players have ‘it' at certain positions, Jarvis Moss as a pass rusher. Some of it's taught and a lot of it's God given. [Brandon's] got that first step. He's got north, south vision."
Like Tebow, James had an impact as a true freshman in the Florida-Tennessee game last season.
"He changed the game against Tennessee a year ago," Meyer said. "He had that 90-yarder. It got called back and then he had another one where the punter tripped him and it changed field position like that."
James is not yet eligible to be listed among the nation's leaders in returns, but if he were, he would rank in the top-5 in both kick and punt returns.
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