Poise vs. poison

Casey Clausen did it twice but Peyton Manning failed twice. Andy Kelly, Heath Shuler, Tee Martin, Rick Clausen, Erik Ainge and Jonathan Crompton failed once each.

Clearly, quarterbacking Tennessee to a victory at The Swamp in Gainesville is no simple task. Only one Vol has done so since the Big Orange began playing Florida on an annual basis in 1990, and Casey Clausen notched one of those victories when the Gators were struggling under Ron Zook.

Why is Ben Hill Griffin such a tough place for an opponent to win? In a word ... atmosphere. The decibel and hostility levels at Florida Field are unmatched. Gator fans may be the loudest and crudest in college football, routinely hurling objects and insults at opposing players. Showing poise in the face of such behavior requires considerable poise, especially for a visiting quarterback.

That raises the question: How will mild-mannered Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray handle the hostility and noise at The Swamp this Saturday?

"I don't know; I have no idea," Vol head man Derek Dooley admitted. "He could go out there and have a spring game (5-for-30 passing) or he could go out there and light it up.

"I know this: It's not all on Tyler. We've got to block those four guys up front, we've got to handle all the blitzes and junk they are going to bring us, we've got to get open and we've got to catch the football. But if everybody does those things that doesn't guarantee it, either. Tyler's got to prepare and be ready."

If Bray isn't ready for the decibel level and hostility awaiting him in The Swamp, Tennessee is doomed to failure. The noise is so deafening that merely calling a play - let alone executing it - is a challenge.

"Tyler's been looking real good - calm, cool and collected," senior tailback Tauren Poole said. "We need him to continue to be like that because when he plays like that he plays great. If I could give him any advice - which I will throughout the week - it would be 'Stay cool. Stay calm. We'll protect you.'"

Having played in Tennessee's 13-23 loss at Gainesville in 2009, Poole readily concedes that decibel level at The Swamp is off the charts.

"I don't think I've ever played anywhere as noisy," he said. "They do a great job of keeping that stadium loud. We've got to be locked in to our assignments because once you listen to all of that it's going to mess you up. We're going to need everyone focused 100 percent. There can't be anything less or we're going to be in for a rude awakening."

Poole has warned younger Vols about the perils of The Swamp. The message is pretty direct.

"Just keep your composure, try to stay as calm as possible," he said. "The fans aren't nice at Florida and the atmosphere is going to be crazy, so keep your calm, keep a level head and stay focused on what we're going to do."

Senior linebacker Austin Johnson, who also played in the 2009 game at The Swamp, agrees that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium's decibel level poses significant problems.

"We kind of simulate it in practice with loud noise (piped in via speakers) and stuff," he said. "When you get there, though, it's going to be a different story. You just have to adjust to it in the moment."

Johnson believes the Vols must quiet the crowd by starting fast, then keep the Gators from making the kind of big plays that can incite their fans.

"If we take it to 'em early and get ahead early, it's going to take the crowd out of the game and put 'em down," he said. "Then we just have to be sure we keep making plays and being consistent. Once that stuff starts getting in your head, that's when it starts breaking down."

Tennessee's youth could be a negative. Because most of the Vols have never played in an environment as hostile as The Swamp, they could become rattled.

Then again, Tennessee's immaturity could be a positive. The Vols' youthful exuberance may help them handle the hostility they're about to face.

"Sometimes I wonder if they even know we're not in the back yard," Dooley said. "Even with a lot of people watching and depending on them, they're just playing, and that's the way it should be."


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