Starting right guard Jashon Robertson, starting right tackle Coleman Thomas and starting wide receiver Josh Malone can relate. Each was 8½ at the time. Key backups Jalen Hurd, Cortez McDowell and Emmanuel Moseley also were not yet nine years old when James Wilhoit booted a last-minute field goal to give the 2004 Vols a 30-28 win.
As Tennessee fans are acutely aware, it has been 10 years since that dramatic Vol victory, with Florida sweeping all nine subsequent meetings. Many Big Orange players refer to this as “Hate Week” as they look to end The Streak.
“I think it’s very important,” junior linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt told IT. “You get tired of being so close and knowing what you’re capable of. It’s time for a program win. We earned it, we deserve it. Now it’s time to go out there and claim it.”
Senior quarterback Justin Worley admits that this series has an edge that other Vol rivalries lack.
“You can feel the tension in the air,” he said. “It’s Florida Hate Week. Everyone knows that, and you can tell that.”
Because most of Tennessee’s youthful players are facing Florida for the first or second time they have a limited grasp of the rivalry’s intensity. Ex-Vols have been contacting them all week to fix that.
“I’m getting a lot of stuff on social media from older guys who have Florida hate,” sophomore linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. “It’s like Hate Week. Those guys definitely are pulling for us and want to see us pull out that win.”
Being an in-state guy from Clarksville, Maybin grew up following the Vol-Gator series. He’s well aware of how much ending the Gators’ recent dominance would mean to Big Orange fans.
|CURT MAGGITT (56), A.J. JOHNSON|
“That would definitely be big,” he said. “We’ve been looking for that win for a while, just to get that bad taste out of our mouth. I think we’ll get it this week.”
Asked if he remembered anything about 2004, when Tennessee posted its most recent victory in the series, Maybin smiled sheepishly.
“I was nine,” he said. “I can’t even remember what I was doing in 2004.”
Gallatin native Malone also recognized early in life that the Vol-Gator series tends to get Tennessee fans’ blood boiling.
“I knew it was intense,” he said. “I know the Tennessee fans hate Florida and the Florida fans hate us. It was something you live with growing up in Tennessee.”
As a Hendersonville native, Hurd also learned at a young age just how important the Florida game is to Vol Nation.
“I was definitely aware,” he said. “I watched every single year. Just to have a role in the game and impact it now, it’s going to be awesome.”
When asked if he remembered Tennessee’s 2004 victory, however, Hurd shook his head.
“I’m sure if you pulled it up (on The Internet) I could remember it,” he said, “but not off the top of my head.”
Conversely, Knoxville native Todd Kelly remembers the game vividly. He was inside Neyland Stadium on that fateful evening.
“I was actually attending that game,” he said. “I remember it like it was yesterday … the field goal and everything. I was in the skybox actually, and it was shaking because it was so loud.”
"I know the Tennessee fans hate Florida and the Florida fans hate us. It was something you live with growing up in Tennessee."
Kelly expects a similar decibel level when the Vols and Gators collide this Saturday at noon.
“The atmosphere is going to be awesome, just like it was in 2004,” he said. “I know the fans are going to bring it, and we’re all really excited.”
Taking his cue from Vol head coach Butch Jones, senior linebacker A.J. Johnson is downplaying the importance of ending the Gators’ dominance of the series this weekend.
“I ain’t really worried about the past and that we’ve been losing to ‘em,” he said. “We worry about this week. We’re trying to get focused on this week and doing everything right that we need to do, so we can come out with the win. We don’t worry about the nine-game losing streak. We worry about winning now.”
Ignoring The Streak is easier said than done, of course. Redshirt sophomore safety Brian Randolph readily admits that it’s never far from his thoughts.
“It’s been awhile since we beat ‘em, so that’s definitely in the back of our minds,” he said. “It gives us a little more motivation during the week of preparation.”
Malone probably said it best:
“It will feel great to finally end The Streak and build off of it. That’s all we’re trying to do.”
See what Tennessee's defensive coordinator said about the matchup by clicking play on the InsideTennessee video below:
John Jancek video interview