Playiing Devil's Advocate at The Swamp
Here's how Florida could win by Randy Moore Some football games are won between the ears -- not between the white lines -- and that's the best thing the Florida Gators have going for them in Saturday's game with Tennessee. The Vols know Florida hammered them 30-13 at Neyland Stadium last year. They know the Gators have dominated the series in recent years (eight wins in 10 meetings). And they know The Swamp in Gainesville is one of the toughest places for an opponent to play in all of college football. Florida's players know all of this, too. That means Tennessee enters the game with a negative mindset, while the Gators enter the game brimming with confidence. A bad break early won't concern Florida but it could devastate the Vols. Even Tennessee's staff may be a little out of kilter emotionally heading into this game. Defensive tackle Mondre Dickerson has been quoted saying that Vol coaches seem a little too pumped this week. Keyed-up coaches make for keyed-up players, and that can make for disaster. Here are six more reasons Florida should be favored: 1) Tennessee's secondary is vulnerable. Strong safety Gibril Wilson has an injured ankle. Free safety Rashad Baker has not lived up to his preseason hype. The depth behind them consists of Jason Allen, part time wide receiver Mark Jones and two untested freshmen (Corey Campbell, Jarod Parrish). Cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Antwan Stewart were exploited by Marshall's wideouts 12 days ago. Nickel back Jonathan Wade is out for the year due to a shoulder injury. With Wade sidelined, the plan to bring juco transfer Brandon Johnson along slowly had to be scrapped. He's now penciled in for 40 snaps or so. 2) Florida's Ingle Martin is one of the more mobile quarterbacks Tennessee will face, and Florida does a good job exploiting his running abilities. ''You can count the quarterback as a running back,'' Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis says. ''They make you account for him. They run him on draws, on tackle traps, on counter traps. He's another weapon in the arsenal in terms of the running game.'' Making matters worse, the Vols historically struggle against mobile quarterbacks. Nebraska's Scott Frost gave them fits in the 1999 Orange Bowl. So did Kansas State's Jonathan Beasley in the 2001 Cotton Bowl and Maryland's Scott McBrien in the 2002 Peach Bowl. Florida's Rex Grossman scrambled effectively against UT last season, as well. Not coincidentally, UT lost each of those games by a lopsided score -- 42-17, 35-21, 30-3 and 30-13. 3) The heat and humidity is likely to be oppressive. Those who mindlessly chirp, ''It'll be hot on both sides of the field,'' are forgetting one thing: One team is accustomed to the heat (Florida) and one team isn't (Tennessee). In addition, Florida emptied its bench in blowouts of San Jose State (65-3) and Florida A&M (63-3), so the Gators should be able to substitute more freely to combat the stifling temperatures. 4) Florida is almost unbeatable at ''The Swamp.'' Sure, Tennessee won there two years ago, but doesn't that increase the odds that it won't happen again? 5) Though characterized as ''inexperienced,'' Florida's offense is averaging an NCAA-best 53.7 points per game. Even if you posted those numbers against the Sisters of the Poor, they provide a lot of confidence. And, don't forget, the Gators hung up 33 points on powerhouse Miami. Conversely,Tennessee's offense has moved the ball up and down the field but regularly failed to put points on the scoreboard. 6) Finally, Ed Zaunbrecher's Florida offense is very similar to the one he previously installed at Marshall. If you recall, Marshall's offense shredded Tennessee's defense for three quarters 12 days ago and might've produced a victory if star quarterback Stan Hill hadn't missed the fourth quarter with a leg injury. Vols Can Tame Gators Jeffery Stewart Okay, so the Vols haven't beaten Florida at Gainesville in September since... well actually they've never beaten the Gators on the road in September. They beat Florida in the Swamp Dec. 1, 2001, and won there several times in the month of November during the fifties. But the earliest Tennessee has ever prevailed over Florida in Gainesville was Oct. 2, 1971. So is it the heat or the humility? It could be either, or both. It could be a team not conditioned to win on the road in a hostile environment and brutal weather. It could be a team lacking the confidence needed to vanquish a foe under unfavorable circumstances. Either way, it's now history and that's one more element Tennessee will have to overcome in order to win on Saturday. That's why you have to ask: Will the Vols go into Saturday's game secure in the knowledge they won the last time they played there? Or will they wonder if the results would have been entirely different if the game had been played in September as originally scheduled? For sure the Gators can't lack for confidence after dismantling the Vols last season in Knoxville during a rain storm and under the direction of a rookie head coach. In fact, it says a lot about the modern history of this series that the Gators are apparently drawing more incentive from the loss to Tennessee in 2001 than the Vols are drawing from the loss to Florida in 2002. Florida expects to beat Tennessee while Tennessee is talking about expecting the unexpected. That's the theory being floated and it's one that is in some ways supported by Mondre Dickerson who complained in the press about Tennessee's coaches being "uptight", "paranoid" and emphasizing the "small things" during the two weeks of practice leading up to Saturday's showdown. The irony is that Dickerson is essentially saying UT's coaches are trying too hard and he's hardly a leading authority that subject. Suffice it to say, he's never been accused of trying too hard. That's not to say he's wrong about the observation either. In fact, it could be something the players are aware of and talking about. Tennessee has appeared anxious in past games against Florida and they haven't always responded well to early adversity. This background simply confirms what my colleague has already pointed out: Florida vs. Tennessee is as much about winning the psychological war as it is Xs and Os. If the Vols can't win the former, the latter won't really matter. So can the Vols win that war? There's reason for optimism. (1) A lot of people see the Marshall game as an indicator the Vols have problems. I see it as an indicator they have solutions. Place last year's Tennessee team in the same situation and it probably wouldn't have won. Every time a very motivated Marshall team got momentum, Tennessee took it away. No, the Vols didn't dominate that contest, neither did they panic or exhibit signs of losing focus. In the long run, that may say more about this squad than a big win would. (2) Tennessee has to like its advantage at quarterback where senior Casey Clausen brings more years of experience as a starter than Florida's trio of QBs has games. Clausen has played his best ball on the road and seems to thrive under pressure. It doesn't get much more pressure packed than Florida-Tennessee. (3) In addition to what Clausen brings to the table in terms of leadership and experience, he's the same type of pocket passer that gave the Gators fits in the second half of the Miami game. The difference is that Brock Berlin never started a big collegiate game in his life until the Florida contest. (4) Speaking of the Miami game, the points Florida put on the board couldn't offset the second-half collapse in the minds of the Gators. How mentally tough can Florida's players really be in light of surrendering a 23-point lead? Sure Miami is an outstanding squad, but not as good as last year's edition which only scored 26 against a Tennessee defense devastated by injuries. (5) Florida is a team that is relying much more on the run than in the past when Steve Spurrier was calling plays. The Gators have an excellent stable of backs who have the size and skills to give the Vols problems inside. However it's hard to make a living by running against a defense that closes this well and does an quality job of filling run lanes. (6) Although Tennessee appears to be a changed team, it still hasn't won the fans over. Florida is the first opportunity the Vols have to play one of the teams that beat and embarrassed them last year. That's a lot of incentive for a team that is still looking to prove itself. The Vols could be ready to play at one of three or four emotional peaks a team can commonly obtain during a campaign. Florida, on the other hand, may have left its emotional best in the Orange Bowl. (7) Granted playing at high noon in the Swamp on a late summer Saturday isn't an ideal venue to spring an upset. Unquestionably, Tennessee will be tested by conditions, but the Vols have a lot of depth and have worked harder on conditioning than at any time in the recent past. Besides, can Gainesville in September really be that much worse than August in Knoxville? The Vols aren't immune to humidity but they're not exactly strangers to it either.
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