Devil's Advocate Weighs in on Vols vs. Gators

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of point/counterpoint — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart take opposite sides of the field to make their case for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.

SURPRISE! VOLS WHIP GATORS

By: Randy Moore

Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders says calling plays for freshman quarterbacks Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge is a lot like ripping the wrapping paper from a gift on Christmas morning.

''You never know exactly what you've got till you get it open,'' Sanders said. ''A lot of times it's the same with plays. Sometimes you call a play and it's a nice surprise. But sometimes you open it up and it's that third crock pot, and you wish you could take it back.''

That little joke carries an underlying message that will help Tennessee in Saturday night's game with Florida: If Sanders doesn't know what to expect from Schaeffer and Ainge, how can Gator defenders possibly know what to expect?

Obviously, they can't. Whereas Big Orange coaches have had a year to gather information on Florida quarterback Chris Leak, all the Florida coaches know about Schaeffer and Ainge is what they can glean from the Nevada-Las Vegas game film.

Schaeffer's mobility makes him especially unpredictable. Hemmed in on a bootleg in Game 1 vs. UNLV, he shocked the Rebels with a nifty fake and a sharp cutback that left several defenders grasping air. And, as Schaeffer showed several times in preseason scrimmages, he is almost unstoppable on rollouts that feature a pass/run option. If the defensive backs assume he's going to pass, he tucks the ball and cuts upfield. If they come up to stop the scramble, he fires the ball over their heads for big gains.

Ainge, though not as quick as Schaeffer, has a good set of wheels himself. Florida pass rushers who assume he's the same kind of stationary target as predecessor Casey Clausen are in for a rude awakening.

''They're probably not as worried about his mobility, based on what they've seen,'' Sanders said, ''But if you discount it, he'll surprise you.''

It's no secret that the team which gains the most rushing yards has won 12 of the past 14 Vol-Gator games. That favors Tennessee, as well. The addition of 270-pound fullback Cory Anderson has invigorated a Vol ground game that was stagnant in 2002 and 2003. His lead blocks enabled the Vols to average 6 yards per carry in Game 1.

Both teams have inexperienced secondaries, but the Vols have far more big-play threats at wide receiver who are capable of making a DB pay dearly for one false step.

Yet another factor that favors Tennessee is this: The Gators spent last week hammering a hapless Eastern Michigan team in what was little more than a glorified scrimmage. Conversely, the Vols were fine-tuning some problem areas that were exposed by playing a more competitive opponent in Game 1 -- specifically poor positioning and slipshod tackling on defense. The move of Jason Allen to free safety and the insertion of speedsters Jonathan Wade and Jonathan Hefney will solidify a secondary that was erratic in Game 1.

As head coach Phil Fulmer noted this week: ''We learned some things (vs. UNLV) about leverage and about making sure plays are contained and turned back (inside) so the rest of the defense can make plays.''

Another problem Fulmer addressed during the open-date week was ball security. Tennessee gave away the 2002 Florida game because it couldn't deal with inclement weather. The Vols have gone to great lengths this preseason (wet-ball drills, etc.) to ensure that they will not fall victim to foul weather again.

The fact the visiting team has won the last four Florida-Tennessee showdowns has some observers wondering if there's a home field DISADVANTAGE in this series. My response: Ask Ron Zook where he'd rather play this game ... Gainesville or Knoxville.

To recap, Tennessee has the following advantages: The element of surprise because of Schaeffer and Ainge ... a much-improved ground game ... the big-play wideouts to scorch Florida's suspect secondary ... an extra week to tighten some screws on defense ... an added emphasis on wet-ball preparations ... the home field advantage.

It all adds up to this: Tennessee 27, Florida 24.

WHY VOLS ARE AT A LOSS

By: Jeffery Stewart

It pains me to pour over the gory details of Florida's era of dominance in this SEC series. However in this format we're each assigned a side and must argue that side with the zeal of a high-priced attorney defending the rights of an incorrigible criminal.

Draw your own conclusions about that, but after the Gator Gate episode of faxed play books and crooked assistants, who shall go unnamed for fear of incriminating my client, and the NCAA sanctions that made Florida ineligible for the SEC title in 1985, it is probably an appropriate analogy.

At any rate, I won't bore the jury with the tedious details of complex strategy and complicated personnel match-ups. I won't talk about the pros and cons of an open date a mere seven days into a 13-week campaign. And I will only briefly touch on the much discussed matters of momentum and motivation, which are nearly impossible to predict anyway. Instead, I will limit my final summation to what is carved in stone — the record.

It is written that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But that idiom offers little relief to Tennessee when it comes to playing Florida in Knoxville. There's no way the Vols can forget the Gators have won the last two meetings in Knoxville and four of the last five games played at Neyland Stadium. Big Orange fans would never let them forget. Yet history keeps repeating itself in this series.

The last time the Vols won at home was 1998 and that was far from easy, as a team that would go undefeated (13) and win the national championship would need six turnovers, an overtime and a wide left field goal from point blank range to prevail over Florida. Plus, an offense that featured Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry, Shawn Bryson, Travis Stephens, Tee Martin, Cosey Coleman, Chad Clifton, Cedric Wilson and Peerless Price would only score 17 points in 60 minutes of regulation play.

That game also featured good weather while Saturday's game will not. Of course, this series has a history of poor weather and the Vols have only won once against Florida in the rain. That came in 1992 when Phillip Fulmer was an acting head coach, Heath Shuler was a rookie quarterback and Shield Watkins Field was covered with carpet. In subsequent contests played between these teams in varying degrees of torrents, the Gators won in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2002. In case you weren't counting that's five games in a row played in wet conditions that were won by the slippery Gators, and four out of the last five overall Florida has won at Neyland Stadium.

Still like the Vols chances? Read on McDuff.

There's still that true freshman duo at QB that UT hopes is up to the task of taming the Gators in Knoxville — a feat never achieved by Peyton Manning in his four years on the Hill. Ditto for Casey Clausen, who led the Vols to consecutive road victories in the Swamp, but couldn't win even one game in Knoxville over Florida.

Winning last year in Gainesville may be seen as a sign of hope to many Gator haters. But the truth is that UT hasn't won consecutive games over Florida since 1970 and 1971 when Phillip Fulmer was a player. Conversely, during that same 33-year time frame, the Gators have enjoyed winning streaks over the Vols of four in a row (1976-1985), five in a row (1993-1997) and two in row (1999-2000) for a 13-4 advantage in the series since 1971. Many of those games weren't even close as Florida has posted wins of 43-30 in 1984, 35-18 in 1991, 31-0 in 1994, 62-37 in 1995, 33-20 in 1997 and 30-13 in 2002. All the damage wasn't inflicted by Steve Spurrier either, as five different Florida head coaches have contributed to that era of dominance.

Sure, Florida would probably prefer to play this game in the Swamp, but last year the Gators won every contest started by Chris Leak outside the Swamp, including wins at Kentucky, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia (Jacksonville) and South Carolina while he was 1-2 in starts at Gainesville.

This is a game that is less likely to be determined by Xs and Os as it is to be decided by ids and egos. The Vols displayed a strong running game against UNLV, but is this a team that is truly born again hard?

If not, we'll know it on Saturday — come rain or come shine.


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