The Vols beat the Gators 34-32 last December by getting 226 rushing yards from Travis Stephens. That's one reason I look for the Big Orange to rely on the ground game in Saturday's rematch. Another reason is Florida's difficulties stopping the run this season. The Gators are alllowing an average of 211.3 rushing yards per game. By comparison, UT allows just 71.5 rypg.
''When I was at Florida before (as defensive coordinator) I always felt like the team that could stop the run would have the best opportunity to win,'' Gator head man Ron Zook said this week. ''Obviously, right now our defense is taking a little heat because we haven't stopped the run the way we need to stop it.''
Armed with this knowledge, Zook's crew will come out massed to stop the running game on Saturday. Tennessee will come out just as determined to establish the running game. But the Vols will be flexible enough to adjust if circumstances warrant it.
''It depends on how they approach us,'' Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''If they pack a bunch of folks in there, we'll be a little hard-headed (about running the ball) but we're not going to be stupid.''
In other words, Tennessee will launch 40-50 passes if that's what it takes to prevail.
''We're going to try and throw the ball around, do what we need to do,'' Fulmer said. ''We worked really hard the first two games (on throwing the ball) ... to get those young receivers ready. Hopefully, this will be a game where we can put it together. As we usually do, we'll try to take what the defense gives us.''
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders believes reliance on the running game enabled UT to split the last four meetings with Florida, after the Gators had won five meetings in a row from 1993-97. In 1998, for instance, Tennessee beat Florida 20-17 despite completing just 7 of 20 pass attempts for a measley 64 yards.
''We quit trying to go out and match them pass for pass. That was a big key,'' Sanders said. ''We started that philosophy in '98.... Tee (Martin) was still a really young quarterback and we were still trying to find ourselves in the passing game at that point. Had we gone in and tried to throw it 40 or 50 times that year, we wouldn't have had the same result.''
Tennessee continued relying heavily on its running game against Florida in 1999, 2000 and 2001. The support of a rock-solid defense made the decision a sound one.
''Our defense has played better against them (since '97), kept the score manageable to where we could run the ball and be hard-headed a little bit,'' Sanders noted. ''For several years it seemed like we were playing catch-up from the get-go and had to throw it to try and catch up.''
I don't look for Tennessee to play catch-up Saturday. I see the Vols jumping to an early lead and avenging the fluke loss Florida hung on them when the Gators last visited Knoxville in 2000.
It's payback time in Tennessee.