Death by big play

Speed kills ... as the Florida Gators proved in murdering Tennessee one year ago at The Swamp.

Urban Meyer's team has the kind of speed that can turn a competitive game into a romp in the blink of an eye. That's why Tennessee's greatest challenge in Saturday's rematch at Neyland Stadium will be to try and limit the Gators' big plays.

The Vols failed miserably in this endeavor last fall, which is why they suffered a humbling 59-20 loss. The Gators registered 12 big plays that day – a 28-yard run by Jarred Fayson; Tim Tebow pass completions of 49 and 48 yards to Percy Harvin, of 44 yards to Louis Murphy, of 30 yards to Riley Cooper, of 25 and 20 yards to Cornelius Ingram; a punt return of 83 yards by Brandon James; kickoff returns of 31, 31 and 30 yards by James and a 19-yard fumble return for touchdown by Dustin Doe.

Florida has even more team speed in 2008, which means Tennessee must be even more aware of the Gators' big-play potential.

"I think it's going to be a huge point this week," Vol defensive end Wes Brown said. "They've got a lot of playmakers at Florida. They've got guys that can play all over the field, so it's going to take each guy (Vol) knowing their technique and their man and taking care of their spot.

"We've got to eliminate big plays because they've got playmakers that can make plays on any given play. That's going to be huge for us this week."

Eliminating big plays is impossible against a team as athletically gifted as Florida, and merely limiting the Gators' big plays is a tall order. Just ask Hawaii and Miami, who surrendered a combined 16 plays of 20 yards or more vs. Florida in Games 1 and 2.

Here's a recap of those 16 big plays:

- Runs of 62 yards (Jeff Demps vs. Hawaii), 33 yards (Chris Rainey vs. Hawaii) and 20 yards (Tebow vs. Miami). Demps and Rainey scored TDs.

- Receptions of 48 yards (Murphy vs. Hawaii), 38 yards (Aaron Hernandez vs. Miami), 34 yards (Tate Casey vs. Hawaii), 32 yards (Murphy vs. Miami), 28 yards (Carl Moore vs. Miami), 22 yards (James vs. Miami) and 22 yards (Deonte Thompson vs. Miami). Murphy's catch vs. Hawaii produced a TD.

- Kick returns of 74 yards (James on a punt vs. Hawaii), 34 yards (James on a kickoff return vs. Miami), 31 yards (James on a kickoff return vs. Miami) and 31 yards (James on a punt return vs. Miami). The 74-yarder produced a TD.

- Interception returns of 80 yards (Ahmad Black vs. Hawaii) and 32 yards (Major Wright vs. Hawaii). Both produced TDs.

In case you missed it, NOT ONE of Florida's 16 big plays to date was registered by Percy Harvin. He might be the most dangerous player in college football but he was slowed by ankle problems in Games 1 and 2. After an open date, however, he's reportedly 100 percent healthy for Tennessee.

Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis recalls all too well how Florida big-played Tennessee to death in 2007. He's determined there won't be a repeat performance in '08.

"You go back and learn from experience," he said, adding that last year's big-play woes were "partly us trying to protect some guys that we didn't get enough scrimmage reps. That didn't happen to us this year. Our guys are ready to play."

In addition, Chavis figures his '08 defense is more mature and dependable than the one Florida exploited with alarming ease in '07.

"The biggest difference is youth," he said. "To be a good defense you've got to eliminate the big plays. We've been a lot better at that thus far this year. In order to have success, we're going to have to continue to do that."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories