Payback's a Meyer

The problem with being bold in December is when the bill comes due in September.

After tossing some highly publicized barbs at the SEC's premier program last winter, Lane Kiffin finds his bill coming due Saturday at The Swamp.

Tennessee's first-year head man may be on the verge of discovering in 2009 what Georgia's Mark Richt learned in 2008: Angering Florida's Urban Meyer can bring unpleasant consequences.

You know the story: Richt told his Bulldogs to storm the field after their first touchdown in the 2007 Florida game. The manufactured enthusiasm motivated the Dawgs to a 42-30 win but REALLY annoyed Meyer. He avenged himself last fall by running up the score in a 49-10 beat-down of Georgia. Instead of having his quarterback kneel to kill the clock, he had him running plays. Instead of letting the final minute race by, he called timeouts to prolong Richt's agony.

Many observers figure the same kind of payback awaits Kiffin this Saturday at The Swamp. After all, the Vol coach got on Meyer's bad side by joking about "singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida this year," flipping two Florida commitments last February (and bragging about it), then accusing Meyer of an NCAA recruiting violation.

At the time, seeing their coach stand up to the neighborhood bully inspired Tennessee's players.

"I was excited," senior linebacker Rico McCoy recalled. "He was a new leader to the program, and you want your new captain to be confident, to be a strong-minded person. I was excited. I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm in. I'm in. Let's go, let's practice and maybe we'll get that done.' I was excited, and the rest of the team was, as well."

Kiffin's bravado clearly roused his players' enthusiasm. In the process, however, he appears to have roused Urban Meyer's ire. If Tennessee's players are on the verge of feeling Meyer's wrath this Saturday in Gainesville, however, they don't seem overly concerned.

"I'm not worried about it," McCoy said. "I know my team's going to be ready to play. I'm confident. I hear this stuff about them not taking knees and taking timeouts. If we leave ourselves in that situation (to be humiliated), go ahead and do it. If you can do it, do it. But we're ready to play ball. We're going to fight until that last second is off the clock."

There is no doubt that Kiffin's brash comments - misguided or not - helped restore his players' confidence. All-America safety Eric Berry thinks that's a good thing.

"He did say some things that were probably out of line for a lot of people but from our standpoint we felt like he had our backs," Berry said. "He was coming in and saying all of these positive things about us. A lot of people think it was in a negative way but we felt like he had our backs and that made us work that much harder for him."

Kiffin's bravado clearly rejuvenated Tennessee players and fans who were wallowing in misery on the heels of a 5-7 season in 2008. It also ensured that Florida players and fans will be mad, motivated and merciless this Saturday at The Swamp.

"I'm sure they're going to be pretty pumped about it," said Vol kicker Daniel Lincoln, a native Floridian from Ocala. "That's all I heard about when I went home in May and when I went home for the Fourth."

Junior defensive end Chris Walker conceded that the venom Tennessee encounters at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is "going to be worse than it's ever been down there," adding: "They know a lot of the things that's been said and they know we're coming in trying to ruin something they have going on. It's going to be really hostile, like always, and we're going to have to be on our A-game."

Berry, however, believes the impact of Kiffin's comments on Saturday's game is being overplayed.

"I really don't look at it as him putting a bulls-eye on us," he said. "I think he was just showing the team that he had our backs. Wherever we played or whatever we had to face, he was going to ride with us to the end."

Regardless, some Florida players were so upset by Kiffin's offseason antics that they displayed Power-T posters in their locker room to serve as a constant reminder. One Gator even went on record calling the Vol coach a "bozo."

Berry couldn't care less.

"It didn't affect Coach Kiffin," he said, "so I feel like it shouldn't affect us."

Kiffin certainly seems unaffected by the hoopla surrounded his offseason digs at Florida. He suggests that the Gators need no prodding to be pumped up about the Tennessee rivalry.

"I don't know how it could be any more intense," he said. "You have a big-time rivalry with two teams. Both teams come to play but Florida obviously has dominated lately with four (wins) in a row. Urban has never lost to Tennessee, and they've won by 63 points over the last two years combined.

"There's been motivation over there, and I don't think I motivated them. I wasn't here yet."

Still, Kiffin is aware that Meyer does not take kindly to having his nose tweaked. As a result, the Florida coach will not take his foot off the accelerator Saturday afternoon.

When asked about the fact Tennessee's defense limited Florida to a season-low 243 yards last fall, Kiffin noted that the Vol offense was "struggling so much at the time" that the Gators were "pretty conservative" in their play-calling.

Flashing the slightest hint of a smug grin, Kiffin added: "I would not anticipate them doing that this Saturday."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories