Change the channel

Most football players love seeing themselves featured on ESPN. Not the Tennessee Vols ... at least not during Florida week.

The reason is Brandon James. The 5-7, 185-pound Gator speedster returned a first-quarter punt 83 yards for a touchdown against the Vols in the 2007 game at Gainesville. He returned the opening kickoff 52 yards to set up a short-field touchdown in the 2008 game at Knoxville, then returned a punt 78 yards for a TD that put Florida up 17-0 later in the first quarter.

Given what he has done to UT the past two years, it isn't surprising that James' highlight clips vs. the Vols show up on ESPN every time the network previews this Saturday's UT-UF matchup in The Swamp.

Noting that James is "a great kick returner; he's done very well against us in the past," Vol kicker Daniel Lincoln added: "We hate being on ESPN, being on his highlight reel and him returning touchdowns against us.... Every time they talk about Brandon it's on there, so those images are there in your mind."

Tennessee reportedly plans to punt the ball out of bounds this weekend to ensure that Brandon doesn't notch his third punt-return TD at the Vols' expense in the past three years. The Vols still must contend with him on kickoff returns, however. They reportedly have a plan in place.

"I know we've got some things scheme-wise that we've got full confidence in to counter what his skills are," Lincoln said.

Unfortunately for Tennessee, you don't stop Brandon James with schemes. You stop him with 11 guys staying in their lanes, converging on him and making sure tackles. The Vols know first-hand that anything less can be disastrous.

"There definitely will be an emphasis on that because Brandon James is a really good punt returner and kick returner," Vol junior Chris Walker said. "We have to be very conscious of running down there full-speed, getting people around him to make him uncomfortable."

Junior Eric Berry believes Tennessee can contain James. He bases this conviction on the time the Vols have devoted to special-teams drills in practice.

"The good thing is, that's been the emphasis since camp - not giving up punt returns," Berry said. "Special teams is a big part of our whole program right now. You can look out there and see a number of starters on kickoff and punt coverage. That's been a big emphasis."

No wonder. Big plays on special teams have proved crucial in recent Vol-Gator matchups. Here's a recap:

2003: James Wilhoit kicked a career-best 51-yard field goal that provided a 10-3 third-quarter lead and spurred Tennessee to a 24-10 victory at Gainesville.

2004: Wilhoit missed a potential game-tying PAT with three minutes left but atoned by nailing a game-winning 50-yard field goal with six seconds left to give Tennessee a 30-28 win in Knoxville.

2005: A fumbled punt by Jonathan Hefney gave Florida a third-quarter field goal and a 10-7 lead. A fake punt/incomplete pass by Britton Colquitt moments later gave the Gators another field goal and a 13-7 lead. An eight-yard punt by Colquitt set up yet another Florida field goal as the Gators won 16-7 in Gainesville.

2007: Brandon James returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown to give Florida a quick 7-0 lead en route to a 59-20 romp in Gainesville.

2008: James returned the opening kickoff 52 yards to set up a short-field touchdown and a 7-0 Gator lead. James ran back a punt 78 yards for a touchdown moments later, padding the lead to 17-0.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories