KNOXVILLE — If Tennessee is going to flip the script in its annual September rivalry game with Florida, there's perhaps no better place to start than special teams.
The Gators have owned the third phase of the game during their current seven-game winning streak, but the Volunteers' return units hope to change that when the two ranked teams meet Saturday night in Knoxville.
Cordarrelle Patterson and Devrin Young broke long returns on a kickoff and a punt, respectively, in Tennessee's win against Georgia State last week, but it's always a difficult challenge when Florida is on the other sideline.
"We obviously have got some weapons back there, and we work hard on the return game," Tennessee special teams coordinator Charlie Coiner said after Wednesday's practice. "Both of those two could have maybe gone a little farther. We tell guys all the time, 'Get C.P. started; get Devrin started.'"
Every Florida-Tennessee game appears to hinge on a key special-teams play. An incomplete pass by punter Britton Colquitt on a fourth-down gamble led to Florida's go-ahead score in the streak-starting win in 2005. Brandon James tormented the Vols on punt returns for three seasons.
A successful fake-punt call swung the momentum in a tie game in Florida's 31-17 win in Knoxville in 2010, but the Vols believe Patterson and Young have the ability to make something happen in Tennessee's favor.
"If you can get them started, then they make special things happen," Coiner said. "What's hard is when you don't give a guy a chance to even get going and he's got people in his face right away. That's what we preach around here."
While Florida has a sure thing in kicker Caleb Sturgis, Tennessee is counting on walk-on Derrick Brodus this week for the first time. The junior has made just two field goals in his career, the longest the 25-yarder he booted last week.
Coiner said the "constant evaluation" of Brodus and former starter Michael Palardy led to the decision to make the switch.
"You don't ever want to do that," he said. "You don't ever want to make a change during the season unless you have to and unless you feel like it's the right thing to do. We just felt like it was the right thing to do right now.
"Once again, it's a constant evaluation process."
Both Coiner and head coach Derek Dooley said Brodus has been accurate this week, though Tennessee goes into the game knowing long field-goal tries might be out of the question.
"How would you be if you were him?" Coiner asked rhetorically. "He's excited. You have to have a quiet confidence about yourself. I walk in a room, and half the time I don't even know he's there and he's been there for 10 or 15 minutes.
"I used to work with a coach who used to talk about guys [who] were quietly getting better. That's what he does. He's not making a big ruckus or anything, but he's better today than he was yesterday, and he'll keep on improving."
Tennessee will host an impressive group of senior and junior football prospects on unofficial visits for Saturday's game, but most of the attention will be on two tailbacks expected to be on official visits: Derrick Henry from Yulee, Fla., and Derrick Green from Richmond, Va.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Henry, a five-star prospect according to 247Sports, is down to Alabama and Tennessee. The 6-foot, 220-pound Green is Rivals' top-rated running back.
Two committed players, four-star safety Kameron Miles (Mesquite, Tex.) and three-star linebacker Corey Vereen (Winter Garden, Fla.), also will make their official visits this weekend.
It's also a big weekend for the Vols' hoops program as coach Cuonzo Martin hosts two in-state players who are top targets. Dyersburg shooting guard Robert Hubbs long has been one of Martin's top two priorities, and the Vols are battling Duke and other big-name programs for the five-star prospect. Johnathan Williams III is a four-star power forward from Southwind High School in Memphis who recently has taken official visits to Missouri and Georgetown.
Nothing from Thursday's morning practice changed the expectation that linebackers Herman Lathers (shoulder) and Curt Maggitt (turf toe) will play against Florida, and Dooley even called them "probable" during an interview with a Nashville radio station Wednesday.
Complete with five trailer trucks, ESPN began building its set for "College GameDay" on Thursday in Circle Park on Tennessee's campus. The show telecasts live Saturday morning from 9 to noon, but the ESPN crew will air some live shots today. Fans will be allowed to enter the viewing area beginning at 7 a.m.
Saturday night's game sold out Monday afternoon, and it was Tennessee's first sellout since last season's Georgia game.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...