Vols begin Florida week

Vols begin Florida week

September 12th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Coach Derek Dooley, right, congratulates Justin Hunter (11) after his 33-yard touchdown.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - The second test was harder than the first, but now the challenge for the University of Tennessee football team becomes even more difficult.

After dispatching Montana and Cincinnati, the Volunteers open up Southeastern Conference play on Saturday with a trip to Gainesville to play 18th-ranked Florida (2-0).

"We hadn't won against these guys in a while," said Dooley, noting UT's six-game losing streak in the series with the Gators. "They probably have the most talented defensive line in the country. Two big playmakers on offense. I would say probably the best special teams in the league as far as generating plays for them. They've been doing it for a long time.

"It's going to be a great challenge for our team. We'll find out more about who we are this week. Let's go play."

UT hasn't beaten Florida since James Wilhoit's 50-yard game-winning field goal in the final seconds gave the Vols a win in 2004 at Knoxville. Former Florida coach Urban Meyer went 6-0 against UT, and Will Muschamp, who coached will Dooley under Nick Saban at LSU and with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, is the Gators' new coach.

Florida won 31-17 last year in Knoxville.

"I think it's only relevant if the team makes it relevant," Dooley said of the streak. "I've said it all along, you can't be held hostage to the past. We played last year and we had a good game going and they whipped us in the fourth quarter and we had a couple of turnovers at a bad time. We got a lot of different guys that didn't play in that game playing now.

"The bulk of our team, this is the first time they're starting against Florida and guess what, they've got a lot of new guys too. That stuff doesn't matter unless you make it matter. If you make it matter, it matters."

As big of a test as it is for the Vols, Dooley is quick to declare that it won't make or break UT's season win or lose.

"It's the third game, it's the first SEC game and we could win down there and then go get shellacked the next six weeks in a row or we could lose down there and we go play great six weeks in a row," Dooley said. "I'm not like that. I don't believe in 'If we win this, we're going to get hot and take off,' or 'If we lose, the season's over.' That has no place in my coaching.

"It's the next game, we're going to go play it to win, we're going to do everything we need to do to try to win the game and if we don't we're going to learn from it and try to get better the next week. If we do, we see what we didn't do well, why we won and then try to duplicate it the next week. If you approach it any differently than that, you're going to be an emotional wreck."

ODDS AND ENDS

Dooley said he expects starting left tackle Dallas Thomas (sprained right knee) to play. Starting defensive end Ben Martin (sprained ankle) is day to day. Freshman return specialist Devrin Young (collarbone) will be X-rayed this week and could be available in the next two games. Ben Bartholomew, who outperformed incumbent starter Channing Fugate and started against Cincinnati, remains the starter at fullback, though both will play.

IN MONDAY'S TIMES FREE PRESS

I'll look at UT's challenge in facing a revamped Florida offense that hasn't shown much in easy wins over Florida Atlantic and UAB. Under new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, the Gators are running more of a pro-style offense than the spread Florida ran under Meyer.

I'll also have a notebook of items, starting on the importance of the running game to UT and this rivalry.

Finally, Dooley talked extensively about Florida's special teams, and I'll take a look at that as well.

Follow Vols beat writer Patrick Brown on Twitter for more continuous updates.