KNOXVILLE - Tennessee's young offense will face a tenacious defense and a hostile environment when the Volunteers visit 16th-ranked Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, but the Vols are entering their toughest challenge feeling confident.
"I think we walked off the field in the Cincinnati game feeling pretty good about who we were in some aspects of our offense and questioning some other things," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said after Wednesday morning's practice. "When you've got young kids, doubt can fly in and out of their heads very quickly, as can confidence. We try to continue to have a little bit of swagger when we're going the things we do well and try to continue to improve the ones we don't.
"I think success helps you have confidence, and we went out and had a little success, and that breeds confidence."
UT had a 400-yard quarterback, two 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher in the 45-23 win against the Bearcats, but Florida's defense and the noisy crowd in the vaunted Swamp will make repeating those numbers more difficult for an untested offense.
Since sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray took over for Matt Simms against South Carolina last October, UT hasn't left the state to play a game. The Vols won at Memphis and Vanderbilt and suffered a controversial loss to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
"We haven't really been truly battle tested on the road against a good team when they're loud and ready to go," coach Derek Dooley said. "This is going to be a good test for our young guys."
The Vols have gone through the usual motions of blaring crowd noise over the speakers on the practice field, but it's not an accurate simulation of what UT will face on Saturday.
"Going on the road with a youthful team with communication and crowd noise is always an issue," Chaney said. "We try to work on it, and it's just difficult to simulate, quite honestly. You crank those speakers probably louder than any place you'll ever stand in your life. Hopefully, it pays off for us, and that's our intentions."
The Vols expect to see Florida use press coverage and have stressed the importance of their receivers winning the battle off the snap. UT has a slight height advantage against the Gators' secondary.
"We feel that they will [play bump-and-run]," receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "I think that's what [Florida coach] Will [Muschamp] has done over the years. It's similar to what Alabama does: they come up, press you, get in your face and try to disrupt your passing game."
The chances that freshman Devrin Young will return punts and/or kicks for the Vols on Saturday appear to be slowly increasing. The Knoxville native returned to contact this week after recovering from a broken collarbone, and UT's coaches have long liked him to fill a role as a return specialist.
"I see a confident, quick [player who] just brings a little bit different element than what we've got right now," special teams coordinator Eric Russell said. "I think he by far fields it better than anybody we've got. He hadn't been hit yet. We'll see where that goes."
Russell added that UT plans to use both Michael Palardy and Matt Darr on punts based on the situation and their performance.
Starting defensive end Ben Martin (sprained ankle) didn't practice again on Wednesday, and Dooley indicated he doesn't know how much the fifth-year senior would play on Saturday. The Vols had been taking it easy with Martin following his consecutive severe Achilles' tendon injuries.
"Ben's struggling," Dooley said. "I knew it was going to be a management issue the whole season. Certainly this was a little bit different. What we were hoping was that if we could get 15 or 20 snaps a game, that was kind of our goal, but we didn't last week and I'm not sure if we're going to this week."
Starting left tackle Dallas Thomas "got a lot work in" during Wednesday's practice, according to offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, and remains on pace to play on Saturday after spraining his right knee against Cincinnati ... freshman linebacker Curt Maggitt and junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner were in "precautionary" red non-contact jerseys on Wednesday ... senior Art Evans has received some first-team work at cornerback in of freshman Justin Coleman's place in some walk-through periods during the open part of practice this week.