Mixing facts, suppositions and memories …
Tennessee wasn’t exactly awesome against Virginia. Poll voters who only looked at the score put the Vols in the top 10.
Tennessee wasn’t very good against Austin Peay State University, a gutty group that was still trying at the end. The Vols looked as if they had been preparing for Florida instead of the Governors. Could be. Practices are private.
Joe Milton III may not win the Heisman Trophy. There is no vertical passing game. He’ll have to find a forward gear to scare the Gators. And receivers will have to catch the ball.
Tight end McCallan Castles caught one and Bru McCoy’s block turned it into a touchdown.
Plus-plus: Jaylen Wright and Jabari Smith ran the football as if it mattered. Wright averaged nine yards a carry. He shows patience and vision.
Linebacker Aaron Beasley is headed toward a special season.
“I thought he tackled extremely well. He was violent,” said coach Josh Heupel. “He played really well.”
Tennessee misses Cooper Mays. I doubt that the center will play this week. The SEC is a demanding workplace. Heupel will probably say game-time decision. I’m saying doubtful.
Heupel conceded the offense was out of sync.
“Offensive football, you got to have 11 guys operate at a really high level and do their job. They got to operate as one and we’re capable of being better than we were at that. But I’ve got great trust and belief in these guys for sure.
“We were just not in sync in some critical situations. Third down, we got to be better than we were. We got to be able to sustain drives and go score points.”
Amen, brother, right on.
Confusion in the secondary allowed Austin Peay’s Mike DiLiello to connect with Trey Goodman for a 52-yard uncontested touchdown. I wish that hadn’t happened – 90 yards in six plays.
Despite that and 10 penalties and all the other stuff, Tennessee won, 30-13. Tennessee is 2-0. It is permissible to worry about the passing game.
Joy, joy, the newest alternate uniforms were not a total disaster. The mediocre idea to honor Condredge Holloway with something he never wore and probably wouldn’t generated considerable buzz from those with vested interests.
From the beginning, it was a money grab by Nike and Dr. Danny White on the assumption that loyal Tennessee fans will buy almost anything, even wrong-colored jerseys at $105 plus tax.
Tennessee’s season actually begins Saturday at Florida. The Gators aren’t great but the Vols last won in The Swamp in 2003. Think about that – not since Casey Clausen.
Before that, Peyton lost twice in Gainesville. It wasn’t exactly his fault the year the Vols gave up 62 points. See Leonard Little, Scott Galyon, Terry Fair and Tori Noel about that. Long-ago defensive coordinator John Chavis might provide insight.
Other strange, controversial and delightful things happened in this so-called rivalry. This meeting projects as relatively tame.
Faxgate: Jack Sells, a former Tennessee assistant coach, was caught faxing part of Tennessee’s playbook to Florida defensive coordinator Ron Zook the week of the 1991 game. Florida won.
Wuerffel magic: In 1995, Tennessee had a 30-14 lead late in the second quarter. Florida safety Lawrence Wright walloped Tennessee receiver Joey Kent. The Swamp was suddenly alive. Danny Wuerffel threw six touchdown passes. The Gators poured on 48 unanswered points. They won, 62-37. It was a rout.
Peyton pick: Rarely has the Swamp been louder than on steamy September 20, 1997, when Tony George intercepted Manning’s first-quarter pass and sped 89 yards for a touchdown. The Gators triumphed, 33-20. There is more to this story. Tennessee won the SEC championship that season but Manning’s 0-3 record against the Gators was used against him in Heisman lobbying.
How to spell Citrus: Steve Spurrier was a master irritator. He noticed that even good Tennessee teams would lose to the Gators and get demoted to the Citrus Bowl. The coach said Orlando was the Vols’ winter home. He also noted that you can’t spell Citrus without a U and a T.
Spurrier said Peyton returned to Tennessee for his senior season “so he could be a three-time MVP of the Citrus Bowl.”
Pandemonium reigns: Tennessee frustration with losing to Florida was at a boiling point in 1998. Linebacker Al Wilson responded like a man possessed. He forced three fumbles and the Vols got a dramatic victory, 20-17, in overtime.
Maybe you were there. Cooper Collins missed a tying 32-yard field goal. Tennessee fans flooded the field and took down the goalposts. John Ward said “Pandemonium reigns.”
Catch or no-catch: Tennessee fans will tell you Jabar Gaffney never had the ball on a disputed 3-yard touchdown pass with 14 seconds to play in 2000. Line judge Al Matthews immediately ruled it a completion and twice gave the touchdown signal. The record says Gators, 27-23. Old Vols say it was green-grass robbery. Part of the hurt was Matthews played football at Vanderbilt.
Farewell: Spurrier last coached at Florida in 2001. That UT game was moved from September to December because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was an epic showdown, No. 2 Florida versus No. 5 Tennessee. Alas, the Vols were 18-point underdogs.
Travis Stephens ran for 226 yards and the Vols claimed a mighty upset, 34-32. Tennessee had not won in the Swamp in 30 years. Spurrier said not long ago that he never got over the bitter end to his Florida career. I feel sure you share his pain.
Wilhoit redemption: Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit had never missed an extra point – but he missed a big one in the final minutes of the 2004 game.
Teammates consoled him on the sideline and promised another chance. Sure enough, the defense held and Erik Ainge led the Vols to the Florida 33. Wilhoit got his opportunity at redemption. He kicked a 50-yard field goal for the win with six seconds remaining.
Tebow debut: At Neyland in 2006, overgrown freshman Tim Tebow came in for short-yardage conversions and ran over people on his way to several first downs, including a critical fourth-and-1 late in the game. Florida won, 21-20. It was a glimpse of things to come.
Hoof in mouth disease: Lane Kiffin thought he could get under the skin of Florida coach Urban Meyer. During his one recruiting season at Tennessee, 2009, Lane boasted that the Vols were able to steal receiver Nu’Keese Richardson away from Florida even though “Urban cheated.”
Florida administrators helped the SEC decide that was not very funny. The league sent word that Kiffin didn’t know the rule book, that the rival coach wasn’t guilty of anything. Kiffin was reprimanded and ordered to apologize.
Try to forget: In 2017, in the Butch Jones era, Tennessee trailed late by 10. The Vols got a touchdown and a field goal and it was 20-20 with under a minute remaining. Overtime loomed.
Florida had a first down at its 37 with nine seconds remaining. Freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks rolled right and heaved the ball as far as he could. Wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland caught it in the end zone as time expired. Ouch.
Saturday clue: Florida struggled to get going offensively against Utah in the opener, particularly on the ground where it produced just 13 yards. The Gators walloped McNeese State, 49-6.
This Vol assignment won’t be as easy as Austin Peay should have been but the gambling industry says the visitors are 8.5-point favorites.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.