Even though Peyton Manning and Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun offense have been a part of the series, matchups between Tennessee and Florida are almost always decided by the running game.
That figures to be the case again when the No. 13 Volunteers host the 11th-ranked Gators on Saturday night in a matchup of SEC East rivals.
Tennessee (1-0) goes with a pair of freshman quarterbacks, and Florida counters with a sophomore who became the starter midway through his first season. So the game lacks the marquee throwing aspect that it had in the mid-1990s, when Manning was starring for the Vols and Spurrier’s offense routinely produced big point totals through the air for the Gators.
That shouldn’t matter, though, as the team with the most rushing yards has won 12 of the last 14 meetings.
“I can tell you it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the high school, collegiate, or professional level, the team that usually controls the running game has the opportunity to win,” Florida coach Ron Zook said. “You have to run the football, play good defense and have a sound kicking game. There’s no question that this is what this game will come down to.”
Because of the lack of experience at quarterback, it could be even more important this year. Tennessee will use two quarterbacks who both will be playing in their second collegiate games.
As a result, Florida (1-0) will try to focus on stopping Cedric Houston, who rushed for 97 yards on just 12 carries before leaving with an ankle injury in Tennessee’s 42-17 victory over UNLV on Sept. 5. Houston is expected to play, and the Vols can also turn to Gerald Riggs, who added 79 yards in that game.
Florida had no trouble stopping the run in its opener, limiting Eastern Michigan to just 2.6 yards per carry in its season-opening 49-10 victory on Saturday. The Gators’ top back, Ciatrick Fason, rushed for 105 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.
If neither team can get the running game going, Florida would seem to have an advantage because of the experience of Chris Leak, who is in his first full season as Florida starter and is facing Tennessee for the second time. Leak got off to a strong start, going 16-of-25 for 244 yards while throwing three second-half touchdown passes against the Eagles.
Tennessee counters with the freshman duo of Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge. Schaeffer started the game and threw for one touchdown and ran for another, while Ainge threw two scoring passes. Vols coach Phillip Fulmer said he will stay with the two-quarterback system.
The winner joins No. 3 Georgia as teams with the inside track to the East Division title. Tennessee has won two of the last three meetings, but Florida has won two straight and four of the last five meetings in Knoxville.
Florida is 8-1 under Zook in SEC games away from Gainesville.
“To tell you the truth, I can’t really tell you why we’ve been that good on the road,” defensive back Cory Bailey said. “It’s just when you’re going to an unstable environment, you’ve got to be ready to play in it. We prepare well.
“Tennessee is going to bring their fans, so it’s going to be a ton of orange and white shirts in the stadium. We’ve got to be able to focus and play well in it. As long as we pack our defense, we will help the offense as best we can.”
Tennessee leads the series 18-15. Four of the last six contests have been decided by four or fewer points.