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No. 19 Florida looks to widen streak vs. Tennessee

AP - Sports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Tennessee-Florida is becoming an irrelevant rivalry.

For more than a decade, the series essentially decided the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division - in September. The winner usually ended up in Atlanta playing for the league title; the loser had to wait a year for another shot.

Now, though, the rivalry is as lopsided as some of its recent scores.

The 19th-ranked Gators (1-1) have won eight in a row against Tennessee (2-1), the series' longest streak since the Volunteers won the first 10 meetings between 1916 and 1953. Florida has won the last six games by double digits, a couple of them nowhere near that close.

''It's a great rivalry, but in order for us to continue to really make this a rivalry, we have to start winning some of these football games,'' first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.

Jones gets a shot at ending the slide Saturday in Gainesville.

A victory might mean more to his players, who have no idea what it feels like to beat Florida.

''It would mean everything to our senior class because we're setting the example, not only for ourselves, but for younger guys in the state of Tennessee,'' defensive end Corey Miller said. ''If we go out there and get a win against Florida, it would jump-start the Tennessee program back where it needs to be.''

The Gators, meanwhile, want nothing more than to open SEC play just like they have the last eight years - by beating the Volunteers.

''We know those guys are going to come down ready to throw some punches,'' Florida safety Jaylen Watkins said. ''We've beaten them (eight) times in a row. Obviously, they see that and they want to get one on us.''

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Aside from the streak, here are five things to know about Tennessee and Florida as they begin conference play:

QB DECISION: Tennessee's starting quarterback might not be known until Saturday. Junior Justin Worley started the first three games, but Jones said he would start whoever performs best in practice. The Volunteers struggled last week in a 59-14 loss at No. 2 Oregon. Worley has completed 35 of 57 passes for 372 yards, with five touchdown passes and one interception. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman is 6 of 12 for 40 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. Jones didn't rule out the possibility of starting freshmen Riley Ferguson or Joshua Dobbs. ''The guys are competing every day,'' offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. ''This process could go right through to the pregame warm-ups.''

HALAPIO RETURNS: Florida right guard Jon Halapio, considered the team's best blocker, will make his season debut against the Volunteers. Halapio missed the first two games, as well as most of fall practice, because of a torn pectoral muscle. He injured it lifting weights this summer. He had an injection of platelet-rich plasma to speed up recovery and will wear a protective brace designed to restrict shoulder movement. ''I'm pretty mobile with it,'' he said. ''The only thing that really bothers me is if I get back too far. That strength hasn't really been developed yet. But as far as like stabilization and strength, I've been feeling really good.''

D-LINE DEPTH: Tennessee's defensive line has depth issues and could be tested against Florida's run-heavy attack. Defensive tackle Maurice Couch, who started nine games at defensive end last year, is ineligible while the university investigates allegations he received improper benefits. Fellow lineman Trevarris Saulsberry is out at least three weeks following a knee injury sustained against Oregon. Seldom-used junior Gregory Clark and redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien are listed as backups. ''Everyone has to elevate their game,'' Jones said.

REIGNING IN DRISKEL: Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease wants quarterback Jeff Driskel to make better decisions in key situations. Pease said he's ''got to do a better job of maybe limiting or controlling what we give him.'' Driskel threw two interceptions in the red zone in a 21-16 loss at Miami two weeks ago. The junior now has 10 turnovers in the team's last three losses.

'ROCKY TOP' ROAST: Three Florida players - defensive tackle Dominique Easley, receiver Trey Burton and fullback Hunter Joyer - admitted to singing ''Rocky Top'' during games against Tennessee. ''I don't know if I should say it, but I think it's one of the best fight songs in college football,'' Burton said. Not all his teammates agreed. Linebacker Michael Taylor said guys singing along is ''pretty much an insult'' to Tennessee.

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