Tennessee Volunteers v. Florida Gators: good news, bad news

It's that time of year again when Vol fans and coaches observe that whichever team rushes the ball best in the Tennessee-Florida game wins:

Year UT rushing yards UF rushing yards UT UF
2007 37 255 20 59
2006 -11 121 20 21
2005 66 68 7 16
2004 171 135 30 28
2003 139 73 24 10
2002 99 94 13 30
2001 242 36 34 32

Pretty simple. Three out of four times we've outrushed the Gators -- and all three times we've outrushed them substantially -- we've beaten them. When we haven't outrushed them, we've lost. The trend goes back further than that, but easy stats do not.

The good news. We appear to have a decent running game this year, provided that we have indeed discovered our identity in that aspect of the game.

The bad news. We've not run well against the Gators recently. Uh-huh, yeah, see the last three seasons above. Florida has outgained the Vols on the ground 257 yards to 54 yards in each of the first halves the last three seasons. Tennessee had -11 yards on the ground against the Gators in 2006. We've not had a rushing play longer than six yards in the last two years. 92 yards total rushing offense in three years. Add to that that Florida's defense appears to be better this year -- Miami didn't have a single snap in the red zone against them two weeks ago-- and we've got trouble.

Why are we still harping on the running game? Isn't it getting a little tiring? Isn't there something new and exciting to talk about? Don't we already know this?

 

Yeah, we should, but we seem to never learn, no matter how many times we resolve to stick with the running game against Florida. This year, we have a new offensive coordinator, which could be either good or bad. Perhaps Clawson will look at the historical stats and conclude that because running wins the Tennessee-Florida game, Tennessee will need to run to win. But maybe he'll get suckered into thinking otherwise. Maybe he'll need to learn the lesson himself. I sincerely hope not, but he is sounding like he's flirting with danger, uttering words like "balance" and phrases like "keep them honest."

The good news. Greg Mattison, the Gators' defensive line coach from 2005-2007, bolted for the NFL this summer and is no longer with the Gators. Florida is 2-3 in their last five games away from The Swamp. Meyer was 3-3 away from home in his first season with Florida. Even when they win on the road, they're not nearly as dominating or fearsome as they are at home. The players and coaches are using last year's dishumiliarrassment as motivation. Says Demonte' Bolden: "I feel like that was the worst game ever that I've been in." Says Rico McCoy: "it's not a game I'd like to forget. It's a  game I'd like to make up for." The game plan against the Gators will provide these guys with the opportunity to work out some hostility. One of the goals is to hit Tebow at every legitimate opportunity. When the defense isn't hitting him, the offense is to relegate him to the sideline. Avoid the staggering :27 seconds total possession in the third quarter we experienced last year. That completely and utterly drained the tank on our defense last year, which was woefully lacking in depth. Gerald Williams is being moved to defensive end to help with depth there. Gerald Jones, who is not only athletic but smart, apparently having a Good Will Hunting moment at a whiteboard in front of the coaches this week, figures to be heavily involved in the offensive game plan. That's all good, and we haven't even looked at The Papa's surprising record in Games You Can't Possibly Win.

There's good reason to go to or at least watch the game this Saturday. We could win.

P.S. Urban Meyer says you can't not kick to Brandon James and threatens to block your punt if you try. Oh, okay, coach. We'll just kick to Brandon then. All right. Sorry.

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