Can The Volunteers Flip The Script Against The Gators?
This was their year.
This was the year the Tennessee Volunteers were finally going to beat the Florida Gators.
With the pressure of nine straight losses breathing fire down their necks, the Volunteers marched down the field in the final minutes at Neyland Stadium looking to reclaim their lost lead. The Vols led 9-0 for three quarters until the Gators, on the young shoulders of freshman quarterback Treon Harris, made a ferocious fourth-quarter comeback to take a 10-9 lead.
The seconds dripped off the clock in the final minute as senior quarterback Justin Worley marched his team into the teeth of the Gators' intimidating defense.
Catastrophe struck for the Vols with 51 seconds left when Worley threw his second interception of the day into the outstretched arms of Florida sophomore safety Keanu Neal.
The life drained from the orange and white checkered crowd with one word in mind: ten.
Ten straight losses to the University of Florida. A decade of mediocrity against a team so desperately despised in Knoxville. Defeat — again.
The 2015 new-look Volunteers have a shot at redemption this year, as the Vols will square off against the Gators at 3:30 p.m. in Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. This year's Tennessee squad boasts a bevy of offensive and defensive talent that should give the Vols a great chance to end their decade-long slump against the Gators.
On offense, UT has upgraded at the quarterback position with 6-foot-3 junior Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs burst onto the scene last year when he led the Vols in a furious fourth-quarter comeback against South Carolina — a game in which he threw for 301 yards and rushed for 166 yards. But Dobbs has yet to repeat that level of success through three games this year (2-1 record), throwing for 474 total yards, five touchdowns, and one interception.
UT also possesses a talented running back in sophomore Jalen Hurd. Hurd came to Tennessee with a huge upside, but did not quite get to display his supreme talent last year. This season, however, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is coming up big for his team. Hurd opened the season with 123 yards and three TDs in a 59-30 win over Bowling Green, and so far this season, he has rushed for 300 yards and five TDs, and also has one receiving TD.
Both Dobbs and Hurd will have to establish some sort of consistency this Saturday against a Florida defense that is starting to find its footing. If they don't, it could be a long day for the Vols.
But the Vols will need more than these two offensive threats to end their losing streak. Thankfully, Tennessee also possesses one of the SEC's scariest defenders. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 257 pounds, defensive end Derek Barnett was an absolute monster last year for the Vols. Now a sophomore, Barnett is looking to build upon a freshman season in which he registered 10 sacks, eight QB hurries, and 47 solo tackles. Barnett should be licking his chops come Saturday when he faces a young and inexperienced Gators offensive line.
The Volunteers have all the pieces in place to finally topple the Florida Gators. This Saturday has the potential to either release 10 years worth of frustration for the Vols or lead to another question — will they ever beat the Gators?