NCAA Football

Eight count: Vols tired of skid vs. Gators

09/17 1:03 PM

Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley says he sometimes sings along to "Rocky Top" while hearing it over and over again whenever the Gators face Tennessee.

Tennessee hasn't defeated Florida since 2004, so you can understand why first-year Vols coach Butch Jones wants to put the losing streak to rest.

"Our players understand the rivalry, what is at stake," Jones said Tuesday. "I think they understand what has gone on before them. The only thing we can control is our preparation and how we play on Saturday."

Florida has beaten Tennessee eight consecutive times, which represents the Gators' longest winning streak in the 42-game history of the series. The No. 19 Gators try to continue their recent mastery of this rivalry Saturday at The Swamp.

The Vols (2-1) haven't come particularly close to ending the streak recently. The Gators squeaked past the Vols 21-20 in their 2006 national championship season, but the last six Florida-Tennessee games had an average margin of 19 points, with each of them being decided by double digits.

Tennessee, playing its SEC opener, also has lost its last 17 games against ranked opponents. The Vols are 1-23 versus Top 25 teams since 2008.

Jones knows all about the frustrations against the Gators (1-1), and he's challenging his team to make sure the Vols enter Gainesville in the right frame of mind.

"Right now, moving forward, we are not a very mentally tough football team," Jones said. "Everything we do in our football program is about mental conditioning, mental toughness, and when you go on the road you have to have a road focus about yourself."

Tennessee is coming off a 59-14 loss at No. 2 Oregon that represented the Vols' worst varsity defeat since 1910.

"We talked to the whole team [to] keep your head up," Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "This is Florida week. This is one of the most important weeks. It's SEC time."

Jones said earlier this week he was opening up the Vols' quarterback competition.

Junior Justin Worley started the first three games, but his 6.53 yards per attempt are the fewest in the SEC and he's the least mobile of Tennessee's four quarterbacks. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman has gone 6 of 12 for 40 yards, though Jones didn't rule out the possibility of starting Riley Ferguson or Joshua Dobbs even though neither freshman has taken a snap.

"Whatever quarterback has the best week of practice will be the starter for Tennessee when we play Florida," Jones said. "If that means a freshman quarterback, that means a freshman quarterback. We'll add more quarterback run into our package this week. We just need to find ways to generate big explosive plays."

Florida expects to get Tennessee's best shot, no matter who plays quarterback for the Vols.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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