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The Opening Kickoff: Gators vs. Tennessee

September 15, 2017

The Opening Kickoff: Gators vs. Tennessee

Florida hosts the Vols on Saturday in search of its first win and an early leg up in the SEC East race.

Scott Carter - @GatorsScott

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Over the past decade, as power shifted from the East Division to the West in the Southeastern Conference, the same storyline surfaces each season during Florida-Tennessee week.

Is the Gators-Vols annual matchup still a big-time rivalry?

Sure seems like it since there’s always ample chatter about the game on TV and social media, and sports writers punch out more words about the early-season clash the week prior than any one person can consume. Sounds like a big-time rivalry to me, boosted this season in some ways by what happened last year in Knoxville.

The No. 24-ranked Gators (0-1) host the No. 23 Vols (2-0) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on CBS. Tennessee snapped its 11-game losing streak against the Gators with a 38-28 comeback victory a year ago at Neyland Stadium.

The Gators blew to a 21-0 lead as more than 100,000 Vols fans sat quietly. That changed as Tennessee reeled off 38 consecutive points and moved into the driver’s seat in the East. The loss still stings for the Gators, who overcame the deflating defeat to win the division for the second consecutive year.

“Just go out there and if we gonna throw bombs, throw bombs. If we gonna to blitz, continue to blitz,” sophomore safety Chauncey Gardner Jr. said this week. “Just do what we gotta do. Do what we did in the first half in the second half. Keep applying constant pressure, and we’ll win the game. That’s all it is.”

This is a Florida team in need of a dose of momentum. The Gators lost their season opener for the first time since 1989 two weeks ago and then had their home opener against Northern Colorado cancelled. They don’t want to start a season 0-2 for the first time since 1971.

They are ready to play and show fans that the 33-17 loss to Michigan in Texas was nothing more than a bad day at the office.

“I know how much it means for our guys to play in the Swamp, but more than that, how much it means for the people who are in the Swamp, in that environment to root on the Gators,” UF head coach Jim McElwain said. “I want our guys to understand that it’s so much more than just them. It’s an opportunity [and] it’s awful special coming off of what just occurred.”

Rivalry games are like that.

Here is a closer look at the Florida-Tennessee matchup in the latest edition of The Opening Kickoff:
 

The stage is set. ??#TENNvsUF ???? pic.twitter.com/DDaLHUG2On

— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 15, 2017

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THREE QUESTIONS WITH … GATORS DB CHAUNCEY GARDNER JR.
 
Q: How did you heal so quickly after leaving the field on crutches in the Michigan game?
  Chauncey Gardner
A: I know my teammates put in a lot of work. So I know me sitting out is going to hurt them and it’s going to hurt me. I don’t like missing anything. They don’t like missing anything. So I told myself, ‘I’m going to get in after the game from rehab treatment from 7 in the morning to whenever practice was over, I’m going to be in there and get my leg right.’ That’s what I did, so I’m back. Time to go ball.

Q: How difficult was it to return focus to football in wake of Hurricane Irma?

A: It wasn’t hard. It’s family first, so when you know everything is OK, after I make sure my brothers and my family straight and other families straight, we play football.

Q: What did you think of someone putting a Tennessee flag on the Spurrier statue?

A: I just saw the picture. I don’t know about other guys, but to me it’s a sign of disrespect. Even though a fan did it, that’s something you don’t do regardless of the rivalry. It’s our property. You don’t vandalize what we earned and what we did.
 
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THREE STORYLINES
 

 
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THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH 
 

 
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THREE DIGITS
 
27 – Consecutive home openers the Gators have won

5,110 – Days since Tennessee last won a game at the Swamp, on Sept. 20, 2003

362 – Consecutive games in which the Gators have scored, which ranks second on the all-time list behind Michigan’s 365-game streak, which ended in 2004

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THE QUOTE FILE
 

 
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INJURY REPORT
 
OUT: WR James Robinson (heart problem); PROBABLE: TE Kemore Gamble (foot), TE DeAndre Goolsby (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: LB Kylan Johnson (hamstring); SUSPENDED: RB Jordan Scarlett, WR Rick Wells, WR Antonio Callaway, LB Ventrell Miller, OL Kadeem Telfort, DL Jordan Smith, DL Keivonnis Davis, LB James Houston IV, DT Richerd Desir-Jones; OUT FOR SEASON: LB Nick Smith (knee), DB Marcell Harris (Achilles tendon).
 
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CHARTING THE GATORS
 
Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks is set to make his first career home start Saturday vs. Tennessee. A look at recent UF quarterbacks in their first career start at the Swamp:
 

QUARTERBACK YEAR STATS/RESULT
Austin Appleby 2016 17 of 21, 201 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT in 20-7 W over South Carolina
Luke Del Rio 2016 29 of 44, 256 yards, 2 TD in 24-7 W over UMass
Will Grier 2015 10 of 17, 151 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT in 31-24 W over East Carolina
Treon Harris 2014 5 of 11, 60 yards, 1 TD in 23-20 L (OT) to South Carolina
Skyler Mornhinweg 2013 14 of 25, 122 yards, 2 TD in 26-20 L to Georgia Southern
Tyler Murphy 2013 16 of 22, 240 yards, 3 TD in 30-10 W over Arkansas
Jeff Driskel* 2012 10 of 16, 114 yards, 1 TD in 27-14 W over Bowling Green
Jacoby Brissett 2012 14 of 22, 154 yards in 23-0 W over Jacksonville State
John Brantley 2010 17 of 25, 113 yards, 2 TD in 34-12 W over Miami (Ohio)
Tim Tebow 2007 13 of 17, 300 yards, 3 TD in 49-3 W over Western Kentucky
Chris Leak 2003 14 of 27, 234 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT in 20-17 L to Ole Miss

Note: *Driskel started at receiver, took over at quarterback on next play
 
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10 QUICK HITTERS
 

 
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THE OTHER SIDE
 
The Florida-Tennessee rivalry is intense once the players step onto the field. Off the field, the Gators and Vols are teaming together on Saturday to provide game-day security in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which stretched police departments across the state thin.

Twenty-four officers from the University of Tennessee Police Department will travel to assist local officers in keeping the Swamp safe and secure.

“When we saw what happened in Florida last week, obviously I was concerned about our colleagues there,” said Troy Lane, associate vice chancellor for public safety and chief of UT Police. “I reached out to the University of Florida and offered any assistance. As you can imagine, they were excited to hear from us.”
 

Teamwork makes the dream work. Appreciate @UTPolice helping @UFPublicSafety out this weekend. ??????????

https://t.co/Ibnr2gK4Kp

Scott Stricklin (@ScottStricklin) September 14, 2017

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WHAT THEY’RE WRITING
 

 
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BOTTOM LINE
 
This is the part of the show where I strongly suggest whether I think the Gators are probably going to win or lose. I’ve never taken picks columns that seriously since no one really knows what is going to happen and I’m not a gambler in search of a tip. I strongly suggested Florida would beat Michigan. I was strongly wrong. I have no clue who is going to win this game. I have no clue whom to suggest as the winner of this game. I leaned toward the Gators against Michigan and I am tempted to lean toward the Vols on Saturday. Maybe the Gators can print this out and tape in the locker room for extra motivation. “Look at this crap, even this guy thinks Tennessee might win in our house. What a clown!” Truth is, I expect home-field advantage to play a factor in Florida’s favor. The Gators are certainly due for a break.

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