KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s showdown with Florida has taken college football’s center stage today, with a nationally-televised CBS audience tuned in along with a capacity crowd of more than 100,000 on hand.
ESPN’s popular College GameDay set made its first trip back to Knoxville since 2012 for the 3:30 p.m. ET kick, ready to feature the No. 14-ranked Vols (3-0) against the No. 19-ranked Gators (3-0).
Florida is 6-1 when College GameDay is present for a Tennessee-Florida football game, including 4-0 in Knoxville.
Here’s what each of the ESPN College GameDay analysts had to say about the game:
“(Butch Jones) has a phrase, brick by brick, and building this program up and being able to get to nine wins is big, but until they beat a team like Florida, until they beat a team like Alabama, they are still in that growing process.
This is a team that if you looked at the way they played at the end of last year, they gained some confidence the way they competed in Tuscaloosa against Alabama.
They had 17 or 18 starters back off of that team, (and) many thought that they were the team to beat in the East and the first three games they haven’t done anything to make people feel that they deserve the recognition. So all that goes out of the way.
Now it’s on the field for 60 minutes, and we’ll see if they can handle all the type.
I want to see the first time something bad happens, how they handle that, how the crowd handles that, because they’ve kind of got one foot in it, they’re loud and having fun today, they have one foot in and one foot out. First sign of trouble, they’re neutralized, so the team has got to get it done today
You look at the schedule coming up, and you wonder if those first three games where the offensive line was sleepwalking, if they’ve just been waiting for this stretch, (and) not just today against Florida, but at Georgia, at Texas A&M and Alabama.
It’s hard to get excited about Appy State, and Virginia Tech and Ohio when you know what’s coming. I don’t want to make excuses for them, you need to show up every week, but I’m just saying I wonder if they all the sudden have a different energy about them. Because four of these five guys on the offensive line played a lot of football last year, they just haven’t played this year the way they played last year.
“I really wonder about that Tennessee offensive line. They’ve been hearing for three weeks that they are an Achilles heel to this Tennessee offense. When you have Josh Dobbs, you have Jalen Hurd, and they’ve struggled in these first three games, they have Chance Hall moving into right tackle. They have to be tired of hearing about this. If there is one group that’s going to be ready to go, it’s the Tennessee offensive line, if they have any pride at all.”
“The (Tennessee) fans, walking around campus yesterday, talking to some students, you could tell that they are a little apprehensive about this game. They’re not very confident, like Kirk said, they have one foot in and one foot out. I want to see how they respond if there is some adversity. The expectations were so high coming into the season for Butch Jones, and for Tennessee Volunteers that they got a little nervous, they haven’t been playing Tennessee football out of the gate, yet.
Struggled against Appalachian State, played well against Virginia Tech, but then had nine penalties, five fumbles a week ago, they have to clean all that up, because if they do that today, the Florida Gators will run all through the Tennessee Volunteers. They cannot get penalized, they cannot turn the ball over today.”
“If not now, when? This is a time for Tennessee where you do return all those guys and all the experience, you’re playing against Florida’s backup quarterback in your stadium, so at some point, 11-game losing streak has to come to an end.
This is the greatest chance they’ve had. They’ve got to find a way to make enough plays and get a “W” to break this streak, because it is a mental thing at this point. Eleven in a row becomes mental.
This isn’t an average defense (Tennessee) is playing, it’s one of the best in the country.”
“This is going to be a field position game. So if Tennessee is going to win, they’ve got to match the Florida defensive intensity.”
(interview from The Sports Page WNML AM-990 on Wednesday)
“It is a gargantuan game for their (Tennessee) goals.
I think it would be hyperbolic to say this is the most important game of the Butch Jones era, because what if they lose and win the rest and Florida loses a couple and they still win that SEC East, in that scenario they would have beaten Alabama, so I’m not gonna go that far.
But I do think that with the steady improvement that Tennessee has made under Butch since he’s been there, it’s a get-over-the-hump type of game, and I know that sounds a little cliche, but if Tennessee is really better, and is really capable of achieving what so many thought it could in the preseason, they have to win.
It’s not enough to play well, and not enough to say well we had Oklahoma beat, and we had Florida beat, and could have beaten Alabama — they’ve got to win, and that’s sort of the nature of the beast.
We know they’ve got some injuries, they’ve got a lot of injuries, but here’s not really room for excuses, they have to win this game against Florida.
If they don’t the season’s not over, but I think from a expectation, and confidence and direction and momentum, and all of those things that can really propel a team to a championship level, I feel it’s important for Tennessee to win this game.”