Tennessee readies to ‘start fast and hit them in the mouth’ at Florida
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee staged one of the most epic rallies in Neyland Stadium history against Florida last season, coming back from 21-3 down for a 38-28 victory.
Many fans believe that, having seen the Vols overcome the odds once before against the Gators, it can happen again when the teams meet at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at The Swamp in Gainesville.
And maybe it can.
But if No. 23-ranked Tennessee is to pull the upset over touchdown-favorite No. 24 Florida, the Vols will need to find some new heroes on offense.
Of the 498 yards Tennessee rolled up in the win against the Gators last season, only 65 of those yards (13 percent) were accounted for by returning players.
Vols tailback John Kelly, currently the only SEC player to lead his team in both rushing and receptions this season, didn’t get a carry, a catch or so much as a yard against Florida last season.
Quarterback Josh Dobbs, who passed for 4 touchdowns and rushed for another in Tennessee’s triumph last year, is gone. So are tailbacks Jalen Hurd (Baylor) and Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints), and receivers Josh Malone (Cincinnati Bengals) and Jauan Jennings (wrist injury).
Four offensive starters are back from the Florida game a year ago:
- TE Ethan Wolf
- OG Jack Jones
- OT Brett Kendrick
- C Jashon Robertson
“My sophomore year  we had that 13-point lead [at Florida] and ended up not getting it done, so that still has a bad taste in my mouth,” said Kendrick, the only Tennessee returning player who started every game on offense last season.
“I think we still feel like we have a lot to prove. We talk about renting the stadium for however long it takes us to get the win.”
Wolf, a senior, had 1 catch for 20 yards and a touchdown in the game against Florida last season.
“It’s Florida and that’s all you can say,” Wolf said. “Some of the young guys that are playing for us haven’t played Florida and we have to stress the importance of this game to them.
“We have to start fast and hit them in the mouth.”
Sophomore receiver Tyler Byrd is expected to return from the injury that sidelined him last Saturday. Of the returning skill players, Byrd accomplished the most against Florida with 3 catches for 40 yards last season.
Senior receiver Josh Smith, who missed the first two games of this season with an sprained AC joint, had 1 catch for 5 yards against Florida in 2016.
On defense, the Vols have seven returning starters who played against Florida last season. Of the 56 tackles recorded by the Tennessee defense, the players that accounted for 43 of them return.
Defensive returning starters:
- CB Emmanuel Moseley
- CB Justin Martin
- FS Micah Abernathy
- SS Todd Kelly Jr.
- NB Rashaan Gaulden
- MLB Colton Jumper
- DR Kendal Vickers
Tennessee also returns both special team players, punter Trevor Daniel and kicker Aaron Medley, and kick returner Evan Berry is probable for the game after sitting out the 42-7 victory over Indiana State.
“I know last time we were at The Swamp it didn’t end too well for us, so we have a chance to here to right our wrongs and go out there and put on a show,” Vickers said. “As long as we prepare for the game and we’re playing our butts off Saturday, I think things will go well for us.”