This past weekend I made my biannual journey down to Knoxville, Tennessee for the Florida-Tennessee game. Many of my fondest and memories of football come from this game.
This year was no different, for a different reason. It was my younger brother's first exposure to SEC football in person. I wanted to show him the sights and sounds of Big Time football in the South, and this is the closest Gator game to us since we moved to Virginia.
Every time I attend the game in Knoxville, there are some great memories and some fantastic games.
From Chris Leak leading a late TD drive for a 21-20 victory in 2006, to the 2002 “Rain game” where Rex Grossman went crazy and Casey Clausen couldn’t receive a snap from center, to the 2000 game where Jabar Gaffney and Jesse Palmer hooked up late in the game for what has become known as “The Ca---“ (it would be “The Catch,” but I don’t think Gaffney had it long enough to call it that).
(Yes, I left out 2004 because it never happened. Poor Dallas Baker almost never lived down that “penalty” late in the game, and I still can't even discuss the "Travis-ty" of the 2001 game.)
Conversely, Tennessee fans must have miserable memories and probably can’t stand us Gator fans.
I’m sure they hate Danny Wuerffel for never letting Peyton Manning win one, and Lawrence Wright for what he did to Joey Kent, and Ron Zook for losing to the Grim Reaper, Sylvester Croom (we’ve nicknamed him the Grim Reaper, since if you lose to Croom, you’re updating your job searching) and getting himself fired.
Now they can add another name to the list: Brandon James.
I don’t have any official numbers on this, but in James' 2.25-year career at Florida, I’d say he’s returned about 12 punts/kickoffs vs. Tennessee, and he’s brought six of them back over 35 yards and four for touchdowns—several called back due to penalty, but several not.
Tennessee fans have to be begging Coach Fulmer, “Coach, please stop making us kick to him.” I think he’s caught on...Tennessee punted it out of bounds eventually. Too bad it was 30-6 midway through the fourth quarter.
Speaking of coaches, as difficult as the SEC can be sometime, I credit Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen for pulling the plug on their game plan eight minutes into the game at Knoxville.
Up 17-0 after an opening drive TD, a quick Tennessee turnover and field goal, followed by James’ electrifying punt return TD, the Florida coaching staff put away the game plan and went into the first version of the 52-minute offense I’ve ever seen.
You know how each team has a “four-minute offense” that they run when they have a lead and don’t want to give the ball back to the other team late in the game, just to get the game over with and in the books? Florida did this for 52 minutes.
Of course, Fulmer and the Vols helped by running up the gut and off tackle on first and second down when they were down 20-0 and turning the ball over inside the Gators’ three-yard line...twice.
But Meyer and Mullen really put a lid on the game plan early and didn’t give LSU, Georgia, or Vandy (that just doesn’t look right, but they’re 4-0!) anything to really work with from this week's film.
I mean, anyone watching could see that Meyer and Mullen were using the original Tecmo Bowl playbook. Four plays for the entire game, and if you pick the right one, you stop us—good for you.
Harvin, Murphy, and Rainey were fairly pedestrian. Emmanuel Moody finally got some carries and produced, but nothing spectacular. Tim Tebow continued on his “Seriously...I don’t care about the Heisman” Campaign by going 8-15 passing for 96 yards and a TD and 12 carries for 26 yards rushing.
Normally, if you showed me those numbers from him I’d say, “Holy cow! Tennessee must have kicked our tails!” but they won by 24 without Tebow breaking a sweat. Scary!
Don’t get too excited Gator Fans! We kicked Big Orange’s teeth in last year and finished the season in a less than fantastic fashion, so let’s take it in stride.
A special thanks to all the Tennessee fans inside and outside of Neyland Stadium who struck up conversation, shared their tailgate food (great Ribs and Jambalaya), and talked football with me and my family and friends while we were in town.
We were treated for the most part with respect and class by many of you, and I’ll always speak well of my past few trips to Tennessee. I’m certain Gator fans will do the same when Ole Miss comes to the Swamp this weekend.