Sept. 11, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Florida has won seven in a row over Tennessee. That is a fact that can't be argued. Fortunately for the Vols, it will have absolutely no impact on the upcoming showdown between the two top-25 teams on Saturday.
Whether UT has lost seven consecutive games or won 10 in a row like it did to open the series with the Gators, streaks like that only come into play if you let them, something the Vols are intent on not letting happen this season.
"Those things don't matter unless you talk about it and you make it matter," Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. "They don't. What matters is what team is going to show up and play for 60 minutes in the best possible manner. That's all that matters.
"The streak has nothing to do with it unless you think it does. If you think it does, then it does. Who was it, Nuke LaLoosh? If he thinks he's pitching good because he is wearing the garter, he is pitching good because he is wearing the garter."
Set to play in his fourth career game against the Gators this weekend, senior Zach Rogers won't be looking for anything to help him breathe through his eyelids on Saturday as he has clearly heard and embraced Dooley's message.
"We try not to focus on that streak," Rogers said. "It's in the past and we can't do anything about it now. What we have to do is game plan for these guys this week and come out Saturday ready to fight. It's Florida-Tennessee, it's one of the best rivalries around. Regardless of what happens Saturday we are going to come out fighting.
"We know we've been through a lot, we know we've been through ups and downs and haven't had the greatest seasons here, but this season is a new season. We can't look at the past anymore and have to focus on what is ahead."
FROM 100 to 100,000Although some of this week's hype is channeled elsewhere, first-year at Tennessee juniors Cordarrelle Patterson and Daniel McCullers are focusing on their SEC debut this Saturday against Florida.
Though they are in just their first year with the Vols, this duo is taking to the starting line with plenty of experience to shine on their biggest game yet.
At 6-foot-6 and 377 pounds, the Vols' biggest defensive lineman, McCullers, is starting to make a well-known name for himself around the conference. And the Raleigh, NC native is prepared.
"It is [the biggest game I've played in]," McCullers said. "It's SEC Florida, it gets no bigger than that so far, so we're going to be ready."
Not to be outdone by his teammate, Patterson ranked as the number one JUCO recruit in the nation this year coming from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. In just two games so far this season, he has recorded 360 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns against NC State as well as one against Georgia State.
"I'm just ready to be out there and compete with the best conference there is," Patterson said. "[We just have to] go out there and execute."
"It's my first SEC game," McCullers said. "I'm very excited, ready to take on Florida. We'll get ready through the week."
Even though he didn't get much playing time against Georgia State, McCullers is glad to be on the field this week. He wasn't worried about it and says it was good for him to rest up for Florida.
"I think I did pretty well [against NC State]," McCullers said. "I didn't make many plays, but I helped stop the run, and that's the number one key for my position."
Neither McCullers and Patterson are new to the national publicity or how they need to prepare for their matchup this Saturday.
"I'm hyped for it because I feel like I've waited two years for this day and I'm just ready to get to it," Patterson said.
"This is a big rivalry," McCullers said. "In my classes, people are talking about Florida, 'you gotta take on Florida, just do good.' We're going to get ready though. It's a big game. Wherever I sit [in class, the students] know me. It's all good."
Before coming to Tennessee, McCullers says that the biggest crowd he played in front of in junior college was "about 100."
"I get more fired up [playing in front of a bigger crowd]," McCullers said. "When I played my first game at Tennessee last week, seeing all the people, I got pretty excited, I just wanted to do well, so I went hard every snap that I was in there. It's good playing in front of all those people."
Looking forward to the weekend, the wide receiver and defensive lineman stand-outs aren't the only ones on the team that are prepared and excited.
"We're just keeping it like we have been doing, just relaxing and doing what we have been all week," Patterson said. "We don't pay any attention to [the national publicity] we just go out every day at practice and compete and get ready for the game. We don't listen to the distractions."
"That's my type of game," McCullers said on Florida's offense. "I like physical games with the running backs that like to run it, so it's time to play well."
Both stars are continuing to prepare themselves mentally and physically, on and off the field this week to make a mark on their first SEC game this Saturday.
BRAY'S TAKEAWAYJunior quarterback Tyler Bray leads a ranked team into action for the first time in his three years with the Vols on Saturday. He is well aware of the recent history between the Vols and the Gators, and says UT has keen focus on the the 2012 meeting.
"(The seven-game losing streak) bothers us, this team is more mature than last year," said Bray. "We probably didn't think about the streak and just wanted to win. This year we are taking some pride and some ownership and we need to beat them."
For Bray, he sees the positives of the Vols being back on the national stage, with a Top 25 ranking and ESPN's College GameDay in Knoxville for most of the week.
"It's good for the University of Tennessee," said Bray. "It's good for the state. We're ranked again back to what it used to be like, so if we could get a win on Saturday it would be great."
The impact of a victory over Florida is one that is not lost on Bray either.
"(A win) would be huge," he said. "Just to get back to how Tennessee used to be and beating Florida would be great."
Bray of course knows that taking on the the 18th-ranked Gators is a tall task.
"I mean they have two NFL picks (on the defense line) someday and their secondary we'll try to go after," said Bray. "The linebackers, (Jonathan) Bostic is really good and really smart so it's going to be a tough game."
"They're going to bring a bunch of exotic blitzes like our defense so it's nothing we haven't seen before."
With the Vols' 2-0 start, a lot of praise is being heaped on Bray, which is working hard to deflect. Dooley was quick to point out that a season is 12 games long and that the Vols have played less than 20 percent of their schedule.
"He's got 10 games to go prove that," said Dooley. "You can't prove that in two games. I've said all along that it is a body of work over time and he knows that. This is game three, so that question will be answered at the end of the season. I wouldn't trade him. He's playing good, he has a good demeanor. There are going to be games where he struggles, every quarterback goes through it. What I am interested in is when he hits that little piece, how does he handle that."
Bray isn't interested in the personal accolades, for him it is team first.
"I could care less," Bray said of the recognition. "The team is 2-0, team is doing good, we're 23rd so I can't complain."
PROVING HIMSELFLast season in Gainesville, on the fourth play of the game, Justin Hunter went down hard after nabbing his 17th reception of the year.
Hunter missed the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL. The wide receiver knew the prognosis wouldn't be good as soon as it happened.
"I knew immediately it was serious," said Hunter, "as soon as I landed I felt something pop and I fell to the ground. It just started stinging."
The rest of 2011 was spent on the sidelines cheering his team on, something that he knew he needed to do, but still bothered him.
"Being out there watching them practicing and having fun and playing in the games and knowing that I couldn't help them, it hurt me the most," said Hunter. "I just had to be there physically cheering them on."
But the injury helped Hunter grow both as an athlete, and as a human being. He learned to express himself more.
"They just said not to keep everything to yourself and bottled inside because that can hurt you in the long run," said Hunter. "Talk with people, stay around the team. When you are hurting you don't want to be around anyone or talking to anyone. That was the biggest thing for me.
The Virginia Beach, Va. native returned to the field this past spring and was able to take part in practices right away. At the beginning of the year, he felt 100 percent.
Hunter feels the need to prove something in this Florida game. He hasn't had the chance yet.
"I think [I have extra motivation]," said Hunter, "I played my freshman year and my second year I got hurt. I just want to show them what I can do for real, when I am 100 percent.
"I think as soon as I got hurt I wanted to play so bad that when I had to come back out and just watch I was hurt," continued Hunter. "Ever since that day I have been wanting to play [Florida] again. Florida is the game that I left on the field and I wish I could have it back."
Though this game means a lot to Hunter, he is not letting the hype get to him and things around the practice facility are business as usual.
"It is the same as every week," said Hunter, "trying go out there and work hard, be productive in practice and get better every day. I have seen fans here already. It is College GameDay, fans are excited and everything but the whole team is just preparation as always."
INJURY UPDATESTennessee head coach Derek Dooley addressed the status of a number of injured Vols on Tuesday, including two who could see action on the field for the first time this season on Saturday.
Although linebackers Curt Maggitt and Herman Lathers remain day-to-day and questionable for the contest against the Gators, Dooley was pleased with what he saw out of redshirt freshman Christian Lathers on his first full day on the practice field.
"He was moving around good," Dooley said. "If he's not back this week he should be for next week."
At the injury-depleted tight end position, the Vol head coach got a pleasant surprise on Tuesday as sophomore Brendan Downs is coming back quicker than expected.
"Before today I would have said no way [he is going to play]," Dooley said. "Is there a chance he could get 10 snaps? Maybe, we'll see how it goes."