The difficulty of Tennessee’s football schedule catches up to another level this week when the Vols travel to Gainesville to face rival Florida.
Dan Mullen’s fourth Florida team is coming off a narrow loss to Alabama and is 2-1 on the season. Josh Heupel is preparing his team for its first road trip and SEC game of the season.
Here’s everything Josh Heupel and his players said about the challenge of facing Florida at Monday’s player availability.
Question: What stands out about facing Florida?
Heupel: “I think they’re well coached in all three phases of the game. They make you beat them. Obviously, their ability to run the football on offense is a huge part, top-5 in the country in rush offense. Defensively, I thought they were physical, tied in all three levels together throughout the course of the day (vs. Alabama). Defensive line was very disruptive. Special teams, they do a really good job as well. They make you beat them, and just watching the game from the other day, obviously had an opportunity for a two-point play at the end to tie it up. It’s a really good football team. Our guys are excited about that challenge.”
Q: What challenges does Florida’s run defense present?
Heupel: “They’re big, long, athletic, violent. They disrupt the line of scrimmage, playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Structurally, I thought their second and third levels fit it extremely well. They tackled well for the most part, during the course of the other day (vs. Alabama). You do those things, it makes it tough to run the football.”
Q: What have you heard about this rivalry and what is the importance of this game?
Heupel: “This is the biggest game on our schedule because it’s the next one. At the end of the day, we’re on a journey to become as good as we can as fast as we can. Love a lot of what we’ve done as a football team, how we’ve grown. This is the next challenge for us. We’ve got an opportunity to grow here during the week. Our process, our preparations got to be right. We’ve got to do the ordinary at a really high level in a big game like this against a really good football team.”
Q: What challenges does Florida’s run game present?
Heupel: “I think they do a good job of spacing people out. The quarterback is a huge part of their run game too. The threat of it, and when he has the ball in his hands, he runs like a runner. He’s able to make the first guy miss and able to run through a tackle, too.”
Q: What do you know about the Tennessee/Florida rivalry? Have you talked to your team about this rivalry?
Heupel: “This is a big game. During the course of the summer I showed them highlights from these types of games, a couple of them were Florida games, highly competitive games. I think our kids understand and are excited about this game. It means something to them. The challenge for us is you don’t have to do something extraordinary, you’ve just got to do the ordinary at a really high level. You process and your preparation has got to get you to kickoff and that’s what we’ve been stressing to our bunch.”
Q: What about Dan Mullen’s offenses make them so successful?
Heupel: “His track record of quarterback play, some in the pass game, but their ability to run the football too, has been a big part of what he’s done everywhere that he’s been. They’re top-5 in the country in rush offense. It starts for us defensively right there. Then you have to get them in some tougher third-down situations. We have to create some third-and-longs too.”
Q: How much have you watched Florida so far this year?
Tennessee receiver JaVonta Payton: “So far this year, I actually haven’t watched too much on them leading up, but we watched a whole lot of film today— this morning— coming in. It’s going to be a consistent basis, a 24/7 thing just trying to figure out their scheme, how they do things and how they move around on the field.”
Q: Being from this state, what do you know about the Tennessee/Florida rivalry?
Payton: “I honestly don’t know as much on the rivalry against Florida. Leading up to it I have heard a lot of things about how they really don’t like Florida down here— or up here— so it’s just about going out there and getting the job done. All my teammates are pretty locked in right now. I feel like we have something special going on.”
Q: What’s the key to dealing with Florida’s physical defensive backs?
Payton: “Just going out there and doing their job, executing. We need all 11 men out on the field to be doing their job at the same time and just as physical as Florida can be we have wide outs, we have running backs and olinemen that can be just as physical. It’s about going out there and executing our game plan and doing what we know we can do.”
Q: With Florida’s ability to run the ball, how does the back end have to help in the run defense?
Tennessee defensive back Alontae Taylor: “One thing we work on every week is tackling, right. We understand that Florida likes to run the ball. They have really good back, strong backs, good offensive line— things like that— a quarterback that can run as well. Just making sure that we can make tackles. I feel like if we can lower our missed tackles we’ll have a positive side on that.”
Q: What do you think of when you think of Florida receivers and what do you all need to do to be successful?
Taylor: “As far as receivers go, we’re in the SEC so you’re going to play good receivers week in and week out when you play in this conference. I wouldn’t say anything too big when it comes to receivers, you’re just going with the same gameplay. Work on technique, work on staying square— things like that. As far as going into this game, mindset-wise we just have to be consistent (and) play physical. It’s going to be a physical game all four quarters. So come out like I said, be consistent, play physical, match their intensity, match the energy. It’s going to be a night game, ESPN, seven o’clock. The stadium’s going to be crazy, so just come in ready to play, keep the main thing, the main thing.”
Q: What has stood out about Florida’s defensive line?
Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin: “Florida, they play well. Up front, they definitely play well. They’ve got some big guys up front. Normally what you see from Florida, definitely from an SEC opponent. What we have to do (is) we have to execute. This is a big execution game. We have to execute well, play hard, play fast, and mentally be there. We’re going to be in The Swamp so it’s going to be loud, and we have to make sure we’re mentally locked in.”
Q: Is it different playing against Florida than other teams?
Carvin: “There’s no difference in this game. All SEC games are physicality. It’s all physical. It’s going to be a tough game, especially on the road in the SEC, it’s a very tough environment. But you love those types of games. That’s what you come to the SEC to play, play in tough environments and go get a win on the road. This game is no different than any other SEC game. We have to go out there, be able to run the football, pass protect and make big plays on the edge.”