Will Vols thrive or fold under pressure?


Here it is, a Florida-Tennessee game that actually means something.

Saturday evening’s tussle in Knoxville — like it or not — is a must-win for the Vols if Rocky Top wants to keep its program in the national spotlight. A victory gives the Volunteers a leg up in the East and more importantly, cools the hot seat — at least temporarily — that’s roasting Derek Dooley.

Dooley replaced Lane Kiffin in 2010 to rebuild a unit that suffered serious decline in Phillip Fulmer’s final season. Instead, Tennessee has sputtered to consecutive losing seasons, dismissed a number of key players and hasn’t been competitive against ranked teams. Since 2010, Tennessee is 0-10 against ranked teams with the average margin of defeat at 22.1 points per game — unacceptable by Rocky Top standards.

Tradition-rich Tennessee’s game against the Gators will determine whether or not this team is “back” and if the Vols are a serious contender in the East. A nationally-televised contest at Neyland Stadium and Gameday in Knoxville only ups the ante for Dooley whose future rides on a successful finish in Year 3. Remember when it used to be difficult to win at Tennessee, a site with checkerboard end zones and 100,000-plus rabid fans?

The Vols need to get back to that and it starts with all-conference hopeful Tyler Bray.

Tennessee’s offense, when Bray is healthy, is tough to contain. Had he not been injured early on last season, the Vols would’ve won more than five games. He’s calm in the pocket, has an NFL arm and seems to have complete control of Jim Chaney’s offense. Have we mentioned how well Bray has played this season? In two games, he’s completed almost 75 percent of his passes, hasn’t thrown a pick and has six touchdowns. The 6-foot-6 junior has put the ball in the hands of multiple playmakers including Justin Hunter. Hunter has made up for Da’Rick Rogers dismissal with 17 catches for 219 yards and three scores. JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is the hidden gem who made a splash in Tennessee’s emphatic opener in Atlanta against N.C. State.

Moreover, it’s an important game for Bray who is still trying to put his name in the elite realm of college football’s top quarterbacks. A stellar outing against one of the SEC’s best secondaries would certainly strengthen his argument and make him an early front-runner for the league’s offensive player of the year award.

As the saying goes, there’s two sides to every story and Florida views Saturday’s game just as vital to its championship expectations.

What will the Gators have to say about Tennessee’s most important game of the Dooley era? Florida will try and handle it as business as usual. Florida has dominated the rivalry, winning 15 of the last 20 games including seven straight. Despite a weak history on offense under Will Muschamp, the Gators opened a few eyes last week with a road win over Texas A&M, a gutsy 20-17 decision. Quarterback Jeff Driskel made enough plays to win away from home in the SEC, something you can’t teach a young quarterback. The Gators come in with confidence and a quiet swagger since most view them as the underdog.

We’ll see what Tennessee is made of Saturday night in Knoxville and for Dooley’s sake, determine how many feelers he should send to other schools in the offseason — perhaps none if his team handles the pressure and captures a win.

How do you think Dooley and the Vols will fare in their biggest game in three seasons Saturday?



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  • The past few years Tennessee has been outnumbered talent-wise and could not keep up. This year is a different story. They will cause Georgia, alaBAMA, and South Carolina problems this year solely because of their experience and talent level.

    I would love to guarantee a Vols win this weekend, but I think this has the hype and potential to be a Florida-Tennessee rivalry classic.

    ESPN College Gameday. Neyland at night. Florida-Tennessee rivalry that finally means something again. This UT fanbase is ready to unload on someone… I’ll be there.


    • I agree it’s going to be a great game. However, I will go on record to guarantee a win. We lost Justin Hunter on the first drive last year in Gainesville and only lost by ten. The Gators D isn’t going to know what hit ’em. Dooley will get up early and the Gator offense won’t be able to keep up. GO BIG ORANGE.

      • Guarantee?? Foolish this one is….you should know better than to guarantee a win in ANY SEC matchup! Tennessee looks a little more stout this year and I am glad to see it, as a UGA fan, we need as much strength as we can get in the east. I live in Alabama, and to hear them talk here, a good team has NEVER come out of the east, so soon they forget…..5 years ago Bama lost to the U of Louisiana-Monroe…..under the great Nick Saban…….Think Arkansas saw it coming either? Don’t count those W’s before the game is played! Florida has a great D is they can get their stuff together. I can’t wait til the UGA vs TN game this year, as it should be fun to watch with some nice deep bombs coming from both QB’s. Hard to pick who to root for on this one. Hope it is a fun one too.

  • I think both Tennessee and Florida are much improved this year, but the team that takes the win in Knoxville will have proven which team has taken the bigger step. Should be a great atmosphere up in Neyland. I’m excited to watch it.

  • The Vols are coming into this game with an air of confidence they haven’t had in years when facing the Gators. Their was always a looming tension with Fulmer. It seems like there is less pressure than excitement with the Vols right now.

  • Gotta say, I think Florida wins. And I’m a Dawg. I don’t like either of these guys.

  • It’s not going to be an easy game to watch like it has in the past… It’s gonna be anybody’s game… but GO GATORS!!!!!

  • No matter who wins, Tennessee v. Florida is gonna be a great game, and it will probably come down to the wire.