Tennessee football: Beating Florida would change everything
The Florida game was once a season-defining moment for Tennessee. It could be again.
Gone are the days in which the winner was destined to end up in the SEC Championship Game. Neither program is elite at the moment, although the Gators could be trending in that direction. The Vols, in their own way, are also finally trending upwards after a 45-0 win against Chattanooga on Saturday.
The early season failures would be (mostly) forgotten if Tennessee could somehow beat Florida in The Swamp on Saturday. The Vols have only bested the Gators once in the past 14 tries and not in Gainesville since 2003.
A win over the Gators this season would reshape the season for Tennessee. Fans could chalk up the season-opening loss to Georgia State as a terrible upset. For whatever reason, the Vols weren’t ready to play the Panthers. Perhaps Jeremy Pruitt pushed his team too hard in the preseason or maybe Georgia State simply surprised the Vols. Either way, a win over Florida would practically erase that loss.
UT’s loss to BYU was heartbreaking. However, if the Vols beat Florida, fans could look back on the BYU loss and consider it respectable, especially after the Cougars beat Southern California on Saturday.
Tennessee will face a Florida team that certainly is beatable. The Gators were on the ropes against Kentucky on Saturday before pulling out a stunning 29-21 win in Lexington. The Gators certainly had to expend more energy against Kentucky than the Vols did against Chattanooga.
Florida will also have to overcome the loss of quarterback Feleipe Franks, who suffered a season-ending leg injury against Kentucky. Franks’ replacement, Kyle Trask, was extremely effective. Trask completed 9-of-13 passes for 126 yards to lead the Gators to a comeback win. Trask is clearly no pushover, but there’s a reason Franks was Florida’s starter. Now, he’s gone. One would think that would improve UT’s chances for a win.
The transition from Franks to Trask could also hurt Tennessee’s chances. Trask doesn’t have the experience of Franks. That should help the Vols. However, Tennessee also doesn’t have much of a track record for Trask and the Vols will have to prepare for Emory Jones, who Florida coach Dan Mullen said could also play in Franks’ absence.
No, Florida isn’t going to completely overhaul its offense because of a quarterback change, but it’s reasonable to think that Mullen will have a slightly different offensive approach to play to Trask or Jones’ strengths. The unknown will require Tennessee to be on its toes during preparation this week. UT might also need to adapt on the fly against the Gators.
Imagine how much the narrative of Tennessee’s season would change if the Vols pull off the upset. The Vols would have beaten a top 10 team and cruise into a bye week feeling much more confident than anyone would have imagined. Georgia State and BYU? Who would even remember those games if the Vols beat Florida?.
Imagine what beating Florida would mean for UT quarterback Jarrett Guaratano’s career. No matter what has or will happen in his tenure at Tennessee, a win on the road against Florida would never be forgotten.
The Florida game has been a defining rivalry for UT quarterbacks. Everyone remembers that Peyton Manning never beat Florida. Similarly, everyone remembers that former UT quarterback Casey Clausen beat Florida in Gainesville — twice.
If the Vols beat the Gators, the discussion of being bowl eligible would suddenly become relevant once again. Such a topic seemed like a pipe dream after UT’s 0-2 start. A win over Florida and the postseason would become a real possibility. A season that began with such heartbreak would be considered a success if the Vols could finish 6-6 with a win over Florida.
A win over the Gators would also reenergize UT’s fan base and, likely, the team itself. Then we could finally stop talking about all of that nonsense about Phillip Fulmer taking over for Pruitt.
Florida was always the thorn in Fulmer’s side. He had no problem with the likes of Alabama and Georgia. However, the Gators, and a coach named Steve Spurrier, usually got the upperhand on Fulmer. No one on UT’s campus would love a win over Florida more than Fulmer.
So will UT beat Florida on Saturday? Probably not.
However, the idea seems much more plausible after the Vols thoroughly beat Chattanooga. Tennessee wasn’t perfect but seemed to have a plan. That’s a start.
The best part about a potential win over Florida is that no one would expect it. Barring another monumental upset this week, the Vols would be the talk of the college football world. From 0-2 to 2-2 and a win over a key SEC East rival would have every analyst, including me, looking at the Vols much differently than before.
Tennessee fans have gotten their hopes up time and time again against Florida. Mostly, the Vols haven’t lived up to the hype. There is no hype this year. Tennessee is expected to lose. Maybe that can work in the Vols’ favor. If so, the 2019 season could be remembered much differently, much more favorably.