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Texas A&M Football

SEC Round-Up: History favors Florida as Gators travel to Rocky Top

September 22, 2022
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Second-year Tennessee coach Josh Heupel admitted it did not take long to get the message that beating Florida was essential to success in Knoxville.

“Probably 30 seconds after I arrived here on campus,” Heupel said earlier this week. “This is one of the ball games that this fan base and our players point to.”

That’s because Tennessee has too often been the nail to Florida’s hammer.

Old-timers in Knoxville still remember the good old days when Tennessee beat Florida on a regular basis.

Then, Steve Spurrier was hired as Florida’s coach in 1990, and things began to change.


The Gators beat Tennessee six times in seven years from 1991 to 1997. Florida’s dominance of Tennessee likely cost Peyton Manning the Heisman Trophy in 1997.

Even worse, Spurrier, a native Tennessean, reveled in the Vols’ futility against his Gators.

“You can’t spell Citrus (Bowl) without UT,” he once chided.

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Josh Heupel is looking for his first win over Florida this week.

Another time he crowed: “I know why Peyton (Manning) came back for his senior year. He wanted to be a three-time star of the Citrus Bowl.”

Losing to Florida was bad enough. The manner in which some of those losses occurred was worse.

In 2000, Florida won 27-23 on a late 3-yard touchdown pass which receiver Jabar Gaffney appeared to drop.

In 2014, Florida scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to win, 10-9.

In 2015, a Florida receiver caught a 63-yard touchdown pass with 1:26 remaining for a 28-27 victory.

In 2017, Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks threw a “Hail Mary” pass to Tyrie Cleveland for a 63-yard touchdown on the game’s final play for a 26-20 win.

Florida has won 16 of the last 17 games in the series.

But this year could be different. Tennessee is 3-0 and ranked No. 11. Florida is 2-1 and ranked 20th. The Volunteers are 10.5-point favorites.

Long-suffering Tennessee fans are eager to knock off Florida.

That includes several family members of Florida coach Billy Napier, who was born in Cookeville, Tennessee.

“My family on my dad’s side were big Tennessee fans and still are,” Napier said. “Since I can remember, this has been a huge game.”

But family trumps everything, right? Maybe not.

Napier will probably have family members rooting against him.

“I don’t know that they would tell me that to my face,” he said. “Hopefully, they will find a soft spot for the Gators. We’ll see.”

Around the SEC

This week’s games: No. 23 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Arkansas in Arlington; Vanderbilt at No. 2 Alabama; Missouri at Auburn; No. 20 Florida at No. 11 Tennessee; Kent State at No. 1 Georgia; Northern Illinois at No. 8 Kentucky; New Mexico at LSU; Tulsa at No. 16 Ole Miss; Bowling Green at Mississippi State; Charlotte at South Carolina

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Through three games, top-ranked Georgia has outscored its opponents 130-10.

Who’s hot: Dating back to last season, Georgia’s defense has allowed fewer than 20 points in 17 of its last 18 games. Through three games this season, the Bulldogs have allowed 10 total points. They went 11 quarters and 14 minutes before allowing their first touchdown last week to South Carolina. Georgia held Oregon to three points in the season opener. Since then, Oregon has scored 71 against Eastern Washington and 41 against BYU.

Who’s not: The Arkansas defense has allowed at least 325 passing yards in each game. Last week, Missouri State passed for 357 yards on the Razorbacks, who are ranked 131st out of 131 teams in passing defense. The Razorbacks are without standout safety Jalen Catalon, who has been lost for the remainder of the season because of injury. However, nickel back Myles Slusher is expected back in the lineup. He has missed the previous two games because of injury.

Keep an eye on: Auburn’s quarterback situation. Tigers starter T.J. Finley appeared to hurt his left (non-throwing) shoulder on a blindside tackle in the blowout loss to Penn State last week. Reports out of Alabama indicate Finley won’t play against Missouri on Saturday. However, coach Bryan Harsin refused to confirm or deny the reports, but there are confirmed reports that Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada won’t play this season following surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. If Finley is sidelined, Oregon transfer Robby Ashford will start.

The pressure is on: Isn’t it always on Harsin? But this week, perhaps the pressure intensifies even more. The embattled coach may be without his starting quarterback against what appears an inferior opponent. Speculation is Harsin will be fired following the season. If Auburn loses to Missouri, he could be ousted as soon as Sunday.

Best matchup: Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker has passed for 884 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. However, Florida’s pass defense will be the best he’s faced thus far. The Gators are ranked 26th nationally in pass defense. Utah’s Cameron Rising threw for just 216 yards and one touchdown on the Gators. Kentucky’s Will Levis passed for just 202 yards and a touchdown. Some of those low totals are because opponents are attacking Florida’s mediocre run defense. But the Gators have twice as many interceptions (4) than touchdown passes allowed (2).

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SEC Round-Up: History favors Florida as Gators travel to Rocky Top

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