It has been so long since Tennessee beat Florida in football that people who aren't named James Wilhoit probably can’t remember the last time it happened.
Wilhoit missed a potential game-tying extra point late in the fourth quarter but redeemed himself by nailing a 50-yard field goal with six seconds left to give the Vols a dramatic 30-28 victory at Neyland Stadium.
In case you’ve forgotten — and you probably have — that happened way back in September 2004.
To put that in perspective:
Tennessee head man Butch Jones was running backs coach at Central Michigan, still three years shy of his first head-coaching job.
Florida head man Will Muschamp was defensive coordinator at LSU, still seven years from his first head-coaching gig.
Vol freshman Cameron Sutton, who will start at cornerback in Saturday’s game at Gainesville, was 9 years old and a fourth-grader in elementary school.
It has been nine long years since Tennessee defeated Florida, yet it seems even longer to Volunteer seniors who fell to the Gators 31-17 in 2010, 33-23 in 2011 and 37-20 in 2012.
Senior center James Stone said ending The Streak “would mean a lot. More than just it being my senior year … it would mean something for Team 117 and for (the state of) Tennessee. That’s something we’re all focusing on this week to get accomplished down there in The Swamp.”
Senior defensive end Corey Miller admits that the eight-game losing streak is foremost on his mind, although he tries to leave the past in the past.
“We’re definitely aware of it,” he said. “But this is Team 117 and we’re looking for a new dream, looking forward to a new era of Tennessee football. We’re going to try to go out there and get the job done.”
Obviously, ending the eight-game losing streak would be a huge relief for Tennessee’s veteran players.
“It would mean everything to the senior class because we’re setting an example – not only for ourselves, but for young guys in the state of Tennessee,” Miller said. “If we can get a win against Florida it will jump-start the Tennessee program back to where it needs to be.”
Senior offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James agrees, noting: “It would definitely mean a lot. Every game you want to win but I’m trying to get Florida because we haven’t beaten them.”
Senior nose tackle Daniel Hood thinks it’s important for the Vols to be mindful of Florida’s recent mastery of Tennessee.
“As seniors, we tell the freshmen what it feels like to lose to Florida and people like that,” he said. “We try to help them in that mindset. At the end of the day, though, this is a different Florida team and this is a different Tennessee team.”
Still, you wonder if the series history impacts each team’s mindset. For instance, the Gators were thoroughly outplayed in the first 30 minutes of last year’s game but rallied from a 14-10 halftime deficit to trounce Tennessee 37-20. It appeared that Florida players were thinking, ‘No sweat. We own these guys,’ while Tennessee players were thinking, ‘Uh-oh. Here we go again.’”
Miller concedes that the Gators exhibit a lot of swagger when they face the Vols.
“Florida’s one of the most confident teams I’ve seen,” he said. “They believe they can beat anybody, and they’re a very talented team. At the same time, we also believe in ourselves and the program Coach Jones has set up for us, so it’s going to be a great chance for us to go out there and put on (a good performance) for Tennessee.”
|The Vols' senior class doesn't want to exit Rocky Top having never defeated Florida.|
Hood insists that series history had no bearing on last season’s finishing fade against the Gators.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it was just our immaturity last year as a football team. We never really developed the mental toughness to overcome the bad things that happened in a game last year.”
Although he has been involved in just two losses to Florida, junior defensive end Jordan Williams admits that Saturday’s game means extra to him. He grew up in Gainesville but wasn’t offered a scholarship by the Gators, so beating them would be especially sweet.
“It would mean a lot,” he said. “With an eight-game losing streak, I feel like we’re due one.”
Even the Vols who didn’t grow up in Gainesville, he believes, have extra incentive for this weekend’s game because of The Streak.
“Yeah, yeah,” Williams said. “I could see it today (Tuesday) in our demeanor in practice.”
No Vol seems to be more fired up than senior linebacker Dontavis Sapp, who appears to be seeking some personal vindication against the Gators.
“I’m 0-3 and against ‘em,” he said, “so it’d be good to get this win and stop this losing streak.”
Asked if he’s aware that Florida has swept the last eight meetings, Sapp flashed a pained grin.
“Of course, we’re aware of it,” he said. “If we’re not aware ourselves, people (fans) certainly will make sure we’re aware of it.”