Florida's 1990 game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa might be more a "mirror image" of this year's Florida-Tennessee game. That 1990 game was the first road game of the season for Florida against a formidable opponent in a hostile environment. Florida's first conference game of 2005 is at home in The Swamp against the Volunteers but just like the Alabama game of 1990, it pits two SEC powerhouses head to head and Florida enters the clash of titans with the new coach.
When Steve Spurrier's Gators traveled to Tuscaloosa for their second game in 1990, they were coming off the huge win in the opener over Oklahoma State. Steve Spurrier called the 'Bama game the biggest win (17-13) ever for Florida. It was a defining moment for Spurrier and the Gators as the eyes of the college football started looking at the Gators and would continue to do so for twelve seasons. Those same eyes will be looking at Gainesville for 2005 UT game. Some will look with wonder, some with amusement but many with fear as they see another Florida team, like the one in 1990, start the change of offensive football in the SEC. SEC teams will either learn the offense or they will be "swamped" by its concepts. It was the Bear, who initially feared what would happen if the Gators, with all their resources and talent, ever got the right coach. This coach is the right coach, part II.
The 1990 Gators, who displayed offensive firepower in the opening game, won their second game with a swarming defense and special team play in hostile territory and showed that the brash new coach could win a close game on the road. The 1990 game did set the Gators up in the SEC. While the conference did strip the title away from the Gators for infractions committed before Spurrier ever arrived back in Florida, Spurrier never failed to give the special 1990 team its due.
Florida should enter the 2005 game with Tennessee undefeated just as the 1990 team was when it hit the road for Tuscaloosa. While the Wyoming Cowboys in the opener may extend the Gators a little more than the Gator fans would like, the second game against Louisiana Tech should allow the Gators to get the kinks out and get ready for a war in The Swamp.
When Urban Meyer leads the Gator out of the tunnel in front of a prime time viewing audience on CBS to face the Vols, The Swamp will be its loudest since FSU 1997. In the documentary "Do You Believe In Miracles," about the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team, Al Michaels said at the end of the match with the Soviets the arena was so loud that "sound had feel to it." That will be the Swamp early on in the UT game --- its sound will have feel. There is no college stadium like The Swamp and fans can expect to "feel" this season. If the Gators can get on an early roll, opponents will both loathe and fear The Swamp once again.
Tennessee will try to do what it likes to do best on offense --- pound it between the tackles and then throw it over the top when the safeties try to creep too close on run support. For Florida to be successful, the Gators will need to shut down the running game much as the 1990 Gators shut down Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Spurrier's first goal on defense was always to make the opponent one dimensional by taking away the run. Meyer has continually talked about playing defense with toughness and his idea of good defense starts with stuffing the opponents running game. Now, if only there is a future Lawrence Wright in the Florida secondary ready to make some Vol wide receiver understand why Joey Kent still hears the footsteps.
The pressure to win the Alabama game was squarely on Florida's shoulders in 1990 just as it will be on the Gators shoulders in 2005 for the Vols. This is Urban Meyer's first proving game. He will have several opportunities to do that in 2005 but none like the stage he has for this game. With a win the Gators get confidence and roll but if they lose they have to go to Kentucky the next weekend and gather themselves back together for the SEC stretch run playing catch up the rest of the season.
If the UT defense is able to handle the Gator offense like the Tide handled the Gators in 1990, the game will be epic. If the Gators are able to operate the offense like I think they will, the win will be a landmark and Gator fans will look at it as the re-birth of Gator football.
While Spurrier called 1990's Bama win their biggest game, I will talk about in part 4 of the series why I think it was the second biggest win of the 1990 season. Following the game, players and coaches talked about how the Gators had trouble in previous seasons beating SEC teams on the road and how big the win was, but in truth the Gators had won in Baton Rouge (1989) and Emmitt Smith had run wild in Birmingham (1987). Florida's biggest road win was still yet to come in 1990.