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Simmons Says - Vols have to prove it vs. Gators
Simmons, Jeffery 2022.png

If it really is going to be Tennessee’s year, like I have been using as a rallying cry for the better part of two decades, the Vols will have to prove it Saturday. Beating two cupcakes at home, as well as a ranked – and beat up - Pittsburgh team on the road, may have the Vols at 3-0 for the first time in six years, but nobody will care if they choke against Florida this Saturday (2:30 p.m., CBS).

When it comes to rebuilding a brand and getting a crazed fanbase hyped, Josh Huepel has done all the right things. He’s rarely missed in his first 16 games, maybe aside from dropping the Music City Bowl to Purdue last year (and I really don’t want to talk about forward progress again). He’s still yet to beat any of the Big three (Alabama, Georgia and Florida) though and that must change Saturday.

Tennessee, now No. 11 in the polls, won’t have an excuse to fall to the Gators this year. I’ve seen every minute of all three Vols games and most of Florida’s three matchups – Tennessee is better. Offensively, the Vols play at a break-neck pace that should give the Gators, devoid of their slew of dominant defensive linemen, fits. 

Defensively, the Vols may have some struggles dealing with Anthony Richardson’s mobility, but Florida’s QB has three less passing touchdowns than Joe Milton, Tennessee’s backup QB, and four more interceptions. Simply put, Richardson has struggled getting Florida’s passing game going and could have easily presided over an 0-3 start if not for some sensational running against Utah and South Florida choking in the final minute last week.

With all that said, I’m still terrified of this matchup. It worries me even more that Vegas has made Tennessee a double-digit favorite, something that sounds utterly ridiculous when you realize the Vols have lost to Florida 16 times since I graduated high school (which, admittedly, is starting to feel like a long, long time ago).

The Vols love to invent new ways to lose to Florida, whether it’s the Hail Mary in 2017, blowing a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in 2016 (capped by the Gators hitting a game-winning 63-yard TD on fourth-and-long), Jabar Gaffney’s non-catch called a TD in 2000 and letting a backup QB torch them in a truly horrifying 2014 loss. I could name more, but you see the point and I’m going to start crying if I have to replay any more of those losses in my mind.

For the sake of my sanity, and that of Big Orange Nation, I hope the Vols don’t blow it again. For once, this needs to be where Tennessee makes the statement that it’s truly back instead of falling on its face again in the biggest moment.

Please be the year! I have to be right once.