Tennessee Stat Book
Matt Simms didn't have to wait long for Florida week to start. In fact, he didn't have to wait at all.
Late Saturday night, Tennessee's quarterback walked out of the locker room at Neyland Stadium digesting the 48-13 loss to Oregon. His mother Diana was waiting with a kind word.
As they emerged from the tunnel under Gate 21, a UT fan approached. Here, let Simms tell it:
"He goes, 'Tough loss. You did a good job tonight, but if you beat Florida, we'll forget everything.'
"It kind of put a smile on my face, even though I was disappointed about the game. It kind of made me realize how important this game is.''
Oregon was a tough loss, both in the lopsided margin and because Simms and the Vols knew it shouldn't have gotten so lopsided.
But, of course, the fan was right. Oregon was instantly history. Beat the Gators and all is suddenly right with UT's troubled world.
Problem is, the Vols haven't beaten the Gators since 2004 and will be a two-touchdown underdog Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Simms is a New Jersey kid. He arrived at UT in January. But he gets Tennessee-Florida.
This is the kind of game he dreamed of playing in but it wasn't a dream that he seemed likely to realize.
"Especially since I went to Louisville (out of high school),'' he said. "I never thought I'd be playing in a game of such magnitude at a stadium like this against a team like them.''
While attending junior college in California last fall he watched Florida's 23-13 win in The Swamp, never thinking he'd be Tennessee's quarterback a year later.
"When Eric Berry hit Tim Tebow it was one of those moments I'll never forget,'' Simms said.
"Most people think Tim won that battle, but I disagree. I think Eric won that battle.''
Simms will have to win his share of battles Saturday if UT is to nourish any upset hopes.
Tennessee's passing game, while showing some nice flashes, hasn't exactly been a work of art. The Vols rank last in the SEC and 107th nationally in pass-efficiency.
A Simms interception that was returned for a touchdown was a defining moment in the Oregon loss. And here come the Gators, who lead the nation with eight interceptions.
"What the other team does affects our game plan every week,'' UT coach Derek Dooley said Monday. "It's not going to affect us to where we're scared to do anything.''
Florida has returned a pick for a touchdown in each of its first two games. Last week it was defensive end Justin Trattou, who - small world - is Simms' lifelong friend from Jersey.
They helped Don Bosco Prep win a state title in 2006. Before that were Little League battery mates.
When Florida recruited Trattou, Simms wasn't invited along for the ride.
"They didn't need a quarterback,'' Simms said with a laugh, "they had a guy named Tim Tebow they were getting ready.''
He doesn't expect to hear from Trattou this week, at least not anything friendly.
And that's fine.
"I can't lie,'' Simms said, "even when I wasn't here at Tennessee I was never a big Florida fan. I was always rooting for Tennessee, even though I had no idea why.''
He's got a pretty good idea why now. Beating Florida erases a lot of bad memories.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-342-6276.