Tennessee Stat Book
Florida hasn't dominated the series recently so much as one man did.
Either way, Tennessee is now looking to reclaim it - a couple yards at a time.
With or without Tim Tebow at quarterback the No. 10 Gators are a handful, and coach Urban Meyer has tilted the rivalry dramatically in his favor by winning all five meetings since taking over the program. Nowhere was the edge more decidedly against the Vols than in short-yardage situations on the most important downs over the last four years, and if they hope to snap their losing streak Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.), they'll have to start by doing what they never could against Tebow - keep the Gators from grinding out the tough yards.
"I remember last year we had like a third-and-3 and we had Tebow basically sacked behind the line," Vols linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "We were about to go crazy, and then all of a sudden he slips one tackle, he slips two tackles, breaks three or four tackles and he got a first down.
"So, that's definitely an element that I don't feel like they can replace because it's Tim Tebow, you can't replace that great of a player - just like we can't replace Eric Berry."
Even with Berry at safety the Vols (1-1) had a tough time getting off the field on meaningful downs, and during Tebow's career, they didn't stop him even one time when he needed four yards or less on third or fourth down and ran the football. That 0-for-13 string wasn't the sole determining factor in UT's losses, but an inability to stop the single-wing approach with Tebow bulling straight ahead certainly played a huge role in them.
Obviously those days are gone with Tebow now in the NFL, and though Florida (2-0) has had some success in pressure situations without him already this season, it's clear the approach has had to change. After throwing four times out of five already needing three yards or less on third down, it's still not exactly clear how the Gators will consistently pick up the yardage that used to be automatic.
"There are some similar concepts that carry over in terms of their run game," UT defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "Obviously with the quarterback, (John) Brantley will run it some, then they've got another guy (Trey Burton) they'll put back there who's their hybrid and does it all, real talented kid. They still use those same concepts, but it's a different guy back there.
"But teams that are good on third downs are usually good on first downs, because the better situation you get yourself in on third down, obviously the better you're going to be. Third-and-2 is much tougher to call than third-and-10, I'll put it that way."
After those plays are called, actually getting the stop is just as difficult - and the Gators have proven time and again how valuable those conversions are for an offense and demoralizing they can be for the defense.
Given the lack of depth the Vols are currently working with, a few stuffs on third downs coupled with a balanced rushing attack of their own would provide a huge lift as they try to open conference play with an upset of a hated rival. And it will take more than just a few inspired signals from Wilcox to win those pivotal battles with a drive on the line.
"We've got to be creative in how we try to attack those and not put ourselves in bad spots," Wilcox said. "(But) football is an attitude, whether it's third-and-short or first-and-10. Football is an attitude game, and you have to have that in your blood to be able to play it and play it well. At the same time, it also has to do with being physical -- you've got to be big and physical.
"So we're going to have to dig in and fight when we get to those third-and-short situations."
Like the series, those fights have all gone Florida's way lately. Reversing that trend could fix the bigger problem for the Vols, no matter who's lining up at quarterback against them.