Vols talk about Tennessee vs. Florida
The last time Tennessee beat Florida, 109,061 fans went from delight to shock to elation in an unbelievable and exhilarating five-minute span.
James Wilhoit, steely eyed and focused after missing an extra point just minutes earlier that would have tied the game 28-28, kicked a 50-yard field goal, sending his teammates into a frenzy and the Vols to a 30-28 victory over the Gators on Sept. 18, 2004.
The Vols haven't won a game in the series since.
"I can't believe it's been that long," Wilhoit said.
The streak has pervaded talk of Saturday's game between No. 23 Tennessee (2-0) and No. 18 Florida (2-0) at Neyland Stadium (TV: ESPN, 6 p.m.).
UT coach Derek Dooley said the seven consecutive losses hold little relevance to players on today's teams. UT quarterback Tyler Bray was in middle school in California watching Pac-10 football when Knoxville erupted eight years ago.
But players from that 2004 team are convinced that Bray and the current Vols are ready to finally put the streak to bed.
"I think this year is different," said receiver Jayson Swain. "I know a lot of people talk about the mental block, but I think for the first time in a long time, Tennessee goes into this game a better team. When I look at the matchups, they favor Tennessee, and they haven't favored Tennessee in a long time."
Wilhoit had never missed an extra point in his college career when he botched the PAT that would have tied the game. Swain, who had caught a 13-yard pass from Erik Ainge to cut Florida's
lead to 28-27 with 3:25 left, said he was in shock.
"I remember the stadium turning inside out," said punter Dustin Colquitt. "We didn't know what was going on."
Wilhoit hardly remembered what it felt like to miss a kick that had become so routine.
"I wasn't nervous, but I was complacent," he said. "You look at the score and that extra point is the difference. From then on, I was rooting on the defense and just begging for another opportunity."
Colquitt, then a senior, gathered the special-teamers in a huddle. Senior punter/holder John Henderson poked his head in to offer encouragement
"We just said, 'Hey James, keep your head in the game. You're going to win this with a field goal,' " Colquitt said.
The look in Wilhoit's eyes gave Colquitt confidence.
"I remember everybody just thinking, 'Oh my gosh,' but to see him, it was like (the missed extra point) didn't happen," Colquitt said. "We were all on the sidelines, and he was very composed. You never know if you're going to get another chance. But he was ready."
To get another chance, the Vols would have to force a three-and-out on defense.
The Gators faced a third-and-3 from their own 38 with about a minute left when perhaps the second biggest play of the game occurred.
Florida receiver Dallas Baker was flagged for shoving UT cornerback Jonathan Wade after the whistle, costing the Gators 15 yards and a loss of down.
After a Florida punt, Tennessee had great field position. Wilhoit told then-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders that he was prepared to kick from almost any length.
"I said, 'Get me across midfield,' " Wilhoit said. "I wasn't being overconfident. But I was just determined that I wasn't going to be the guy who lost to Florida."
The Vols called on Wilhoit once they reached the 33, a 50-yard attempt. Swain said some teammates couldn't bear to watch.
"You saw some guys kind of turn their head and just wait for other people's reaction. I sat there with some other guys watching it," he said. "I had faith in Wilhoit that he would make the kick."
When the ball sailed through the uprights with six seconds to play, pandemonium broke out on the Tennessee sidelines. The Vols were even penalized for excessive celebration. They didn't care.
"It was the defining moment of my career, and one of the biggest moments of my life," said Wilhoit.
Pieces in place
Can the 2012 Vols recapture the magic of 2004? Wilhoit, Colquitt and Swain are predicting a Tennessee win.
"I think everything is set up for a Tennessee win," Swain said. "(Tim) Tebow's not there. Urban Meyer's not there. (Tennessee) has earned the right to be on this stage. It wasn't given them.
"Now they just have to earn the right to stay on the stage."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.