There have been many great quarterbacks to come out of Tennessee, many great defensive players, many great receivers, and so on.
None of them have had as much of an impact on this game as special teams players.
In 2004, James Wilhoit, who had never done this before in his life, missed the tying PAT. Then the Vols got the ball back, and Wilhoit nailed a 51 yarder to redeem himself and win the game for Tennessee, 30-28.
A year later, in 2005, a trio of Gator field goals made the difference in a 16-7 win.
2006 was an absolute debacle for the Vols. They let Brandon James run rings around them, shanked a punt, and lost 21-20.
The following year was even worse. The Vols again allowed Brandon James to torch them for a punt return TD and a pair of long kick returns. Florida won, 59-20.
2008 might have been the worst of all. Once again, Brandon James took a punt for a TD, a kickoff across midfield, the Vols again shanked a punt, and Florida won 30-6 (although in this game, red zone woes were equally atrocious).
Two years ago, in 2009, guess who took the opening kickoff to the Vols’ 44 yard line- and received 15 bonus yards for a pointless facemask grab? He was one of the reasons Florida won 23-13.
And then there was last year, 2010, when Brandon James mercifully departed and left the Vols to face a new tormentor- Omarious Hines. Tennessee somehow allowed Hines to use ballerina dance moves for 36 yards on a fake punt, Jeff Demps took a kickoff to the 43 and Florida won again, 31-17.
It’s pretty safe to say that special teams has played a big part in deciding the last 7 winners of this game- and the last six- all Urban Meyer coached games- were won by Florida.
Special teams were Meyer’s baby, and they appear to be Muschamp’s as well. That bodes very well for the Gators when you look at this.
The Gators don’t have another Brandon James, but they do have Jeff Demps and Andre Debose, who I would say are more than acceptable replacements. Debose took two to the house last year, Demps took one back against FAU (nullified by holding, but come on… is anybody on FAU really going to catch Demps?) and the two have combined for a total of 7 kick returns into opponents’ territory, in the 15 games they’ve returned kicks.
The Gators also blocked 20 kicks/punts under Urban Meyer, and blocked one on opening day against FAU. How do you think that could translate to Saturday?
An unrelated key: we get Sharrif Floyd back. That should help us maul an offensive line that’s been less than perfect and more than frightening (for Derek Dooley to eal with). The trenches should belong to the Gators… but you know what? As long as Florida doesn’t lose the game on offense or defense, they will win it with special teams.
At least, they have for six straight years.