The Florida Gators travel to Knoxville, TN to face the Tennessee Volunteers in a rivalry game with few equals for either on the schedule. It’s hate week for both; the first week of the college football season in which the beautiful and the ugly come out from both fanbases. Sure, the Gators and Vols have both played two games early in the 2012 college football season, but take a look at the opponents – Bowling Green, Texas A&M, North Carolina State, Georgia State. Those names mean nothing now.* The season starts in week three for both of these teams. Weeks one and two were glorious times in which our favorite sport returned; now, it’s time to hate.
*These asterisked things usually come at the end of whatever long- or short-winded rant I’ve gone on, but for these special moments, I’m throwing them in wherever. Those games don’t actually mean nothing. They’re important for one of many reasons. You see young pupils, for the 2012 college football season, the Southeastern Conference (also known as the SEC) expanded to 14 teams. The Florida Gators were lucky enough to have both of the new conference members put on their schedule. In week two, the mighty Gators traveled to a foreign land known as College Station, TX. Stories of the vaunted 12th man were legendary, but the Gators would not show fear. No children, the great orange and blue machine road into Texas A&M and came out victorious. SEC record: 1-0.
So those games are actually relevant and important and everything else, but some more so than others. They don’t compare to today though. Today is a new world, but one we’re very familiar with. Florida fans hate everything about Tennessee. Vols’ fans despise the Gators and rightfully so. Rivalries magnify everything. Not much is expected of these two programs this season. They’re both growing and improving, but they aren’t expected to be anywhere near the national championship picture at the end of the year (or even the middle). That doesn’t diminish the rivalry feel and it definitely doesn’t extinguish the hatred. It’s ever present. Playing for a crystal ball does not a rivalry make.
For me, Tennessee is the most hated rival. I’ve mentioned that before and every time I do, people find it hard to understand. For most Gators’ fans, Tennessee falls into the third spot behind Florida State and Georgia. I won’t argue with that. Those top three are the top three and you can put them in any order you wish. But I have my reasons and the Vols are number one. It could be because I don’t know a single person that went there. I didn’t grow up with delusional friends that were Tennessee fans. Then again, I didn’t grow up with friends that cheered for Georgia either, but the Gators beat the Bulldogs fairly consistently during my college football formative years. And this is where my worry sets in about the latest generation.
Let’s say you’re in high school right now. You may not remember the last time the Vols beat the Gators. This was me growing with with the Georgia rivalry. The Dawgs won so few during that huge span that the rivalry didn’t reach its highest levels for me until years later. It’s there, but the battle with Tennessee was a bigger one. I can see that happening in reverse for those growing up now. As horrible as it sounds, a Vols’ victory may be needed to reignite the rivalry for the youngins. Now before you go postal on me, I don’t want Tennessee to ever win. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. I’m fine with seven in a row becoming eight or nine or ten or twenty. I simply want those in their teens to know and understand the history and hate accordingly. Today could have a great outcome or an awful one, but it has the potential to bring that rivalry to the forefront for those of the next generation.
And if that doesn’t make you hate the Vols, than this surely will…
That’s Tennessee starting quarterback Tyler Bray. Huh? What’s that? That’s not a picture of Bray’s tattoo? Oh sorry, this is…
Nice ink bro.
Now that your hatred for Tennessee has reached epic levels, let’s talk about the game…
The Gators will start a quarterback that doesn’t have his name on his back like he’s an American Idol-winning pop star. “I got the stars behind it because I’m a star. Get it? I’m a star. I SAID I’M A STAR.” In game one, Jeff Driskel looked better than he did during the 2011 season. In game two, he looked better than he did in game one. You know the next step. Driskel is improving. Like him or like his counterpart – Jacoby Brissett – it’s hard to argue with that. However, this is the biggest game he has played to this point. The job is 100% his going into Knoxville. He’s the leader of the offense and his performance is enormously important for the outcome of the Gators’ season. Pressure? Yes. The Gators make a statement with a win today and Driskel may need to win it for them. Running back Mike Gillislee will play, but he’s not perfectly healthy. This is Driskel’s defining game in his young career. More will come, but 3-0 (2-0 SEC) is infinitely better than 2-1 (1-1 SEC). Driskel has big shoulders and today he has to use them to carry the rest of the offense to victory.
And here come the other improvements he needs to make. Driskel can run. He’s pretty darn good at it. Unfortunately, he knows he’s pretty darn good at it. When plays break down and there are no open looks, Driskel tries to use his feet. Against Bowling Green and Texas A&M, we looked away when he was flushed from the pocket. Too many plays resulted in Driskel eventually running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. That can’t happen. Not once. Seriously. Each time, he got to the sidelines with more than enough time to just toss the ball out of bounds. Driskel is giving opponents too many yards in those situations. He needs to be aware of the field and know exactly where he is. This will come, or at least it should, but it needs to come sooner than later. No, it needs to come now.
But Driskel can’t do it alone. He needs help and that help comes from the offensive line. The passing game improves if the line keeps Driskel in the pocket. The running game improves if they continue to open lanes for Gillislee. The line has been a thing of…something…for too long now. There’s talent, but consistency is a thing of the past. The offense needs the line drive after drive. The line can’t take plays off and that leads us right to the line on the other side of the ball.
The defensive line can be the most talented in the country. From the veterans to the rookies, the line has an unbelievable amount of speed, power, and everything else that goes along with being good, nay great. And that’s where consistency comes in. When the defensive line is on, it’s hard for opposing offenses to do much, but if there’s a breakdown, the defense gives up big plays. Of course, if Jon Bostic plays even remotely like he did in the second half against the Aggies, we have absolutely nothing to worry about. Come with me on a ride through my head for second…
Seasons ago, I imagined a locker room that contained a very loud and extremely passionate middle linebacker. He wasn’t just the leader in the locker room and he wasn’t just the leader of the defense; he was the leader of the Florida Gators. He wore a chain around his neck and talked (or better yet, yelled) about desire and heart and hunger. His name was Brandon Siler and I had and still have an unhealthy man-crush. We all hoped Jon Bostic would become that sort of Gator. I imagine he did during halftime last week. When the Gators came out for the second half, Bostic looked five steps faster than he ever had before. He looked like he was determined to win the game by himself. For 30 minutes, Bostic became Andra Davis, Channing Crowder, Brandon Siler, Brandon Spikes and all those great middle linebackers before him. And that was without his playing partner Jelani Jenkins. Jenkins will be out and it’s up to Bostic to lift his unit, the defense and the Gators.
And that’s where I’ll come to a conclusion. Jon Bostic. The man wearing the No. 1 jersey. The leader of our beloved Florida Gators. He, like others, is a senior. This season is it for Bostic. His ride hasn’t gone as smooth as he probably expected when he committed to attend the University of Florida, but he can be among those that change that in 2012. Bostic isn’t alone, but he is one that defines what a game like this is all about. He has lost too many games and wants to JUST WIN! Hate week, huge rivalry, game day. Go Gators! Beat Tennessee!