KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- They have been waiting for the rematch with Florida for a little more than a year, ever since that soggy, sorrowful afternoon in Gainesville. It seemed appropriate for that game to have been played in a place called "The Swamp," for that's exactly what happened to the Tennessee Volunteers in the second half against the Gators.
It wasn't merely the 48 straight points Florida racked up to obliterate a 16-point deficits from the first half. Nor was it just the final score -- Florida 62, Tennessee 37 -- that made the Vols point toward today's game at Neyland Stadium.
It was the manner in which the Gators won their third straight against Tennessee. They did it with crushing hits, taunting words and intimidation. Though the Vols came back to win the rest of their last year's defeat to Florida was the driving force behind preparation for this season.
"We really want to beat this team," senior tailback Jay Graham said earlier this week. "This team is standing between us and a national championship."
A victory for second-ranked Tennessee (2-0) over fourth-ranked Florida (2-0) before what is expected to be an NCAA-record crowd of more than 107,000 will exorcise painful ghosts and erase bitter memories of what has been mostly a one-sided rivalry since Steve Spurrier turned the Gators into a national power.
Those who are expecting another shootout may be in for a sur- Green prise if the Vols -- and Mother Nature -- have their way. "I think it's going to be a game of defense," said Graham, aware that rain is in the forecast.
In one regard, it certainly will be determined by which defense can stop the other's Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback. The Vols seem to have a healthy respect for Florida's Danny Wuerffel, but the cocky Gators are hoping -- no, counting -- on stopping Tennessee's Peyton Manning.
"We're going to get to him, and we're going to get to him often," sophomore end Tim Beauchamp said earlier in the week in Gainesville before Spurrier put him off limits to the media. "When you get after him, he gets rattled up."
Said strong safety Lawrence Wright, "They don't know what it feels like to beat us. They have doubt in the back of their minds."
The Vols are keeping their collective yap shut, hoping to have the last word. There is great anticipation for today's game -- local grade schools were even holding pep rallies yesterday -- and a quiet confidence that this will be the year Tennessee ends this frustrating three-year losing streak to the hated Gators.
"Sometimes it's hard to read what kind of game it will be," said Ron Green, a Vols redshirt sophomore defensive tackle from Severna Park "It's a lot of hype."
Said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, "If you can't get excited about this one, you can't get excited about life."
The Vols are excited. But are they ready?
Pub Date: 9/21/96