KNOXVILLE – Big. Fast. Athletic. Those are the words that nearly every Tennessee player and coach have used in describing Florida – particularly the Gators’ defense – this week.
It’s a fair assessment. Even playing without linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb) and cornerback Cody Riggs (foot), the Gators have plenty of ability on defense.
The Vols found that out in 2011. A then-less experienced Florida defense sacked quarterback Tyler Bray three times and intercepted him twice on the way to a 33-23 victory in The Swamp. It was even more dominant against the run. The Vols ended up in the red on the afternoon with a total of negative-9 yards on the ground.
For a Tennessee team that has averaged more than 500 yards of offense and 43 points per game so far in its young season, facing the extremely athletic Florida defense will be a true test of how far it has come.
"They are a real physical football team that flies around and wants to play an aggressive style of defense," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "I think any good defense is good in all stages, and they are very talented in the back half and very talented in the front half.”
Much of that defense that made life miserable on the Tennessee offense in 2011 is back this season. There are exceptions. Defensive end Ronald Powell (ACL) won’t be playing, for example. But many of the notable names remain. Names such as defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, defensive end Dominique Easley, linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Matt Elam will be looking for their second consecutive impressive performance against the Vols.
Blocking Floyd and Easley could be the biggest key for an offensive line that had a poor showing in Gainesville last season.
“I don't think any of our guys really kept their composure last year against them,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “But it's a new year. Hopefully we've learned from it. I think we've learned from it by evidence of how we've played the first couple games. But this will be a good test for them."
Coiner talks Brodus decision: Special teams coach Charlie Coiner said kicker Derrick Brodus earned the right to start on Saturday because of his production in practice and in his limited opportunities in game.
“We chart everything we do here,” Coiner said. “It’s a constant evaluation process. What gives you confidence in Derrick is we’ve been charting it, we put him in the stadium and he did well.”
Coiner's not worried about the big stage affecting Brodus. Noting the junior kicker’s calm demeanor, Coiner said a good kicker is immune to the environment – something he hopes Brodus will be on Saturday with the national spotlight on him.
“Whether you play Georgia State or Florida, they’re not going to move the goalposts,” Coiner said. “The football field is going to be the same. You block all that stuff out – that’s what snappers, kickers and holders do. If they do that it shouldn’t matter who they’re facing.”
Sunseri wants to get to Driskel: Texas A&M sacked Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel eight times in the Aggies' 20-17 loss to the Gators last week.
Eight might be too high of an expectation for a Tennessee defense that has only four on the season, but defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, who is 3-1 against the Gators in his other coaching stops, thinks there might be opportunities to get to the Gators' sophomore quarterback.
"They were rushing the passer pretty darn good," Sunseri said of Texas A&M last week."Guys were just getting after it and they had some good coverages. They came with a couple of pressures and they got there. Texas A&M had a good game plan to rush the passer, and we have to do the same thing."
• Coiner, who also coaches the tight ends, was amazed by the recovery of sophomore tight end Brendan Downs, who is questionable for Saturday’s game despite dislocating his patella (knee) just more than a month ago. “He must have a freakish knee,” he said.
• Saturday’s game has been labeled the Davey O’Brien Award Marquee Match-up for week three. The O’Brien award honors college football’s top quarterback at the end of the season. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray was on the watchlist for the award in the preseason.
• Tennessee has confirmed that all 102,455 tickets have been sold for Saturday.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.