The third Saturday in September used to mean something. When Phillip Fulmer and Steve Spurrier were coaching Tennessee and Florida respectively the game turned into a de facto play-in game for the SEC Championship.
Both Fulmer and Spurrier were back in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night but the magnitude and the rivalry isn’t the same.
The Florida Gators trounced Tennessee 34-3 on Saturday afternoon. It was just the fourth time since 1995 that the game wasn’t the CBS SEC Game of The Week. That is no fault of Florida this season. The Gators were 2-0 when the game time was announced and Tennessee was 0-2. Florida moved to 4-0 with the win on Saturday and Tennessee dropped to 1-3 with games against Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama, and South Carolina coming up. The Vols could easily be out of bowl contention by the end of October.
The rivalry used to garner national attention for how closely contested it was; now, the Gators straight up own Tennessee and there doesn’t appear to be any kind of emancipation coming for the Volunteers.
Florida has won 14 of the last 15 games in the series, outscoring Tennessee on average by 14.5 points. The Gators have beat Tennessee by 20 points in consecutive seasons, the first time since 2007-2008. Florida has won eight straight games over Tennessee in Gainesville.
“It was a really good win for us,” Dan Mullen said. “I thought we did a lot of good things out there today. There are still some things we need to clean up and we’re still a little sloppy in certain areas but we can always get better.”
There was no point on Saturday in which the Florida Gators should have felt uneasy about securing victory. Tennessee did force three turnovers; some of that sloppy play Mullen wants to clean up. Even when Tennessee had the ball inside the Gators’ 5-yard line in the first quarter — before the first of Florida’s four forced turnovers — it didn’t feel like Tennessee could sustain enough offensively or defensively to really test Florida.
Kyle Trask was the story on Saturday; he was always going to be the story —good, bad, or indifferent — but the defense wouldn’t just fade into obscurity. Last year David Reese thought the Gators broke Tennessee starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s will to play. This year Jon Greenard almost broke his chest with a huge hit as the Tennessee quarterback released the football.
“I knew that they took him out of the game, he couldn’t handle it. That’s what we tried to do today,” Greenard said. “He hates pressure. If you get in his face, I got a good hit on him one time, just let him know I was there. He knew I was there after that.”
Jeremy Pruitt may very well be a good football coach. He rose from a high school coordinator to an SEC head football coach in just 14 years. He hasn’t come close to beating Florida. He’s quickly heading towards a disastrous SEC record and the pressure will be on.
There’s a large gap between where Florida is and where Tennessee has fallen. Kentucky is improving and Mark Stoops is building a legitimate winner in Lexington, but they’re still building and will endure growing pains. The last two weeks have served to prove that the SEC East is Florida, Georgia and everyone else.
Let the countdown to Jacksonville begin.