Through the Mist

Florida at Tennessee
SEC Game of the Week

Sept. 20, 2008 on CBS at 3:30 ET

(article originally appeared 9.14.08 Gameday Weekly)

High up on a hill in Fort Sanders the view is quite spectacular.

Looking south out the window of a small two-bedroom apartment on the eleventh floor of a tall married-housing building on Laurel Avenue, here is what one can see.

Four blocks down, notice the bustle of Cumberland Avenue, the famed “strip” that has gotten many a Tennessee undergraduate – including a good share of football players – into trouble, snaking east from the big gold World’s Fair ball in downtown Knoxville toward the suburbs west of the city.

Past Cumberland, the hilly main campus of the university spreads toward the Tennessee River. The pyramid-like library, the mausoleum-like basketball arena, the wide four-lane highway named Neyland after the great Robert Reese, football coach and general. Pronounce it “knee-lund” like it should be.

Before that highway, there on the left, stands the imposing stadium honoring the same man.

Until seats were added a decade or so ago, with binoculars the southwest corner of the field could be seen, right down to the distinctive checkerboard endzone design that always brings to (my) mind dog chow.

Past the wide Tennessee River and miles to the south, the majestic Smoky Mountains grace the horizon, green and welcoming in summer, colorful and comforting in autumn, sometimes white and distant in winter, always clouded with a gray, smoky mist that burns off by the middle of the day.

When that same mist clears this weekend, more than just the gorgeous mountains will come into focus.

The SEC East race will begin to clear too.

Unbeaten 2-0 Florida, featuring the rock-star revivalist of a quarterback, Heisman winning Tim Tebow, the multi-talented receiver Percy Harvin, and the track-team speed on defense, travels to Knoxville for a game with 1-1 Tennessee.

The Gators hammered Hawaii in their season opener, but struggled offensively for more than a half before finally taming the Miami Hurricanes in week two.

Florida had an off-week to prepare for this showdown.

The Volunteers too were off early in the season. Unfortunately, their off-day came on Labor Day against UCLA.

Tennessee controlled much of that game, picking off four Bruin passes in the first half but giving up the lead with 27 seconds left in regulation. Picking themselves up, the Vols rallied for a tying field-goal to send the game to overtime. In OT, the Bruins made a field goal, Vol PK Daniel Lincoln missed one, and suddenly the defending SEC East champs were 0-1.

A subsequent 35-3 victory over hapless UAB (the Blazers actually gave up 12 fewer points to the Volunteers than their defense averaged coming into the game) was further diminished when reports arrived from the Rocky Mountains that BYU had obliterated that UCLA Bruin bunch by a tidy 59-0.

This game turns on one key factor.

Can Florida develop a running game to take the pressure off Tim Tebow?

If the Gators can, with help coming from any of a group that includes traditional running backs Kestahn Moore, Emmanuel Moody, Chris Rainey, or Mon Williams … or hybrid backs Percy Harvin and Brandon James … if the Gators get some support for Superman, they should win.

If they do not get that help?

If they do not, and Tebow keeps taking a pounding on virtually every running play, keeps having to make passing decisions after taking shots from big-time SEC defenders, keeps having to shoulder the load of the Florida offense … if the Gators do not get that support …well, I still think they have enough to win.

Scenario 1 means it will not be close.

Scenario 2 means it will be close.

Either way, when the mist clears, the Gators should win.

Game Ball: Florida

Author’s Note: As a doctoral student at UT, I watched the mist clear over the distant Smokies many days from that little apartment while writing a dissertation on Tennessee football.

What a view.

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