FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2018, file photo, Tennessee linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. (34) returns an interception for a touchdown as East Tennessee State University's Greg McCloud (58) tries to make the tackle during an NCAA college football game in Knoxville, Tenn. Statistics suggest Tennessee's defense has improved quite a bit the last couple of weeks and heads into Southeastern Conference competition with momentum. Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt sees it differently. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

Tennessee Opens New Chapter in Rivalry Against Florida

A new phase of the Florida-Tennessee rivalry kicks off Saturday as Jeremy Pruitt and Dan Mullen look to etch their names in this storied rivalry.

How they match up

The Vols look to extend their win streak to three games after dropping their season opener to West Virginia. Pruitt and his team open up SEC play this week as they continue to build upon the improvements made as a team.

Pruitt hopes he can get the edge on coaching for this game, especially on special teams. In recent years with the games being so close between the teams, the little things throughout the games could be the difference.

“Going against Coach Mullen’s teams, they’ve always been well coached in the special teams,” Pruitt said. “They’ve got really good kickers, they got good specialists and they got really good speed on their coverage teams so we’ll have to do a really good job to find a way in making it an advantage for us.”

This team will go as far as Pruitt takes them. Even though this roster isn’t the most talented in years past, the coaching staff makes this team competitive.

“When it comes to team, we’re still working on that,” Pruitt said. “Part of being a leader is having a chance to influence others and it’s tough to do that if you’re not out there practicing with them and participating everyday.”

Tennessee will hope to take advantage of the Gators on the ground. The Vols average just over 220 rush yards a game

and look to keep that up against a Florida defense that couldn’t defend the run versus Kentucky (303 rushing yards against the Gators in week 2) and was constantly missing tackles.

Remembering the past

It’s safe to say that this is one of the better rivalries in college football, let alone the SEC. Year after year this game had implications on national rankings and SEC standings, but this Saturday will mark the third time in the last five years that neither team is ranked.

“Well you know at the time [in the early 90s], it was probably two of the premier teams in the entire country,” Pruitt said. “Both programs we’re probably at their best or at the top of college football.”

Neither coach was present for last season’s thriller, but nonetheless should be able to create a memorable game.

“We’re excited about playing Florida in this rivalry game,” Pruitt said. “We have a lot of respect for Coach Mullen and his staff and I know a lot of guys on the staff. They do a really good job, very well coached, they’re always hard nosed and they’re very sound in all three phases.

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