Pruitt may turn Florida series back around

By Steve Williams

Well, it’s Florida Week.

Sorry if that doesn’t come across with the same passion as I have expressed in the past. There are reasons for that. First and foremost, one Tennessee win over the Gators since 2004 can alter the hopes of even die-hard fans.

But I haven’t thrown in the towel. No sireeeee. (That’s for you John). UT has a real football coach again and we have a better chance of beating Florida Saturday night with Jeremy Pruitt than we would have with Butch Jones.

Jones went 1-4 against Florida. I still believe he should have gone 5-0.

Thanks to Josh Dobbs, Tennessee scored 38 unanswered points to come back and beat the Gators 38-28 in Knoxville in 2016 to put an end to that 11-game losing streak.

With Dobbs off to the NFL, Butch was on his own last season and Tennessee lost in the Swamp on the final play of the game when the Gators got behind our secondary and scored the winning touchdown with a 63-yard bomb.

Surprisingly, Florida only leads Tennessee 27-20 in the all-time series. With where these two programs are right now and with the head coaches they have in place, I believe the Vols can catch up with the Gators in the next 10 years. Really.

From my viewpoint, the culture currently at Florida is not what breeds championships. And Dan Mullen doesn’t strike me as the type of coach who can change it.

I like Pruitt. He has his nose to the grindstone. He talks like us and just tells it like it is. There are no gimmicks or slogans among his coaching tools. At least I haven’t seen or heard of any.

But I don’t know if Jeremy has enough talent and experience to beat Florida this year. It’s probably going to be close. The fact it’s going to be played in Neyland Stadium will be a big plus for the Orange and White. In other words, you could make the difference. Really.

The overall record in this series is misleading. UT won the first 10 games between 1916 and 1953. The Gators got their first win over Tennessee in 1954, a 14-0 shutout.

After a 20-0 UT win in 1955, the two schools didn’t play each other again until the 1969 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. That’s the first UT-UF game I can remember and pre-game rumors were going around that Florida was interested in hiring UT Coach Doug Dickey, a UF alum and former QB.

Sure enough, just a day or two after the Gators’ 14-13 win, Dickey got the offer and took the job.

It just so happen that Dickey and Florida had to come to Knoxville in late October that next season. UT quarterback Bobby Scott and the Vols put it on them too, rolling 38-7 under Bill Battle, their new and young coach.

To this day, Scott will tell you he still respected Coach Dickey, but when he put on the orange jersey that day, it was “blood and guts” and the Vols were ready to go to war.

Hopefully, this Saturday night will be like that, too, as Pruitt gets his first opportunity against Florida.

Since 1970, Phillip Fulmer is the only other Tennessee head coach who has prevailed in his first game against Florida. And the fact Fulmer is the guy who hired Pruitt, well, that could be a good omen.

As you probably can tell, I’m trying to get fired up. It’s Florida Week!

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