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Tennessee coach Josh Heupel: Florida is biggest game because it’s the next one

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 9/21/2021 Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel

The Tennessee Volunteers renew their rivalry with the Florida Gators when they travel to Gainesville on Saturday night.

For first-year coach Josh Heupel, it’ll be his first taste of this long-standing series set for its 51st meeting.

“This is the biggest game on our schedule because it’s the next one,” Heupel said Monday. “We’re on a journey to become as good as we can as fast as we can. I love a lot of what we’ve done as a football team and how we’ve grown. This is the next challenge for us.

“We’ve got an opportunity to grow here during the week. Our process, our preparations got to be right. We’ve got to do the ordinary at a really high level in a big game like this against a really good football team.”

Tennessee (2-1) has lost 14 of the last 15 meetings with Florida, including three in a row. The last win came in 2016 when Joshua Dobbs rallied the Volunteers from 21 points down to a 38-28 win over in Knoxville. The last time a UT team won in the Swamp was in 2003.

Heupel understands the history and meaning behind this rivalry. Throughout the summer, he shared highlights of meaningful games with his team, including several with the Gators.

“Our kids understand and are excited about this game. It means something to them,” added Heupel, who is making his return to the state of Florida after spending three seasons as coach at UCF. “The challenge for us is you don’t have to do something extraordinary, you’ve just got to do the ordinary at a really high level.

“Your process and your preparation have got to get you to kick off and that’s what we’ve been stressing to our bunch.”

Even the Volunteers players have tried to downplay the rivalry.

“There’s no difference in this game,” said senior offensive lineman Jerome Carvin. “All SEC games are physical. It’s all physical. It’s going to be a tough game, especially on the road in the SEC, it’s a very tough environment. But you love those types of games. That’s what you come to the SEC to play, play in tough environments and go get a win on the road.

“This game is no different from any other SEC game. We have to go out there, be able to run the football, pass protect and make big plays on the edge.”

Added senior defensive back Alontae Taylor: “The stadium’s going to be crazy, so just come in ready to play, keep the main thing, the main thing.”

With a win, Tennessee would start 3-1 for the first time since 2016 and win its SEC opener for the second consecutive season.

This article first appeared on Email Matt Murschel at or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.

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