Nowhere in college football are the fans louder, more animated or more obnoxious than at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. Still, Vol junior Demonte Bolden is eager to face the fourth-ranked Florida Gators on their home field this afternoon at 3:30.
“I'm very anxious because this is a big game,” the 6-6, 300-pounder said this week. “I feel like the crowd is about the same but the stadium's a lot smaller. I like the loud crowd. I like when everybody's against you. That gives you something to play for.”
What Tennessee will play for today is a share of the SEC East lead. South Carolina's upset of Georgia last weekend in Athens has given the Gamecocks a 1-0 league record. The Tennessee-Florida winner will be tied with Carolina by day's end.
For the Vols to win, they must slow down a Gator offense that scored 108 points in trouncing Western Kentucky (49-3) and Troy (59-30). That's an eye-popping average of 54 points per game. The mere mention of this statistic brought a frown to Bolden's face.
“I don't pay attention to how many points they've scored,” he grumbled. “I'm not worried about the other opponents. I feel like Tennessee's a whole different team.”
Florida's high-scoring offense starts with quarterback Tim Tebow, a 6-3, 235-pounder who is a load to knock off his feet. Asked if he expects Tebow to run a lot against the Vols, Bolden shook his head.
“No. Hopefully not,” he said. “Hopefully, we'll be able to stop the run. If he does run, he runs. We just have to be prepared for it.”
Asked if Tebow's skills as a scrambler change the approach of Tennessee's pass rushers, Bolden shook his head again.
“No, it doesn't,” he said. “Tebow's a big guy, but I'm sure we can hold the middle up AND rush the passer.”
Protecting the middle is not as simple as it sounds. Florida's spread option – as the name implies – spreads a defense and creates natural running lanes. That could be a big problem for Tennessee. Even Southern Miss in Game 2 managed to get the Vols too spread out in the first half. Tennessee allowed 246 yards by intermission before adjusting and limiting the Golden Eagles to 108 second-half yards.
As Bolden recalled: “The coaches were saying, 'Don't get too spread out. Play your gaps. Keep your head in your gap. Don't do so many motions. Just go out there and play.'”
Perhaps the Vols will “go out there and play” their best today at The Swamp. If Bolden truly is motivated by hostile crowds, he should have the game of his life.