Jacksonville Sports Day

SEC Preview: Vols Gearing Up For Hostile SEC Environment in the Swamp


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football will face its first road test of the 2021 campaign on Saturday, traveling to The Swamp to open Southeastern Conference play at No. 11 Florida under the lights of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner and select Volunteer players met with media Tuesday to discuss preparations for the Gators and the team’s mindset going into a hostile SEC environment against an Eastern Division rival.

“This is what you came to Tennessee for, for moments like this,” Garner said. “You want to play on this stage, that is the beauty of this conference. There is nothing like it until you get to the NFL. There’s the SEC, you get to play the best of the best.

“We talk about moving the needle, I think we are going to find out how much the needle has moved when you’re going against elite competition … We’ve got to make sure we play a clean game, we play with relentless effort, we play with one another, and we play for that T on the side of our helmet. It’s about pride, you know.”

Sixth-year senior defensive lineman Ja’Quain Blakely will be making his third visit to The Swamp on Saturday and plans to lean on that experience leading up to the rivalry matchup. He has also shared advice with younger players making their first trip to Gainesville this weekend.

“I’m telling my teammates that haven’t been, this is going to be a hostile game,” Blakely said. “There’s going to be a lot of noise, there’s going to be a lot of crowd, a lot of talking. Just keep your cool and composure. That’s the best thing you can do, play your game because the crowd is going to be into it as they always are. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be very intense, but it’s going to be a great game as long as we keep our mind straight and keep going.”

Junior defensive lineman Byron Young and freshman receiver Walker Merrill will get their first taste of SEC action this weekend, and both players expressed eagerness to begin conference play on the road in their comments Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m really excited, first SEC game, on the road,” Young said. “This is why I came to Tennessee, to compete. I feel like it’s going to be a pretty good atmosphere so I’m ready for it, honestly.”

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