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All eyes on Kiffin, Tebow for Tennessee-Florida

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[September 19, 2009]  GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida coach Urban Meyer spends countless hours coming up with ways to keep his team motivated.

Guest speakers, videos, signs, speeches, rewards, punishments, Meyer tries it all.

His job will be a bit easier this week thanks to Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin's false recruiting allegations and his pledge to sing "Rocky Top" all night long after beating Florida have given the top-ranked Gators (2-0) a little extra juice heading into Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener against the Volunteers (1-1).

Even though the defending national champions insisted they didn't need any help getting up for a rivalry game that usually decides the Eastern Division, they gladly took Kiffin's comments and threw them atop the bulletin board.

"That's something you don't forget," guard James Wilson said. "That's good motivation for us. It's going to be wild. It's going to be a show."

If so, Tim Tebow probably will play a staring role.

Tebow has been at the center of Florida's last three wins against Tennessee. As a freshman in 2006, Meyer called on his backup quarterback to carry the ball on a fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. Tebow picked up the first down, pumped his first through the air and then headed back to the bench.


The Gators scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

"I remember that like it was yesterday," Meyer said. "I saw this young stallion sitting on the sidelines and it was like here we go. He's played really well in this rivalry."

Tebow was at his best two years ago in Gainesville. He threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 61 yards and two scores in a game that thrust him into the Heisman Trophy race.

The Volunteers did a much better job containing Tebow last year in Knoxville. Playing with an injured right shoulder, Tebow threw for 96 yards and two TDs, and ran for 26 yards. Florida finished with 243 yards, the program's fewest since Meyer's first season in 2005.

Can Tennessee do it again? The Gators lead the nation in total offense, averaging 643.5 yards a game, and top the country with 118 points.

The Vols might need another strong defensive effort, especially if quarterback Eric Crompton and the offense plays like it did last week against UCLA. Crompton threw three interceptions, was sacked twice and Tennessee managed just 208 yards.

Given those struggles, Meyer knows what to expect Saturday.

"It's not a secret what they are going to do," he said. "They have two really good backs and they are going to try to pound us. I don't believe they are going to come in and try to wing it all over the place and win that game. If it starts to be a downhill game, we have a problem. We can't allow that."

The Gators have out-rushed the Vols 591-188 in the four-game winning streak, including 255-37 two years ago at The Swamp. Tebow was a big factor in that one, and Tennessee linebacker Rico McCoy knows why.

"You've got everybody telling you, 'Knock him out. Knock Tebow out. C'mon and knock him out,'" McCoy said. "I'm like, 'Yeah, we're going to try to knock him out, but it's like hitting a fullback.' He's 245, 250 pounds. He's a load. I'm not going to lie to you, he's a big boy. He's tough."

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Tebow has been even tougher when he's had reason to be fired up. Remember Florida State in 2007? How about LSU, Georgia and Oklahoma last year?

Will Kiffin's comments resonate as loudly? Florida did plaster his "Rocky Top" quote all around the training facility during the offseason.

"I really don't look at it as him putting a bull's-eye on us," Tennessee safety Eric Berry said. "It probably doesn't make sense to a lot of people, but in my eyes it looks like he just wanted to tell us that he had our back and whoever we played or whatever we had to face, he was going to ride with us until the end."

Kiffin and Meyer have downplayed everything that was said more than seven months ago, preferring to talk about the game and keep the focus off the coaches. Kiffin believes he shouldn't even be a factor.

"I don't know how it could be more intense," Kiffin said. "You've got a big-time rivalry. Florida has dominated, obviously, lately with four in a row. ... There's been motivation over there, and I don't think I motivated them."

Yeah, right.

Meyer has a history of using everything he can to spark his team, and Kiffin's quotes surely will be part of Saturday's pregame speech.

"I don't know what he was thinking when he said all that," Wilson said. "It kind of hit a nerve. We've just been counting down since workouts. We have a sign in the weight room that says how many days until Tennessee. ... We don't like to listen to that stuff, but it just adds to the rivalry."

[Associated Press; By MARK LONG]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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