In his first few months on the job, Lane Kiffin made some comments that were considered disrespectful, including some related to the University of Florida and its coach Urban Meyer.
Tuesday, four days before his team plays the Gators for the first time, the first-year University of Tennessee coach expressed a great deal of respect for Florida, which he called “maybe the best team ever to play.”
“If you’re not motivated for this game, something’s wrong with you,” Kiffin said at his weekly press conference in Knoxville. “It’s Tennessee versus Florida. Regardless of what the spread is or who’s the favorite or who’s the underdog, it’s a big-time matchup.”
The all-time series between the schools is tied at 19 victories apiece.
Florida has won the last four meetings, though, a streak that started in Meyer’s first season there. Last season, Florida prevailed 30-6 in Knoxville.
Kiffin insisted in recent weeks his offseason moves were designed to get UT into the national headlines. On Tuesday, he downplayed the idea that any of them, including an assertion that Meyer committed a recruiting violation (Meyer was absolved and Kiffin was disciplined by the conference office), added any intensity to this week’s contest.
“I don’t know how it could be more intense,” he said. “You have a big-time rivalry with two teams that every year come to play, one that Florida has dominated lately with four in a row. Urban has never lost to Tennessee. They’ve won by 63 points over the last two years combined.
“There’s motivation over there, and I don’t think I motivated them.”
The game will be played at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (capacity: 88,548) in Gainesville. It will be the first road game under Kiffin for the Volunteers, who fell to 1-1 last Saturday with a loss at home to UCLA.
“Going into this week, going into a big time stadium with a big time crowd playing against the most talented team in the country – maybe the best team ever to play – we need to continue to improve our team,” Kiffin said. “We need to improve each day in practice and go out and play well this week.”