Appleby, Florida out to stretch Vols' series losing streak to 12

Understanding the one-sided dominance of the Southeastern Conference rivalry between Florida and Tennessee requires a numerical exhibit.

Florida bids for 12 straight wins over Tennessee, a streak that includes three one-point wins for the Gators, who took a 28-27 decision last season. But the Gators are turning to a new quarterback, one with a 2-9 career record as a starter, to keep the streak alive.

No. 19 Florida (3-0, 1-0) will go into its game with 14th-ranked Tennessee (3-0, 0-0) with senior Austin Appleby, slated to take over for the injured Luke Del Rio, looking to put his own stamp on the recently one-side series.

The two teams clash at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Knoxville's Neyland Stadium in what could be the deciding game in the SEC East Division, though Georgia also figures to have a say later in the season.

"I've come to the University of Florida to play," said Appleby, a graduate transfer from Purdue. "That's ultimately why I chose to come here. I want to be part of something special.

"I don't think you ever want to be someone's caddie. You want to be the guy that's got the ball in his hands. I'm excited about my opportunity. It breaks my heart that it had to come by an injury."

Appleby started four games for the Boilermakers last season and shouldn't be fazed by playing in front of 108,000 at Neyland Stadium, having played in Big Ten stadiums and hostile environments at Nebraska and at Iowa. He had 11 starts in 17 games in his three years with the Boilermakers.

He has a reputation for having a stronger arm than Del Rio, but isn't as accurate. At Purdue last season, he completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns in five games, but he also had eight interceptions in his 207 attempts. He completed two of four passes for 30 yards last week against North Texas after Del Rio was hurt late in the third quarter.

Del Rio, who has completed 61.4 percent of his passes in his two-plus games for 762 yards and six touchdowns, sustained the knee injury when he was sacked low late in the third quarter by North Texas defensive lineman Joshua Wheeler, who was flagged for a late hit on the play.

According to multiple reports, Del Rio suffered a sprained MCL and will be out two to four weeks, but Florida coach Jim McElwain did not confirm the diagnosis this week.

"He should be back some time," McElwain said. "I'm not going to rush him back. We've got other guys. I feel horrible for him, especially how it happened."

Tennessee has some injury issues of its own.

Volunteers coach Butch Jones confirmed that cornerback Cameron Sutton will be out for an extended time because of a broken ankle. Sutton started the first three games and was credited with eight tackles, two for losses. He also had Tennessee's lone interception of the year and was used as both a punt and kickoff returner.

Another special teams' performer, redshirt freshman Quart'e Sapp, who had one tackle on kick coverage in the opener against Appalachian State, is out for the season with a knee injury.

"We are now very limited on special teams," Jones said. "We are going to need some youngsters, who play sparingly, to step up and embrace their role and do their job because the expectations on our special teams will not change no matter who is on the field.

"We have great confidence that some individuals will step up."

Jones expressed concern about attacking Florida's defense.

"This is probably the best defense we faced since I have been here," he said. "They make you earn everything that you get. I have never heard of a team holding another team to 53 yards on defense."

That is what Florida did in beating North Texas 32-0 last week. As a team, the Gators have held their first three opponents (UMass, Kentucky, North Texas) to an average of under 130 yards a game in total offense.

"Defensively, they are going to make you earn every yard that you get," Jones said. "Offensively, it's the same thing. They play with a physical style of play."

Florida will go into the game riding an 11-game winning streak in the series, but the last two games have been decided by just one point.

"That's why you come to Florida, to play in these kind of rivalry games," McElwain said. "Here's the great thing about Florida, we have more than one of them. That's what I want, for our guys to let loose and enjoy the environment, the atmosphere because I've been at places where you had to make the rivalry up."