KNOXVILLE — Tennessee senior tailback Arian Foster has an idea of why Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes on Monday accused the Vols of giving up last year in their loss to the Gators.
“It was probably (said) to provoke and get a rise out of us,” Foster said.
If so, mission accomplished.
The Volunteers (1-1) did their best Tuesday to avoid starting a war of words heading into Saturday’s showdown with No. 4 Florida (2-0) after Spikes suggested they folded in the second half of a 59-20 rout in Gainesville, Fla., a year ago.
Not all of them were able to bite their tongues.
“It’s complete disrespect,” Foster said.
For one of the Southeastern Conference’s most bitter rivalries of the past 15 years, it seemed like a flashback to when former Florida coach Steve Spurrier joked that you can’t spell Citrus — as in the Citrus Bowl, now known as the Capital One Bowl — without UT.
The Vols, who haven’t beaten the Gators since 2004, once again are on the receiving end of the pregame trash-talking.
Spikes told Florida Today that the Vols “quit playing” last season against the Gators in a game that quickly got out of hand after a fumble on a botched handoff from quarterback Erik Ainge to Foster was returned for a touchdown.
“They kind of gave up,” Spikes told the newspaper. “Our whole program is about, backed up against the wall, you’ve got to keep fighting. We saw them give up. ... They quit playing.”
Spikes also referenced former Florida special-teams player Derek Baldry telling teammates and reporters after last year’s game that a UT player had told him late in the game that he wasn’t going to try to block an extra-point attempt.
“That kind of surprised me, for him saying, ‘I don’t want to rush,’” Spikes told Florida Today. “But I know they are not really as tough as us.”
The Florida junior also said he wasn’t shocked to see Tennessee give up last year, adding, “I’ve seen them do the same thing (before).”
Most UT players and coaches downplayed the comments from Spikes. Coach Phillip Fulmer speculated that Spikes was repeating something that “probably came from the coaches.” Junior linebacker Rico McCoy simply said, “He’s entitled to his own opinion.”
But the Vols clearly weren’t fans of it.
“I don’t think our players quit,” Fulmer said. “If they don’t respect us, why are they practicing?”
As for the actual suggestion that Tennessee quit playing last year against the Gators, Foster defended his teammates, saying “none of them are quitters.” Junior defensive end Wes Brown agreed.
“We’re not ever going to quit,” Brown said. “No matter what the score is, what happens or what adversity we face, we’re not going to quit. I can speak for this team and myself and say we’re not going to quit.”
Sophomore wide receiver Gerald Jones, meanwhile, found motivation in remarks from other Florida players.
“I read some comments that they made about this not being a rival game. This is a rival game,” Jones said. “With that comment, it’s pretty much saying they’re overlooking us or they don’t take us as serious as Georgia.”