Time for Kiffin, Vols to face the consequences

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Call it the calm before the storm, one that’s been brewing ever since Lane Kiffin rode into the SEC nine months ago and took direct aim at the guy who’s won two of the last three BCS national championships.

That guy would be Florida’s Urban Meyer. And if you haven’t noticed, he doesn’t always play nice.

Meyer’s been known in the past to run up the score, maybe kick a late field goal, even call a few timeouts in the final seconds just to rub it in.

But it’s debatable whether it’s ever been as personal for him as it will be Saturday when Kiffin leads his Tennessee team into the Swamp.

We’ve seen the clip ad nauseam this week of Kiffin chortling that he was looking forward to singing "Rocky Top" all night long after beating the Gators in the Swamp.

We’ve also seen the one where Kiffin makes his infamous cheating remark about Meyer.

It’s that last one that got him, the one the Florida players said makes this game personal. Of course, they said that back in March before they were muzzled.

“We’ve got a family bond here, and when somebody attacks somebody in your family like that, it’s on,” Florida cornerback Joe Haden said.

Added Florida center Maurkice Pouncey, “That’s OK, because they’ve got something coming.”

Again, that was back in the spring.

The buildup to the game this week has almost been dull unless you count Kiffin trying to paint the Gators as the second coming of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Oh yeah, that and Tennessee president Jan Simek throwing Kiffin and the whole university under the bus.

It’s almost as if Kiffin is trying to squeeze that toothpaste back in the tube.

Doesn’t work that way, though.

He said what he said, and now it’s his players who must face the consequences.

Kiffin doesn’t agree that he put his players in a tough spot Saturday with some of the things he’s said. Granted, it’s not as though the Gators have taken it easy on the Vols the last few years. They won by 24 last season in Knoxville and by 39 two years ago in the Swamp.

In that game two years ago, Tim Tebow was still in the game late and still throwing the ball.

The Vols melted in the Swamp that day in one of the more embarrassing performances by a Tennessee team in recent memory.

Could it really be a lot worse than that beatdown two years ago?

We’re going to find out. One thing’s for sure: If the Gators can score 60, they will.

Nonetheless, Kiffin dismisses any role locker-room motivation might play in this game. The thing he’s most concerned about is the team the Gators will put on the field.

“I don’t know that that really works,” Kiffin said. “What works is when you recruit really good players and you coach really well, which they have, and when you have Tim Tebow and throw the ball to Percy Harvin and you hand it to Demps and Rainey.

“That makes motivation work really well, when you recruit great players on defense and coach them as well as Charlie Strong does. That’s how you haven’t given up a touchdown all year.”

Kiffin’s greatest challenge might not be so much what happens Saturday, but rather what happens after Saturday.

How do the Vols recover physically and mentally if it's indeed as ugly as everybody thinks it's going to be?

Moreover, how long will it take for Tennessee to close the obvious talent gap between the two teams?

“We know we’re going to get there. It takes some time,” Kiffin said. “Just like they hadn’t won two national championships in three years four years ago. They didn’t have the depth that they have. It takes a while to build that.

“We were here one month before signing day. We’ve had one signing class. We have to sign a class like we did last year and even better. If you do that for four years in a row, then you have a roster like they do.”

Kiffin has been hesitant to this point to mention a timetable for getting Tennessee’s program back among the elite in the SEC. But he threw out the three-year window Tuesday.

“We need to be rolling by Year 3,” he said.

Merely standing may be the safest goal for this Saturday.