It was loud. It was intense. It was a day of offensive fireworks and pressure-packed situations.
Any one of Tennessee's games at Florida over the last decade would've fallen under that category. And the Sept. 20 game in Gainesville won't be any different.
But a non-conference game in early September?
Early September is usually the time when big college programs beat up on smaller programs, and then write them a nice little paycheck and tell them to run on home.
The directional school comes into town one week and the hyphenated school crawls in the next.
They leave town and the big, bad bully hasn't learned a thing about itself.
Well, big, bad Tennessee learned something Saturday.
And after a fight with this tough Marshall kid from West Virginia, the Vols said they wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
"That's why we came here," UT quarterback Casey Clausen said. "We didn't come here to play whoever and at halftime be up by 45."
Because playing whoever and being up by 45 wouldn't have exactly prepared the Volunteers for what's next.
The Swamp is next. The pressure is next. The offensive firepower is next.
Say what you want about Tennessee's game with Marshall.
The offensive line was actually pushed around a little this week. The defensive line hardly got any push at all.
The Herd receivers often made the UT secondary look foolish.
And that onslaught of yellow flags raining down on the field made everyone look foolish.
But you should've loved every minute of if you're a Tennessee fan.
Your team needed a test like that.
You needed to see how freshman kicker James Wilhoit would respond when his team needed him twice in the fourth quarter.
You needed to see how those young receivers would respond when they had to catch a few crucial passes in a tight game.
You needed to see how your defense would respond when it had to deliver a goose egg in the fourth quarter for a reason more important than the thrill of a shutout.
And most importantly, you needed to see how your team would respond to what sure felt and sounded like a game in the Southeastern Conference.
And didn't it feel like that Saturday?
"Those guys have speed and they're athletic," UT fullback Troy Fleming said of the Herd, "and that's what we play every week in the SEC."
And then there's this: Florida offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher, who John Chavis and Co. will go head-to-head with in less than two weeks, is a Marshall guy.
Before he joined Ron Zook's staff last year, he was the Herd's offensive coordinator.
The offense you saw Saturday was basically the same one Marshall successfully used with Zaunbrecher directing the show.
And it's not like the guy has changed much of his philosophy since he went to Gainesville.
Now I can't sit here and tell you Marshall is just like Florida. They aren't.
They're a scrappy, tough team - a fun bunch to watch.
But they're not the Gators.
Did you see that game Saturday night at Miami? I don't care if the team blew it or not, that Florida offense looked downright frightening - almost, shall we say ... Spurrier-like?
But Marshall is also no Western Kentucky or Alabama-Birmingham.
And really, what would Tennessee have learned against those teams? Maybe who solidified their spot as third-string left tackle? Backup deep snapper? Top walk-on?
Instead, the team felt the noise. They felt the intensity. They felt the pressure.
And maybe they even got a little sneak preview.
"We played a team that simulates Florida," Burnett said. "The preparation will be the same for the next two weeks as it was last week.
"We just need to tighten a few screws, but if we had to, we could play Florida tomorrow."
Well, it won't be tomorrow, but Burnett and his teammates will have their first exam in 12 days.
Study guides were handed out Saturday.
- Brett Edgerton is a senior in journalism and sports editor for The Daily Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vols needed a game like this
Published: Mon Sep 08, 2003 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:20 p.m.