Before the season even kicked off, UT head coach Butch Jones said that the quarterback position would be subject to open competition throughout the year.
Following a pedestrian offensive attack in last week's thrashing by Oregon, however, that statement has gained a full head of steam heading into Saturday's matchup against the No. 19 Florida Gators.
Whoever the starting quarterback is, whether it be Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs or Riley Ferguson, will be faced with a task that no other signal caller since Erik Ainge back in 2004 has been able to do: beat Florida.
"(They're) embracing competition," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian about the quarterbacks and how each has responded. "Again, I feel like a broken record, but we always talk about the process. But part of the process is improving on a daily basis and part of that is competing on a daily basis. Everybody has approached it with the mentality that they are going to compete everyday."
When that quarterback does take the field, he'll be given the assignment of facing a defense that is currently in the top 20 in all of the major categories defensively.
"When you look at them defensively, they're only giving about 50 yards per game in the rushing category," Jones said. "Third down conversions, I've never seen this in all my years of coaching. They lead the country in third down conversions. They've given up 2 out of 24 attempts on third down conversions. They're third in the country in total defense given up, 208.5 yards per game."
Against a defense that has been known to stagnate offenses, the Vols will have to keep the ball on the ground and find a way to stay around their 5.4 yards per carry mark that they have thus far in the season.
"When you saw that the person who leads in rushing has been winning in 22 of the past 23," said senior center James Stone, "that just lets you know that much more emphasis is being put on the run game, and how much more essential it is for us to establish a run game in this game."
With a potential change at QB and a stout defense that may look to force the Vols to air it out, UT will certainly be relying on its defense in The Swamp if the squad has any chance of upsetting the Gators.
Unlike the Ducks, the Gators play a smash-mouth type of offense, meaning physicality will be the key word for the Vols on Saturday.
"Florida is so big and so physical up front," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "They want to knock you off the ball and get moving, so that will be challenging. (They have) great skill all over the field. We know we have our hands full."
A big focus of the Volunteer defense is stopping the run. The Gators are 6-9 under head coach Will Muschamp when they rush for less than 150 yards and fall to an even worse 1-5 when they rush for less than 100.
Holding the Florida rushing attack down is no simple task, however, as Florida's sophomore running back Matt Jones has had two full weeks of practice to get into further game shape after returning three weeks ago from a viral infection.
"He's a big physical back, a north and south runner," Jancek said. "He's a guy that has good feet in the hole, got great vision, just has a great combination of quickness and power."
No player on the UT roster has beaten the Gators, and for the seniors, Saturday represents the group's final opportunity. Tennessee's upperclassmen are not holding back in getting the team ready for a brawl come 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
"Rivalry never changes," said senior defensive end Corey Miller. "Not in my eyes, not in any of the guys' around me. I know the fans for one – they hate these guys as much as we do. Not going to lie, I have no love for them at all. I feel like the rivalry is going to be exactly what it is. It's going to be a knock down, drag out fight when we head out there on Saturday."