KEYS TO THE GAME...THE BRANDON JAMES EFFECT
GAINESVILLE -- We all know that return specialist Brandon James does his best work against the Tennessee Volunteers. But does Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin know that? Will Kiffin kick to James or kick it away?
It will be interesting to see what Kiffin decides to do. Former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer learned to kick it away but only after James burned the Vols three years in a row. Consider these stats: In three years, James is averaging a staggering 27.5 yards per punt return and 27 yards per kickoff return against the Vols. James has two punt returns for touchdowns against the Vols: an 83-yard score in 2007 that gave UF a 7-0 lead two minutes into the game and a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in 2008 that was an absolute thing of beauty.
"They got a new coach and a new system, so hopefully they'll be willing to try it," James said. "I just hope they come out and give us a chance."
James, a pretty low-key guy during interviews, shrugs off any suggestion that he performs at his best against Tennessee, although he does admit that having one of his childhood friends on the Tennessee roster (receiver Quinton Hancock) adds a little more motivation "to beat him."
"It's the first real SEC test and a real big rivalry, so of course you're coming into the game pumped up and everything," James said. "The only real difference is it's our first SEC test and getting prepared to play them. We know it's our first step if we want to get to Atlanta, so we just want to take care of business."
Nothing is more exciting in football than a kick return for a touchdown and The Swamp will tip the Richter Scale if James returns a kick for a score in the first quarter on Saturday. (Both of James' punt returns for touchdowns against Tennessee have come in the first quarter.) Kiffin said on Wednesday that the Vols' kickers have practiced avoiding James but he also hinted toward challenging James.
"We kicked to Devin Hester when I was at Oakland, every time, and did a phenomenal job of covering him," Kiffin said. "At that point, no one was kicking to him and we just kind of made a deal that week that we were going to do it. Now we had the best punter in the history of football in Shane Lechler, so that had a lot to do with it."
Tennessee defensive back Dennis Rogan, an accomplished return specialist, says he respects James' ability but would like to see Tennessee "kick to him and see if we can make a play or two."