By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Jim McElwain has a catchphrase for his players.
He mentions it during meetings, practices and games. It’s just three words, but for the rebuilding Gators, it means everything.
"Restore the order."
In other words, get Florida back to the top of the Southeastern Conference, back to competing for national titles and back to being dominant at home. It really starts with Saturday’s game against rival Tennessee (2-1).
Even though the Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC) have won 10 consecutive games in the storied series, McElwain’s first one could set the tone for the rest of his tenure. Florida is a pedestrian 8-6 over the last two-plus seasons at Florida Field, taking away from the aura that once made it one of the best home-field field advantages in the country.
"This is the Swamp," receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. "No one should come here and beat us."
Tennessee last won in Gainesville in 2003, the first of back-to-back wins for the Volunteers. The Gators have won every meeting since, matching the longest streak in the series. Tennessee also won 10 straight between 1916 and 1953.
Of all the reasons behind Florida’s recent run, two stand out: The Gators have dominated the ground game and the turnover battle.
Florida has outrushed Tennessee by an average of nearly 130 yards over the last decade, a 179-50 average advantage that has led to more one-sided outcomes than nail-biting finishes.
"Every game has a story," said Vols offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, whose team leads the SEC with 158 rushing attempts. "You never know what that story’s going to be. This one’s going to have one, too. We’ll just wait to get in it and see what we’re able to do."
One thing Tennessee hasn’t done is limit turnovers against Florida. The Gators are plus-14 in turnover margin during the streak, taking full advantage of Tennessee’s eight fumbles and 18 interceptions.
"It’s absolutely critical," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. We talk about that every day. … Football’s a game of momentum, and I always talk about momentum plays. Every game comes down to two to three plays that can make the difference.
"That’s the formula for winning. Turnover margin is the No. 1 statistic in winning and losing football games."
Part of McElwain’s winning formula includes protecting Florida’s home turf. The Gators lost three games at the Swamp in each of the past two years.
"He preaches it all the time," safety Marcus Maye said. "It’s our place. It’s our home. We don’t let anybody come in. That’s what it is here: We win at home."
Some more things to know about Tennessee and Florida as they play for the 45th time:
SUSPENSIONS: Florida will be without quarterback Treon Harris and cornerback Jalen Tabor. The sophomores were suspended one game for violating team rules. Without Harris, redshirt freshman Will Grier will make his third consecutive start. With Tabor out, Brian Poole will see more playing time as the nickel cornerback. Tennessee, meanwhile, should have defensive tackle Danny O’Brien back. O’Brien was suspended the two games for a violation of team rules and policies.
QB QUANDRY: The Gators have used two quarterbacks in each of the last two games against Tennessee, with Jeff Driskel breaking his leg in 2013 and then getting benched last year. They would like to avoid making a change Saturday. With Treon Harris suspended, former Vanderbilt receiver Josh Grady will serve as the backup quarterback. Grady transferred to Florida this summer and has yet to take a meaningful snap.
KICKING WOES: Neither Tennessee or Florida probably want this game to come down to a field goal. Tennessee’s Aaron Medley is just 2 of 5 on field-goal attempts this season, and he’s 1 of 8 from 40 yards or longer in his career. Florida’s Austin Hardin has missed his last three attempts. He also had an extra point blocked in the season opener.
FINISHING TOUCHES: Finishing games remains a concern for Tennessee. The Vols blew a 9-0 lead in the fourth quarter last year against Florida. And in their biggest game this season, the Vols squandered a 17-0 lead in a 31-24 overtime loss to Oklahoma.
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