Tennessee's Hurd savors first matchup with Gators

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's Jalen Hurd already has caught the attention of his favorite player.

Now the freshman running back wants to make an impression on one of his team's biggest rivals.

Hurd has rushed for a total of 216 yards against No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 13 Georgia over his last two games. He has received a complimentary tweet from former Tennessee Titans star Eddie George, a running back Hurd admired while growing up in Hendersonville, less than 20 miles northeast of Nashville. Hurd will try to keep up his rapid progress Saturday against Florida.

Florida (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) has beaten Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) nine straight times and has outrushed the Vols in each of those meetings. The Gators seem intent on keeping both streaks alive.

"He's physical, he's fast, but he doesn't have top-end speed," Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis said. "We have to come downhill, we have to hit him early. We have to let him know what it is, and we have to welcome him to the SEC. Georgia was a big test for him, that's a physical team. But I feel like we have more to offer for him. We're going to come down, we're going to talk to him a little bit with the pads. We're not going to talk with our mouth, we're going to hit him and get back and get lined up.

"I don't think he can hang with us. He's a good athlete, but we've got a whole defense coming for him."

Hurd looks forward to the challenge. Hurd was only eight years old the last time Tennessee beat the Gators, and he can't wait to make his own impact on this rivalry.

"It's intense. very intense, Hurd said. "That's something I was looking forward to all year when I was a kid, just growing up being a Tennessee fan and stuff like that. To actually now play in it is amazing."

Hurd's coaches and teammates say he's more mature than the typical freshman. They've marveled at the way he's dealt with the hype that accompanied his arrival on campus as a former five-star recruit playing in his home state.

"Not very many individuals his age could really handle all those expectations, the scrutiny he is under each and every day," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "He has done a great job of handling all the clutter and the distractions."

Hurd has rushed for 328 yards to lead all SEC true freshmen. He ranks second in the SEC with 18 carries per game. Hurd ran the ball 24 times against Georgia, while none of his teammates had more than five carries.

The freshman doesn't mind the heavy workload.

"It's just a mentality," Hurd said. "You've got to come out here and give your all every single play no matter how many carries they give you. That's why I came here. I wanted to play early."

Hurd rushed for 119 yards against Georgia last week, and Jones said 48 of those yards came after contact. Hurd also has caught seven passes, and running backs coach Robert Gillespie says the freshman has dramatically improved his pass protection since arriving on campus.

"He's just the same way very day," Gillespie said. "You can yell at him, pull on him, tug on him, bite at him, it doesn't matter to him. He's just the same dude. He wants to play. He wants to be good. He wants to be the best. He wants this place to be back to what it used to be. He doesn't need a lot of pats on the back, a lot of accolades, a lot of 'You did good, you're living up to the hype.' "

Hurd certainly appreciated at least one recent compliment. During Hurd's 97-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma, George tweeted, "Jalen Hurd @Vol_Football will be a SuperStar!!! #beast." Hurd has referred to George, the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner, as his "biggest idol."

"He was a big guy, he played for a long time and he could run that ball," Hurd said. "He had everything. He was an everything back."

That's the kind of back Hurd wants to become.


AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.

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