The ‘Swamp’, the nickname of the stadium pegged by former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier, has been more than unkind to Tennessee in the last 15-plus years.
It was during the 2003 season that the Vols last ventured to Gainesville came out with a win. Despite coming close on a few occasions, they’re 0-7 since that game.
It can be loud, muggy and downright uninviting, but Jeremy Pruitt loves it.
The second-year head coach will lead his 1-2 Tennessee team into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday for the first of a four-game conference slate that will include three top 10 teams.
For Pruitt, playing on the road in venues like ‘the Swamp,’ reveals more about what kind of team you have.
“It’s about execution,” Pruitt said. “Knowing what to do, how to do it, and why it’s important to do it that way, getting prepared throughout the week. To me, it’s fun playing on the road. You find out who you are. Everybody is against you. You see a little bit about your character. It’ll be good for us.”
After starting the 2019 season 0-2, the Vols will be heading to the Sunshine State on a better note after beating Chattanooga, 45-0 in their last outing.
As for the Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC), their SEC opener came in the costliest of ways.
Entering their game against Kentucky on Sept. 14 in Lexington, Florida was already down their most explosive playmaker on offense in wide receiver Kadarious Toney, as well as defensive back CJ Henderson.
Early in the game they lost starting defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga to injury, but their biggest loss came late in the third quarter when starting quarterback Feleipe Franks suffered a gruesome ankle injury that will likely sideline him for the duration of the season.
By the time the injury had happened, the Gators were already trailing 21-10, and struggling to find a rhythm offensively.
It was a tall order for backup quarterback Kyle Trask, who came into replace the injured Franks, but he evidently embraced the role, leading Florida’s offense to 19-unanswered points to escape with a 29-21 win.
Trask finished 9-of-13 passing for 126 yards and a rushing touchdown.
According to Pruitt, game-planning for Florida head coach Dan Mullen and the Gators’ offense doesn’t change with Trask under center.
“They ran their offense (against Kentucky, when Trask came in),” Pruitt said. “Same plays, nothing different. They might have even executed better. Obviously, they scored more points there, in a short period of time. (Trask) is very talented and experienced.”
Mullen molding his offense based on personnel is something Pruitt has noticed, having gone up against Florida’s second-year head coach on more than a few occasions while Mullen was the head coach at Mississippi State and Pruitt was a coordinator at Alabama.
Pruitt expects more of the same with a new quarterback in the mix.
“Dan (Mullen) does what all good football coaches do,” Pruitt said. “He figures out what he has. He’s done it a little bit differently over the past ten years, each year. To me, that’s what a good football coach does. He figures out who is playmakers are and what the best part of his offensive team is. He’ll continue to do that.”
The Gators and Vols kickoff at noon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday. The game will air nationally on ESPN.