A roaring screech blared from Florida’s practice football fields this week.
The simulated crowd noise provided the Gators with an extra task to overcome — in addition to learning their game plan.
It’s loud. It’s distracting.
But it’s still just a fraction of the intensity that the No. 19 Gators expect to face Saturday when they enter Knoxville, Tennessee, to face the No. 14 Volunteers in their first road game of the season.
“You should just be excited to be able to play in an environment like this,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “That’s what makes this stuff fun.”
A checkered sea of orange and white will fill Neyland Stadium, the second-largest Southeastern Conference stadium, to the brim. The gloried Rocky Top will be belted out by more than 100,000 Tennessee fans at the top of their lungs. Every play will elicit a response from the Volunteers.
“Everybody comes out and supports and they make that environment one that I would I would like to say is probably unmatched,” UF linebacker Jarrad Davis recalled from Florida’s trip to Knoxville in 2014, a game in which Florida needed a fourth-quarter rally and late field goal from Austin Hardin to win 10-9. “You know, it’s very hostile. There’s a lot of people screaming and yelling crazy things, but, hey, it shows you just how important this game is.”
After three weeks at home —wins against Massachusetts (24-7), Kentucky (45-7) and North Texas (32-0) —Florida has been preparing for the change of scenery — and hostility —that will come with its first road game.
To counteract the noise, the offense will use silent snap counts and other forms of nonverbal communication to ensure the group is on the same page. The Gators know it will be near impossible to scream over the crowd.
“You go in there with an ‘us against the world’ mentality and you trust your teammates,” said graduate transfer quarterback Austin Appleby, who will be making his first start at UF in place of the injured Luke Del Rio. “You communicate and you go execute the game plan. At the end of the day, it’s all noise.”
And although McElwain and a majority of Florida’s players are taking the “it’s the most important game because it’s the next one” approach, the stakes are higher this time around than in recent years.
A College GameDay appearance and 3:30 p.m. CBS kickoff aside, the winner of Saturday’s game is likely to be the frontrunner to win the SEC East and head to the conference championship game come December.
Florida, the defending division champion and winner of 11 straight in the series, is looking to make back-to-back trips to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2008 and 2009.
Tennessee, the preseason pick to win the East, is looking to prove the hype heading into the year wasn’t a fluke — and come out with its first win over Florida since 2004.
“The rivalry is alive,” said UF cornerback Quincy Wilson, a former standout at Fort Lauderdale’s University School.
The crowd will be, too.
“It’s what you want to play in,” Wilson said. “It just pumps you up and it makes you want to go out there and make plays and shut up the crowd.”