There’s no substitute for the game day atmosphere on Saturday across the country during college football season and nobody does it better than the Southeastern Conference.
The history, tradition, tailgating, parties, boat shoes and croakies, Alabama swoop haircuts and enough cowboy boots and sundresses to bring George Strait to his knees.
This week, Florida will get a taste of one of the most tradition rich programs in all of college football when they head up to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Bryant-Denny Stadium holds more than 100,000 crazy Crimson Tide fans who will take out a second mortgage on their home — if need be — to get a chance to see their team play.
“It’s probably going to be one of the loudest venues that we’ll play in all year,” sophomore receiver Ahmad Fulwood said. “It’s going to be a tough team to play, so we gotta be pretty focused going in.”
The Florida Gators have used 21 freshmen and redshirt freshmen this season. Not all of those players will make the trip to Tuscaloosa but the Gators will be counting on freshmen like starting right tackle Rod Johnson and defensive backs Duke Dawson, Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson.
There aren’t many players on the team that have been to Bryant-Denny, but Chaz Green remembers his first trip to Tuscaloosa during his redshirt season.
“It’s going to be a crazy environment. Last time I went there I was a freshman,” he said. “I was a redshirt. I didn’t play. It was a crazy environment, real hectic. Very, very loud. They have good fan support. It’s just something that we have to prepare for.”
Once you get the players over the initial shock of seeing more than 100,000 Crimson-clad fans, there is the reason that the team is there — to play a football game. The defense may not have to change things up too much this week, as the fans will likely be quiet when the Tide’s offense is on the field.
“In some ways being on the road as a defense it’s a little easier to communicate. It’s louder here when we’re on defense then when you’re on the road. Most fans are keeping it quiet for their offense so I think we can communicate a little better,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “With our guys nothing’s different in terms of how we prepare and practice and what we do and install the gameplan.”
The offense, on the other hand, will be subject to the rowdy crowd and they are already preparing for the noise. Florida routinely practices with simulated crowd noise playing over speakers on the field. They have worked on going to a silent cadence, something they will have to use frequently this Saturday.
That means the triggerman will be center Max Garcia. Garcia will go off of a silent signal from Jeff Driskel and the other nine players on offense will be waiting for Garcia’s snap or a movement from him to know the play is starting. It can be a difficult task to master with so many moving parts but it’s something the team has been preparing for all offseason.
Come Saturday you can bet that there will be a moment where every player looks up and the magnitude of the situation, the thousands and thousands of fans and the moment itself will become overwhelming. In that moment it’s up to the veteran players to step forward and help the team snap out of it. It starts with the most important player on the field and Jeff Driskel has the full confidence of everyone around him.
“He’s come miles,” Will Muschamp said of Driskel’s progression since he was forced into action against Alabama as a freshman.
“They were loaded on defense. I remember when John [Brantley] got hurt I looked at Jeff. I said, ‘Get your helmet.’ He looked at me and said ‘What?’. There’s no question a true freshman being thrown into that environment certainly was tough but he’s really playing well for us right now and certainly much better prepared this time around.”
Driskel will lead the Gators into Tuscaloosa. The team is comfortable, confident and ready for the challenge at hand and they’re looking forward to the opportunity to upset more than 100,000 people on Saturday.