GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Dan Mullen is willing to perform a “Fancy Like” rendition at midfield.
The Florida coach vowed to sing, dance or “whatever we need” to entice fans to fill the Swamp again Saturday night against Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee (2-1, 0-0 SEC).
The No. 11 Gators (2-1, 0-1) took advantage of a raucous crowd to nearly upset top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama last week at Florida Field. Right guard Emil Ekiyor was flagged for his third false start on a fourth-and-goal play at the 1 in the fourth quarter, forcing the Crimson Tide to settle for a chip-shot field goal and an eight-point lead. That penalty gave Florida a chance to tie the game late, but the Gators botched a 2-point conversion with 3:10 remaining and lost 31-29.
One of Mullen’s takeaways from the near-stunner was the Swamp’s mystique and its effect on opponents. It’s something Mullen witnessed routinely when he served as Florida’s offensive coordinator in the late 2000s. But the Gators have sold out their home stadium just three times in the four seasons since Mullen returned: LSU (2018), Auburn (2019) and Alabama.
“Obviously, last Saturday was a crazy environment,” Mullen said. “We keep that going. It does nothing but help. Helps the current team, helps the program long term and I certainly hope everybody enjoys being in there and feeling that energy and excitement and being a part of that game-day environment.
“I’ll sing. If they want to give me a mic pregame, I’ll go sing or do a little dance routine, whatever we need if it’ll help people come. I’ll do what we need.”
Mullen later added that his song choice would be something less suited for TikTok and more reminiscent of trop rock.
“I’m a pirate born 200 years too late,” Mullen quipped, paraphrasing a line from Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks at Forty.”
Mullen’s proposition was well-timed. After all, the Volunteers aren’t the draw they used to be and have been chasing Florida in the SEC’s Eastern Division for the better part of the past two decades.
The Gators have won four in a row in the series and 15 of the last 16, the kind of dominance that led Tennessee to hire Central Florida coach Josh Heupel and task him with leading a resurgence on Rocky Top.
“This is the biggest game on our schedule because it’s the next one,” Heupel said. “At the end of the day, we’re on a journey to become as good as we can as fast as we can. Love a lot of what we’ve done as a football team, how we’ve grown.
“This is the next challenge for us. We’ve got an opportunity to grow here during the week. Our process, our preparations got to be right. We’ve got to do the ordinary at a really high level in a big game like this against a really good football team.”
Both teams have decisions to make at quarterback. Michigan transfer and Tennessee starter Joe Milton sat out last week’s game because of a leg injury, leaving Hendon Hooker to get the nod against Tennessee Tech. Hooker, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, has better numbers than Milton. But Heupel hasn’t committed to either one for Saturday.
Florida, meanwhile, is hoping to get dynamic backup Anthony Richardson back. He was held out of last week’s game because of a strained right hamstring, but he was still able to do an acrobatic backflip during pregame warmups.
Florida has the No. 2 rushing attack in the country, second only to Michigan. The Gators average more than 335 yards a game on the ground and should have a formidable challenge against Tennessee's run defense, which gives up 54.3 yards rushing a game and ranks fifth nationally.
SPEED IT UP
The Volunteers lead the nation in offensive tempo, averaging 3.08 plays per minute, and they’re still not operating as fast as Heupel would like. The Vols are averaging 77.67 plays a game, 13th nationally. Heupel’s teams at UCF led the nation in those categories.
Heupel, who just won his 30th game as a head coach, will try to join Phillip Fulmer as the first Tennessee coach to beat Florida in his first try. Fulmer did it on Sept. 19, 1992, in Knoxville as an interim head coach. Bill Battle is the last Tennessee coach to win his first game against Florida — in Gainesville, no less — on Oct. 24, 1970.
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed.
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