At some point during the upcoming offseason, strength and conditioning coordinator Nick Savage is going to send the Florida football team into The Swamp to run stadium steps. While the players are going up and down, stressing and straining, a video of the Sept. 8 loss to Kentucky will be playing on the big screens atop both end zones, sound included.
It will be part punishment, part reminder.
Punishment for losing a home game. A reminder that championships can’t be won without winning SEC games in your own backyard.
“To win in the SEC you’ve got win at home,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “You’re not going to find many teams that win the SEC championship with home losses. Home-field advantage is so critical. You have to win at home.
“The Swamp is our home. Protect our stadium. If you don’t win a home game, it’s just a reminder for the whole team that this is our stadium and how important it is.
“There’s a certain expectation when you step on that field or when you’re in the stadium of what it’s supposed to be like. That’s why we’ve always done it. Kind of a reminder.”
Mullen came up with the stadium punishment/reminder after his first year as a head coach at Mississippi State. He made the Bulldogs pay for their home losses by going up and down the steps while the losses were replayed on the giant video board.
It apparently had an effect.
“Year one, we had a couple losses at home at Mississippi State,” Mullen said. “But after that we were pretty good. I think it must have sunk in.
“I’ve done it before where we’ve had the game playing on the jumbotron. So, you’re running the stands with the TV copy of the game playing on the jumbotron. In the back of your head, this is our stadium. We can’t let that happen. We’ve got to perform at a certain level. We’ve done all different things with it.”
The Gators already know they are facing one such stadium run for their 27-16 loss to the Wildcats. The question now is: will there be more?
“Them stadiums ain’t no joke,” running back Lamical Perine said. “We probably know every step in that stadium. We’ve ran every step actually.”
Coming off the disappointing loss to Georgia last week in Jacksonville, the Gators have a chance to rebound with a three-game homestand, starting today with Missouri, followed by South Carolina next week and Idaho the week after that.
It is a critical stretch of the season because it will ultimately determine what kind of record the Gators finish with in Mullen’s first season. It could turn out to be very good. Or, well, very average, depending on what happens in The Swamp over the next three Saturdays.
That’s why Mullen has been stressing the importance of defending The Swamp throughout the week.
Like he did before the win over No. 5 LSU, Mullen is calling out the fans to show up and provide the kind of home-field advantage that is so vital to his team’s success.
“Last time we were here in the stadium we had an unbelievable home-field advantage and it really showed with how we played,” he said. “That was such a huge deal for us winning that game over LSU the last time we were in The Swamp.
“It’s a great challenge for everybody in the Gator Nation to pack The Swamp again and create that exciting atmosphere, exciting energy and make it that home-field advantage for us. The challenges are out there for all of us this week to rebound, get a big win and get ourselves back on track this season.”
The players say they’re all in. They’re ready to defend their home.
“We’ve just go to get better at the little details. I think that we’ll come out and start doing that again Saturday,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “We have a really good opportunity these three games in The Swamp to make a statement and get back into the groove of things. I’m excited for it.”