Although UT Martin is playing Florida for the first time, head coach Jason Simpson should have a sense of familiarity as he brings the Skyhawks into The Swamp on Saturday night.
One, he knows the challenge of facing an SEC team on the road, the Skyhawks having played at Missouri last season and at Ole Miss the year before.
Two, he’s coached against Dan Mullen and his staff multiple times when Mullen was the head coach at Mississippi State.
He has a full understanding of what to expect.
“We’ve got two SEC games this year, with Kentucky and Florida,” Simpson said on the Ohio Valley Conference coaches teleconference Tuesday. “And last year we went to Missouri and the year before that Ole Miss. We usually average about two a year, so we’re kind of used to it. It’s a great deal ($500,000 payday from UF).
“I’m trying to make sure we take every player that’s on our roster from Florida, bring them down there and let them experience their home-state university. The kids are certainly looking forward to it from a standpoint they work hard, they deserve to play in these type of venues.
“I wish I could provide 85,000 fans every week, but it doesn’t always work out like that. They’ll get to enjoy this Saturday.”
Past Saturdays in the SEC have not been very enjoyable for UT Martin in terms of results. It fell to Missouri 51-14 last season and to Ole Miss 45-23 in 2017.
Saturday may be a little bit of a different challenge. The Gators are ranked eighth in the country and The Swamp has a reputation for being one of the toughest SEC stadiums to play in for opposing teams.
“I don’t know if this group has actually played in (a stadium) as large as The Swamp,” Simpson said. “It’s an uphill battle, no doubt.
“Over the years, I have learned something. On our good teams in games like this, especially early in the season, you play well, you stay in the game, you fight. That you do benefit from.”
Simpson is familiar with Mullen and his staff, but not with UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
“I’ve played against Coach Mullen’s staff two, three times,” he said. “But this is the first time Coach Grantham has been with him as the coordinator I’ve coached against.
“Very multiple. You can’t ever outnumber them. Good players that make you work schematically to try and get a hat on a hat. Very good defensive scheme and very well coached.”
Florida’s overall performance in a 24-20 victory over Miami in the opener made quite an impression on Simpson.
“They were good last year (on defense), but what catches my eye is the athleticism this year,” he said. “The 10 sacks, it’s hard to take your eyes off of that. Good players and they’ve got a difficult scheme on defense.
“On offense, there are a lot of guys that can score. They can make big plays. We don’t see this week in and week out. We’ll put a game plan together and come down and play as hard as we can.”
It’s a difficult challenge for the Skyhawks. But regardless of the outcome, Simpson said his team, especially his young players, will benefit from the experience.
“It’s an opportunity for individual growth players can make,” he said. “Just traveling well and learning how to do your walkthrough and your pregame. How it’s supposed to be.
“Keeping your composure on the sideline in a hostile environment. Those are things our team will grow from.”
Who: Tennessee-Martin (1-0) vs. Florida (1-0)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850