Jeremy Pruitt is getting ready to take on the Florida Gators for the first time as Tennessee’s head coach. For Tennessee fans, this has typically been the measuring stick game. If you’re going to compete in the SEC East, that means taking care of the Gators first in September.
Florida, just like Tennessee, is beginning a new era. Dan Mullen was hired away from Mississippi State to replace Jim McElwain. Florida’s new head coach is far from a mystery for Pruitt, who faced him plenty during his time with Alabama.
“We’re very familiar with Coach Mullen and the guys on his staff,” Pruitt told the media on Monday. “Their teams are always physical, they’re tough, they’re sound, they play hard, they’re good in all three phases, so it’s no different this year there.”
The Mullen era has started with a 2-1 record — the only loss coming to the Kentucky Wildcats. That loss snapped a streak of 31 consecutive victories for the Gators over the Wildcats.
“Offensively, they haven’t turned the ball over much,” Pruitt said. “I think they’re plus five in three games. They can stretch the field. They’ve got good wide receivers, a quarterback with a big arm (Feleipe Franks) who can extend the plays. We’ll definitely have a challenge. They’ve got a really good returner — Freddie Swain — in the punt return game.
(Dan Mullen’s) offenses are always very physical. They’re sound, very well-coached. They give you different looks — if you look over the years, he adapts to the players that he has. He’s very multiple, always tough to get off the field on third down. They’ve always been a team that runs the ball a lot on third down. We’ve got to be conscious of that. He’ll go for it on fourth down, you know, and it’s tough to keep them to field goals in the red area.”
The Gators are led offensively by Franks, who has thrown for 570 yards and nine touchdowns in the first three games. They have five players who have contributed significant carries in the rushing game, including Franks, who is over 100 yards for the year.
“I think their guys have done a really good job,” Pruitt said. “What I see is kind of what you’ve seen over the years from a Dan Mullen coached offense. To me, they look like they’re probably ahead of where they should be.”
Defensively, Todd Grantham’s group remains a bit of a mystery. Florida gave up 27 points and 454 yards of offense to Kentucky in Gainesville just two weeks ago. 303 of those yards came on the ground as Benny Snell ran wild.
“When I was growing up it was always the first big SEC game of the year,” Pruitt said. “I always loved to watch it. Always a lot of passion with both fan bases, a lot of tradition. I’m thankful to have the chance to be a part of it.”