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The Gators play their first home night game in nearly two years Saturday against Arkansas.

Friday October 4, 2013Finally ... A Night (Game) in the Swamp

The Gators play their first home night game in nearly two years Saturday against Arkansas.

By Jenna Perlman
GatorZone.com Intern

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Matt Jones may have said it best.

“There’s nothing like a night game in the Swamp.”

Jones has been to one, but never played in one. That streak, however, will end for the sophomore tailback and a bunch of his teammates Saturday night when No. 18 Florida (3-1, 2-0) faces Arkansas (3-2, 0-1) in a game that will mark the first time in nearly two years -- 10 games, to be exact -- the Gators have played under the lights at Florida Field.

UF’s last home night game came Nov. 26, 2011 against Florida State. For a fan base that loves the prime-time spotlight, the wait has been way too long.

“The energy is definitely different,” Jaylen Watkins, the senior defensive back from Cape Coral, Fla., said of the night-time atmosphere at Florida Field.  “Just like us, the fans have been sitting around all day. So when the time comes to play, everyone is ready to go.”

Sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. watched some night games at the Swamp from the stands as a kid from St. Petersburg. After playing an entire freshman season of home day games, he knows this will be an entirely different experience.

“I’m pretty pumped for it,” Fowler said. “I know it’s pretty loud, and it looked like a fun experience when I came to games in high school. I can’t wait.”

Like Fowler, junior quarterback Tyler Murphy will have his first home experience playing at night against the Razorbacks. Saturday also marks Murphy’s first start at home, having taken over the position two weeks ago when Jeff Driskel suffered a season-ending broken leg in a win against Tennessee.

Murphy’s first start of any kind came last week in a 24-7 win at Kentucky, where he opened the game with 13 straight completions and finished 15 of 18 for 156 yards, a touchdown both passing and rushing, plus one interception.

In the hours before that game, Murphy joined offensive coordinator Brent Pease and a handful of other players on a walk through some woods near their team hotel. The outing helped calm Murphy’s nerves.

Murphy plans to use music and just plain preparation this week. The electricity of the crowd (and the lights high atop Ben Hill Griffin Stadium) should take care of the rest.

“I’m not 100 percent sure what my emotions will be like,” Murphy said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’m comfortable with, and that’s just prepare and watch a lot of film and just keep pushing guys to do well. I don’t feel like I need to add any more stress on myself.”

As news of a night game returning to the Swamp spread on Facebook and Twitter on Sunday afternoon, excitement spread among UF students.

“I was honestly just excited about the fact that it was the first night game in such a long time,” said Andrew Pisacano, a senior from Jacksonville. “I don’t even remember what it’s like to have a night game.”

Sophomore Kristi Hummel remembers. Her parents brought her to Florida Field when she was younger.

"But this is the first time I'll go to one as a student," Hummel said. "I can't wait to tailgate and then get to the game and experience the atmosphere and excitement that's been building all day."

Billy Harris, a junior from Maryland, recalled that last one in 2011, though he'd like to forget the result (a 21-7 loss). His memories of the student section during a night game haven't faded just yet.

"Night games are more intense," Harris said. "People get more rowdy."

The student section in a college stadium is widely regarded as the loudest part of the ballpark. But noon and 3:30 kickoffs in the stifling September heat, UF students are often forced to choose which half they want to stay and watch.

Night games not only give the temperatures time to cool down, but give students the entire day to get pumped up.

“I think it’s going to absolutely be packed to the rafters,” Pisacano said.

When Florida coach Will Muschamp described the atmosphere of the Swamp at night he only needed one word.

“Loud,” he said.

Muschamp is no stranger to night games at Florida Field, but Saturday the fans will be on his side. Muschamp first played under the lights at the Swamp as a Georgia safety when the Bulldogs and Gators played a rare home-and-home series in 1994 and ’95 while the Gator Bowl was under renovation  

The Gators won 52-14 that night.

Muschamp returned to the Swamp as LSU’s linebackers coach in 2002, as its defensive coordinator in ’04, and as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in ’07. Each time, his teams won. 

“I was just hoping we could hold on,” Muschamp said. “It’s tough, especially when we used to have the Florida fans right behind our bench.”

He smiled and wondered aloud how that element could be reinstated.

It won’t happen for this game, this season and probably not for future seasons. That’s OK.

For now, night football is coming back to Florida Field.

Finally.

“We've got the best fans in the country,” Muschamp said. “Our last home game was outstanding. The Gator Walk and our crowd certainly made a difference in a game and it’ll make a difference Saturday."

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