Despite riding a three-game losing streak to end the season, Dan Mullen is selling optimism heading into year four in Gainesville. The Gators have a lot to replace off of last season’s squad but the Head Gator still thinks he has a team that can win another divisional title, but facts are always optional.
Florida was the media’s preseason pick to win the East last year. https://t.co/iE4Y4S65oT
— Brandon Zimmerman (@BZSEC) July 19, 2021
That might be a reach, but this is a roster that is still the most talented in the division behind Georgia. With an easy non-conference slate, Florida will again be a threat in the SEC. Now let’s dive into what KSR learned about the Gators.
Replacing offensive firepower
Kyle Trask’s 4,283 passing yards and 43 touchdowns are out. So are the 151 receptions produced by Kadarius Toney, Kyle Pitts, and Trevon Grimes. The Gators finished in the top-10 in both scoring offense (39.8) and yards per play offense (7.28). Despite that, expectations remain high despite the shuffling in personnel.
“Offensively it will be different this year,” Mullen told reporters. “Two first-rounders last year on the offensive side of the ball and a second rounder at quarterback. Guys leaving on to the NFL. It’s great to see those guys have that success and go on to the next stage, but there’s a lot of production to go fill offensively that we’re really excited about on the offensive side of the ball.”
Emory Jones steps in
Back in the class of 2018, Emory Jones was a top-100 recruit out of Georgia who was ranked behind Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. Those two Peach State products are off to the NFL, but Jones has waited his time in Gainesville. The redshirt junior will be a first-time starter but this is a guy with experience. Mullen believes the veteran quarterback.
“He came in as a very celebrated high school player, highly ranked player, and I think for a couple years now, he’s learned, he’s grown, he’s developed,” said Mullen. “He’s a completely different player he was when he walked in, in his understanding of the game and in his maturity.”
Last year, Todd Grantham fielded his worst defense in six years working under Dan Mullen. The Gators ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in both scoring defense and yards per play allowed. There is some pressure on the long-time coordinator as Florida must fix this side of the football. However, the head coach isn’t close to touching that subject in-person selling only positivity so far.
“Really to me the attitude of where our defense is at is what I’m really pleased with,” said Mullen. “The energy, we play a lot of guys defensively, roll guys through to keep them fresh and healthy, and I’m really excited of the mindset, the attitude that the defense as a whole is bringing to the table and the leadership that they have within our program.”
Mullen always tries his best when dressing out for this event but this was also a guy who wore a Darth Vader costume after beating Missouri at home. Let’s give him an A for effort.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) July 19, 2021
Fade Star Wars
Speaking of the Darth Vader costume, Mullen was asked directly about what his favorite movie was in the franchise. He, not surprisingly, dodged the question.
“You can go so many different directions with the Star Wars question.”
Thanks for that dynamite drop-in, Dan.
Awful schedule take
Florida doesn’t want to play LSU this year? What a shocker. To defeat this, the offensive savant would like to like to eliminate the permanent opponent from the other division as well as throwing out an interesting nine-game idea.
“I don’t know how you’d ever do it, but if the league ever wanted to go to a nine-game schedule, which I don’t think anybody’s jumping up and down about right now, but I guess what you do is play four home, four away, and a neutral site game, and you could find different ways or matchups that everybody got to do that,” said Mullen.
That’s a hard pass for me, dog.
Players over plays
Many think Florida will go to a more ground-heavy approach this fall. Jones is an excellent rusher from the quarterback position and the Gators return their top three running backs from last season. Former five-star recruit Demarkus Bowman also comes in as a transfer from Clemson. However, Mullen believes in players and not plays.
“I don’t know what my bread and butter is because we’ve been all over the place with every different style of quarterback,” Mullen told reporters. “If you go back, even being a coordinator, you go back to the Alex Smiths and the Chris Leaks, through the Tebows, to Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott. There’s been so many different variations.”
To begin the month of October, Florida will make the trip to Lexington for their annual divisional game against Kentucky. Before that, the Gators play four games and will be fresh off home games against Alabama and Tennesee. We will know a lot about Florida after that first month.
The Gators are firmly in a transition while the defense has some major worries. However, this is still a good roster with a schedule that is manageable other than a few tricky spots. Florida should be expected to finish in second in the SEC East, but it is fair to think this could be the worst team of the Dan Mullen era in Gainesville.
Kentucky will have an opportunity to pull an upset when the Gators roll into Kroger Field.