Mullen’s successful season sign of things to come

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Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks, a redshirt sophomore who grew up just 20 miles south of Doak Campbell Stadium in Crawfordville, completed 16 of 26 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns Saturday. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

TALLAHASSEE — The game was over, but they were still playing out the final minutes on the field. A majority of the Florida State fans had headed for the exits knowing they had witnessed the bad kind of history they wanted to leave in the rear-view.

Or maybe they just didn’t want to hear what was coming.

It came anyway.

The Gator fans in the stands started the giddy noise, “Orange!” in one section and “Blue!” in the other.

To say they were happy would be to say the players who would soon celebrate on the field were mildly pleased.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who has become the king of celebrating, and a few teammates sprinted to the UF end zone and grabbed oversized flags and began to run around the field with them flapping the colors.

The same Feleipe Franks who was booed earlier this month was throwing wrist bands to kids (and a few adults). As I stood there watching, Gator fans pleaded with me to fish a pair of used mouthpieces out of the mud and toss them their way as if they were Golden Tickets.

The brand is back, even if it’s not all the way back.

“It’s heading in the right direction for us,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “I have high expectations. But I’m not disappointed.”

He was talking about the season as a whole and how a group of dysfunctional football players bought in, some slowly and some quickly, to form what can only be considered a successful first season for the UF head football coach.

And then he talked about more to come.

Meanwhile, in the other interview room, Willie Taggart tried to explain the mess that is Florida State football.

“Disappointing game, disappointing season,” he said.

A season like no other in the past 37 years. No bowl for you. Enjoy the off-season. It has already started.

It has started because a disciplined team dominated an undisciplined one. FSU couldn’t get out of its own way and when it did, the Gators were always there coming off the top rope with a forearm shiver.

“We knew they were the most undisciplined team in America and we were going to take advantage of every opportunity we had,” Gardner-Johnson said. “That’s what we did.”

It wasn’t just that FSU had 10 penalties, but when they came. One took away a Seminole touchdown, a thing of beauty from Cam Akers on a short pass that would have cut the lead to three. Another gave Florida a second chance in the red zone, the one place the Gators struggled Saturday.

And, of course, they took advantage.

Make no mistake about it, this game was a referendum on coaching. One guy and his staff getting the most out of his team to win nine games. The other one, not so much.

Here’s the thing — FSU’s goal was the take away the running game. Florida ran for 282 yards, 74 of them coming on Lamical Perine’s run that was beautifully blocked against a defense that had stacked the line with no safeties deep.

“We did a good job of fitting that all day,” Mullen said.

And then there was the TD pass to Van Jefferson when he put a double move on a safety and was so open he could have eaten lunch waiting for the ball.

“When they called the play, I knew I was going to score,” Jefferson said. “They say those are the hard catches, but I was zoned in on the ball.”

Jefferson is an example of what Mullen has brought to Florida, a transfer from Mullen’s former rival who was one of the easy buy-ins because he had seen what Mullen could do firsthand.

“I knew Coach Mullen was going to change the culture of the team,” Jefferson said. “I believed in Coach Mullen when I decided to come to Florida.

“He has exceeded my expectations. He calls the right play at the right moments. He came to me and said we’re going to run ‘Houston.’ It’ll be just you and the safeties. Right play, right time.”

Florida broke three streaks in one day and we’ll see if they start a new one. You know, consecutive seasons in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

But whatever the immediate future holds for this team, we know what this meant for this program. And for guys like Jordan Scarlett, who worked his way back from a season’s suspension to play his best football down the stretch of the season.

“We had to literally come together as a team, man,” Scarlett said. “This almost is the same team as last year, missing a couple dudes, new coaching staff. These guys came in here and instilled a great thing in us, you know, they taught us how to play football well, just be a first-class team and that’s what we did.”

In the corner of America’s smallest locker room entrance, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin was answering questions about how this season has gone.

He, too, has high expectations.

“From where we were a year ago to where we are now is pretty fulfilling,” Stricklin said. “I’m incredibly pleased. It would be hard to anticipate the first year going so well.”

Remember the introductory news conference?

Make Florida Fun Again?

Check.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

41 COMMENTS

  1. For those that said Mac was a good coach, forget that notion. Read what a player said.
    We had to literally come together as a team, man,” Scarlett said. “This almost is the same team as last year, missing a couple dudes, new coaching staff. These guys came in here and instilled a great thing in us, you know, they taught us how to play football well, just be a first-class team and that’s what we did.”

      • It’s seriously amusing to read simple minded comments like that on here. It’s a little embarrassing though that people in our fanbase are so intentionally blind to the truth in an effort to just make themselves feel better about their moronic opinions. Making fun of Muschamp getting spanked by Clemson? Really? And what do you think Clemson would do to Mullen??? Lol. We are light years behind Clemson. They would beat us by 3 or 4 yds. Bama would too. Seriously shocking that people try to trash a coach who just a couple of weeks ago, took an inferior team, came to Gainesville, and nearly clipped us for the second year in a row. Just plain stupidity on display.

        • Wow, you even manage to be negative and criticize your own fan base after a big win, if in fact you actually are a Gator fan. Not sure what’s missing in your life to make you such a negative person, but I hope you find a little positivity soon. I feel bad for you, it must be miserable living
          in a constant state of negativity. It would be nice if you stopped trying to rain on everyone else’s parade though.

          • Do you have anything other to say than I’m negative? You sound like a hypocrite because you are being negative. Maybe next time actually address the subject matter instead of running your useless mouth. A poster posts something negative, I respond with some that you consider negative, then you respond to me with something negative. And I’m the negative one? Lol.

        • LT Truth? I may be wrong but weren’t you one of the posters calling for us to lose? I didn’t read everything on here last week but thought i saw that. Muschamp 2018 is not the same Muschamp we had he has learned some things otherwise that los would have had a larger margin. We are not as far along as the others like Clemson, Alabama but we as fans have a something we haven’t had for years a program palpably going in the right direction being less by a coach that is more than capable and has the experience to do things right. Mullen had the experience Muschamp did not. It’s not that Muschamp won’t be a good coach he isn’t yet. His first year here. Muschamp first year Gators 7–6 record overall and a 3-5 record in the SEC. This was the first losing conference record for the Gators since 1979. Two losing SEC seasons. Different kinds of leadership. Mullen has the it factor we look for in leaders. Still doesn’t mean he will use it well but having it is the biggest part. This team is coming together in a way I haven’t seen in some time. If he’s Kim to you I can see you defending him. If you’re a troll I can see that. The comparison fans here have is how we a humans have the world. Then vs now, etc. Simple minded? Fact

        • Muschbrain sucks. This year he promised to keep his hands off the offense and focus on defense. The result? The offense looks great testing what was supposed to bea very good Clemson defense while his Wall of Mish defense gets shredded by a kid who was picking out a tux for his high-school prom just a few months ago. USC only won six games this year when going into the season people were picking them to be 2nd in the east and maybe even challenge UGA. Anyway, when USC has had enough of his mediocrity they will fire him, and you will have to bow down to me and admit that I am your football daddy.

        • Apparently some have forgotten how Muschamp decimated our offense by his failure to put an emphasis on scoring. Many fans are resentful for his bullheaded approach when he was the coach here. What another team might do to Florida is irrelevant. We don’t play them. If someone wants to point out that Muschamp is struggling, so be it. It is true and there is nothing wrong with that. If you feel so strongly against the gators, perhaps you should find a new team to root for. Maybe a team that is in disarray so that you can continually criticize the team. FSU comes to mind. Go Gators!

        • LT, I agree, I’ve read these minimalists and sometimes dispecable comments; particularly about FSU all week. I am a Gator fan but I don’t believe it gives license to be disrespectful, particularly to an In-State University. I am wondering if these comments are born and breed in ignorance or neuroticism buried deep in the subconscious of psychos. Cheer on our Gators, critique our players, coaches, or whatever, but show a little decorum and respect for the human that’s in all of us. Go Gators!

    • You said it, my man. I’ve been preaching for almost two years that McElwain was the worst HBC Florida has had in the modern era, and have had many who have scorched me for being a “meanie” in saying that. The guy simply reached his Peter Principle when he hit UF, he should have stayed out west with a Group of 5 school. He was neither an innovator nor a motivator. DM is the real deal. It’s still not going to be easy to get to the top of the mountain, but when it is ever easy in the SEC. What a fun year, watching UF Football get back to its rightful place in the State of Florida. It won’t be long before this team is in the SEC and national title conversation again. Great job for the HBC, Scott Stricklin, and the players, who proved this year that quality coaching matters in this league.

  2. Pat, you checked all the boxes. Dan Mullen has proven that he is big time football program manager, who has turned the ship around in season #1. Taggart now gets to repeatedly explain….”why didn’t you do the same for FSU, and by the way, how come we went downhill in place of at least staying even ?” Have fun with that. This type of show, WILL make an immediate recruitment difference. Who would want to go to a school, like FSU, that’s in disarray?

    Franks did today, what I doubted he could do. His passes and decisions were excellent. My hat is off to him!

  3. CDM has the right attitude. Not disappointed with a good season that has the Gators headed in the right direction, but not completely satisfied, either. Great start with the hope of better things on the horizon. The competition between Franks and Jones in the spring should be very interesting. Go Gators!

  4. This is just normal for fans to be unhappy with the way things are. Spurrier talked about how the fans aren’t happy unless they win every game. Then the game needs to be over with at half time. We should score every time we have the ball. Fan just aren’t realistic. When Urban Myer came in 2005 with Ron Zooks players and a good recruiting class, the fans hated his offense. He had a very young secondary and they couldn’t stop anyone. The fans moaned and groaned the next year with the offence, but the defense was great and they kept winning. They win the SEC and play for the National Title. Sports Illustrated had an article saying Ohio State was already measuring their players for the championship ring. We know what happened there. If Mullen can get the players he needs and keep them from thinking they just need to just show up to win, we will be very happy with the results.

  5. For fun, and I mean good fun, head over to the Tallahassee Democrat’s site and check out their assessment of Taggart’s 1st season and yesterday’s game… It’s a long tale of FSU being completely FUBAR… Willie ain’t gonna make it past the UM game next year.

    • My favorite things to do after a big win are to read the sports page and watch the post-game press conference for the opposing team. It was particularly delightful this past Sunday watching Willie melt in the post-game and reading the column article. Willie had no real answers for his team’s play other than he needs different players and possibly, coaches. This a team with a cumulative recruiting ranking of 6.5 in the nation over the last five years. He has already lost the attention of his current team. It will take years for him to completely overall his rooster. He will not survive the transition. Willie doesn’t get it. He is the problem. It’s great to be a Florida Gator!

  6. What we have in the coaching staff of CDM are really good teachers. I truly hope that HS recruits will look past the hype of other programs and look at UF as a place to really learn how to play football at a very high level, which will then translate into their NFL contract. Teaching is the key, combined with a positive team environment, in the ultimate team sport.

  7. Fantastic game and shout outs to Coach Mullen, the staff and the team for a great year!
    The cake is rising and the icing on it will be some top rated recruits to fill the wholes left by our seniors
    and some others headed to the NFL draft.
    I expect Mullen to pull in some 4 and 5 star recruits in the next month, and a few transfers as well.
    Next year will be be even better.