Life’s a Peach: Gators make statement with 10-win season

81
2296
Florida players celebrate Saturday after routing Michigan 41-15 in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. [John Bazemore/Associated Press

ATLANTA — In this remarkable turnaround season under first-year coach Dan Mullen, the Florida Gators produced the perfect ending Saturday, one that included singing and dancing under confetti and fireworks, some tears of joy and big old football bear hugs all around on the field in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

It was a championship-like celebration that came after a stunning and complete 41-15 win over No. 7 Michigan in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl before 74,006 fans. The No. 10 Gators finish the season at 10-3, will certainly be in the top 10 in the nation in the final media polls and head into the offseason with all kinds of momentum and energy.

Mullen has said he’s going to make this a championship program again.

It appears UF is heading in that direction — and with great speed.

“This was a huge win, especially in Coach Mullen’s first year, to come in and win a New Year’s Six bowl game,” junior wide receiver Van Jefferson said. “It’s a huge win for the program going into next season.

“Oh, definitely, (this is where Florida belongs). But we’re not finished here. Eventually, we want to be in the playoffs. But this is a start to it.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone foreseeing this turnaround a year ago. The Gators were coming off a 4-7 season that started with a humbling 33-17 loss to this same Michigan program.

The way the Gators improved over the course of this season, the way they ended it Saturday with one of their most complete performances of the year, it’s obvious this is a completely different team than in 2017.

“Our team really came together this season and changed the way we play,” junior linebacker Vosean Joseph said. “Our mindset now is way different. All we know is go, work hard, strain, strain, strain, keep pushing.

“This win is big. The Gators are back. I’m really proud of Coach Mullen and the staff the way they have just kept pushing us. They know our limits are way beyond what we think they are. They’re going to keep pushing us to be great players, be great men in the world. Just be great.”

The Gators certainly were great for much of Saturday’s game, the way they overwhelmed Michigan (10-3), a school that has been a recent UF nemesis with two one-sided wins over the past three years.

UF beat down a school the Gators had never beaten before, losing all four of the previous games to the Wolverines.

Things have changed in one year under Mullen and the new staff.

“We bought in quickly because we knew it was going to be a big turnaround if we just bought in,” said junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, the defensive MVP who had two interceptions in the second half, including a pick-six in the fourth quarter that sealed the win. “We had some setbacks during the season. We took our losses, got back up and kept fighting. A lot of people looked down on us.

“We’re champions now, and we thrive on that, being a champion, not only on the field but off. We got that carried over into this game. We did everything a champion is supposed to do. We deserve this win. That’s what we came out to do.”

Often-criticized quarterback Feleipe Franks, who was benched in the second half against Michigan in last year’s game, was the offensive MVP on Saturday. He threw for 173 yards and a touchdown and ran 20 yards for a TD on a quarterback draw that he audibled into.

Franks has shown steady progress under Mullen and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson. He may have played the best game of his UF career Saturday.

“The biggest thing they helped me do, just gain my confidence back,” Franks said. “Last year, especially me, I don’t think my confidence could have gotten any lower.

“They helped me bring back confidence day in and day out, whether it be in practice or on game day. Being able to come out here today, not play conservative. Just go out and play the game I’ve been playing my whole life.

“It’s just made football fun again. That’s what it’s done for me.”

The Gators had all kinds of fun at Michigan’s expense Saturday.

Led by Franks and running backs Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine, the offense rolled up 427 total yards, including 257 on the ground, against a defense that led the nation in total defense for much of the season.

Defensively, the Gators stuffed the Michigan running game, holding the Wolverines to 77 yards, and produced five sacks and two interceptions.

It was a complete victory on a big stage — and the perfect way to end this turnaround season.

“This game right here, one step closer to the program being back to where it was,” Gardner-Johnson said.

Mullen thanked his seniors.

“For believing in me,” he said. “I told our guys that the sooner everybody bought in, the sooner we’ll start winning. It started with the seniors. Those guys believed from day one. Nobody questioned, nobody resisted.

“We wanted to peak today. That’s what you want to do, peak on the final game of the season. You’re always getting better. We want to continue to improve.”

In Saturday’s win, the Gators won most of the crucial battles, including the coaching one.

“They were just a better team,” Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich said. “They had us. For the most part, they had us figured out. They knew what we were in and how to manipulate it.

“Hats off to Coach Mullen and their coaching staff. They did a great job. And they outplayed us.”

81 COMMENTS

    • Who is “Robby”? Maybe we shouldn’t criticize people if we cant spell their name. On a serious note…what a great start to the Mullen era. Spring practice will have a qb battle again….but we all trust the coach a lot more to play the best players (and put them in good position to win).
      Go Gators!!

          • Kelly Bryamt led his team to the national semi-finals last year and lost his job this year to a better qb. I believe Mullen will play the QB that gives us the best chance to win.

          • “He may have played the best game of his UF career Saturday.”
            I said yesterday on here, that if Franks didnt make mistakes that we would win this game. He didnt and we did! I took a risk on Franks performance because I have faith in the coach. I bet the moneyline and just a little more than tripled my money. Doubled it on Clemson going with the points. I said both Mi and ND were overrated because they played a weak schedule and Mi was exposed against OhSt. I was proven correct on both accounts, both games were blowouts. I also said it helped that Mi had 4 starters out for the NFL. I believe we would have won anyway but closer. Coach Mullen has proven himself exceptionally. I knew if he had a month to prepare for a team, he would be tremendous. My wager was based on the coach not the team, since they have been unpredictable in the 2nd half of the season. I supported him from the day he was announced, he’s been a gator fan since growing up and is in his dream job, were so fortunate to have him!

          • Mullen will play the QB that gives him the best chance to win. Period.
            Franks got better throughout the year, but still makes freshman mistakes and some questionable decisions. He’s our QB, I love his effort, and root for him, but we won’t win a SEC C with Franks.

      • He picked the Gators to go 6-7 this year! That is a fact! All year he ran down their chances, fact! Focus on the fact that he runs this team down. Grow up yourself!!!!! Hey why not loose the catchy cut down and focus on the fact that this team was one of the top 15 in Gator history to get 10 wins! The sports writers were negative all season. When they run down the coaches and players when they are succeeding at a high level you think it is negative or positive? This is a reason fans turn on coaches! If these sports writers get behind the players and coaches, who knows?

        • gatorhopeful: Robbie did not pick the Gators to finish 6-7. Don’t know where you came up with that “fact”? You haven’t read this site much, as our writers have not been negative all season and run down the coaches and players. Gatorsports.com wouldn’t be as successful as it is if it was as negative as you say.

          • Gatorhopeful, 2 of Robbie’s wrong picks were when he picked the Gators to win games that they lost. Were you upset that he picked us to beat teams that beat the brakes off of us?

        • I call your attention to the article written by Robbie,Andreu’s Analysis: A tough season (for me).
          If ignorance was an illness they would find a cure. But as Ron White said, You can’t fix stupid.
          Again focus on the Gators great season not your lack of education please!

  1. And you made a statement, Robbie, with your pick of Michigan and picking 7 or the 13 teams that played against Florida this year to beat the Gators. My pick was Florida 38, Michigan 24. I underestimated the Gators like you did (by three points), and actually overestimated Michigan’s offensive ability in the game (by nine points). And I guess you are already picking Miami to beat Florida opening day 2019. I hope so.

        • Swampy – that is why I quit joking on here as people tend to read everything as factual. I have come to realize that most of my jokes are only funny to humans that have an IQ close to mine. Also many people with higher than normal IQ’s don’t have the funny bone that I have. I got mine from my recently deceased Mother. I watched that woman draw a mustache on a soda machine with Jeff Gordons face on it. I blame all of my comedic DNA on her. GO GATORS!!!

          • Ed, a great man is he who never loses the heart of a child, while at the same time fulfilling all of his adult responsibilities. Besides, laughter is a great alternative to waking up screaming every morning!

            BTW (which is hip and happenin’ for by-the-way), you still owe me that story! But that’s OK — just pay 65 back for all his money that I used to bet with this season, and we’ll call it even.

          • Gator-6, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you that story. I have been getting on here because of the last week and the last game of the year for us. I still have a pinched nerve in my neck and my left arm is weak, tingling, and it has the grip of a 3 y/o…lol. I have never experienced anything like this. I got the pain under control, but I am taking enough muscle relaxer to drop a healthy horse. The VA is attempting to send me to a chiropractor, but I am going to pay out of pocket to get an earlier visit. Anyway – how ’bout dem GATORS? I will send your story soon. GO GATORS!!!

  2. And Robbie, the big win was likely limited to you and a few other media types (all those except Corso on the ESPN pregame show for sure, and said he only was picking Florida because he lives in the state) who do not and have not realized what a great head coach, and an even better game-day coach, Dan Mullen is. But I think they do or will soon. And maybe you will soon as well.

    • I got sick of the ESPN announcers being homers for MI. I normally view the game listening to the Gators broadcast but all stations I could get online were blocked, even the call-in number for the Gators broadcast wasnt working, only the official ESPN broadcast, whats up with that? If I could get the Gators network on the radio where Im at I would have listened to that, though they were blocked on Tune-In Radio!

      • Daz – I don’t know how long you have been reading this site – but I always bashed espn for their Homer selectiveness. Especially with ohio state. The woman beetle (spelled this way intentionally) smashed an ice sculptor of the GATORS because she went to OH st. All she proved was that she is a hater. I was stationed at Fort Irwin when the GATORS played for and won the NC when we beat ohio state 41 – 14. All I heard was how bad they were going to beat us. I kept my composure and I would say was “Ohst has never seen a defense like ours.” In the end we kept that great football team to under 100 total yards for the game. People didn’t want to see me after that winj because I talked as much shit as I could to remind everyone of them how wrong they were. GO GATORS!!!

  3. Let us all pledge for the future that every game is important. How we Gators feel now proves that point. From the beginning, fans, media, coaches, and players, all made a statement that we wanted this game and the Gators responded! Great game and hats off to players and coaches that kept focused and played with heart and commitment. Great game! Go Gators!

  4. Did anybody see this coming back in late August? Did anyone see this after the Kentucky loss? The national pundits predicted 7-5 and maybe 8-4 at best. For you opinionated Gators fans who hated Franks (and still do) and the offense–and they are only a few who ALWAYS see the dark side of the force-This Peach is for you.

      • Daz–excellent call on ND and Michigan. I no longer make heavy investments or give my take to my relatives, but my NY cousin called and asked my opinion. I said that ND was EXTREMELY over-rated, weak schedule and had not impressed me all season. The few Mich. games I saw I was also unimpressed with Harbaugh’s 1975 NFL-style offense. So I gave my cousin Florida +7 and Clemson -11 as possible investments. Glad to learn you were on the MONEY line and tripled up with Gators. U must be a very smart investor.
        PS: When examining a Gator game, you probably look at it as a college football game, not as a Gator fan. That makes you an exception among Gator Nation, but also a winner. Good luck in 2019.

    • I did the same thing with my Gator game buddy (at home, unfortunately, watching the game). I think I said it at least five or six times, with agreement from my Gator buddy each time. And how about Mike White’s team today. Blew out the Butler team that they lost to at the beginning of the season. Nice day to be a Gator.

    • HB it was great play calling across the board. Offense was impressive. Defense was more so. Still some mistakes but overall most impressive and next year should be better. Now if Swampy is correct on a large number of players leaving for the NFL i think that will open more scholarships. Someone let me know if that is correct. I’d bet some of the last unsigned 4-5* on the fence now have a proven commodity to consider.

  5. J. Taylor is turning pro. Likely to be followed by Polite, Joseph, Scarlett, Perine, and Jefferson (the WR). Some big holes to be filled by Mullen and his staff this spring and summer. And especially on the offensive line where Florida will be returning only one starter (Buchanan).

      • Jaws. I think Polite and Perine are definitely NFL ready. Polite is gone. Draft position info will determine if Perine jumps. Scarlett would benefit from another year to work on his receiving skills out of the backfield. That is going to really hurt him in the NFL draft and in the NFL. You really have to block and receive well to make it in the NFL as a running back. Jefferson is likely as ready as he will ever be. But he nor his family needs the money. He might come back for his degree from UF. Joseph would definitely benefit by coming back. He would only make an NFL roster as a special teams player right now. He needs to get a little bigger and get better in pass coverage. He does that next year, and he will shoot way up the draft ladder in next year’s draft. Zuinga should come back and get bigger and stronger. Will be interesting to see what they all decide to do, and which players decide to transfer (Green has already decided to do that).

  6. Only Taylor has announced so far. I’m guessing Zuniga and Van Jefferson return. But your opinion is as worthy as mine. However, the development of a new offensive line likely tells the story for our guys next season. A plus is that we have a bunch of Big Nasties who’ve had a year with John Hevesy. He’s clearly a superb teacher and motivator. With Buchanan and Heggie up front Hevesy’s got a solid pair of leaders in place.

    Mullen and this team have made life so much fun again for us Gators. Can hardly stand the thought that we now have eight months ahead without a game.

    • I have 8 games taped which means I can watch 1 game a day Monday through Saturday and 2 on Sunday. I can ff through all the junk commercials and useless jibber jabber. The bowl game, that I forgot to tape before I went to my youngest sons house to watch, will be played again later this week and that will make 9 games. I am going to hibernate in my man cave for the next 8 months and enjoy some good GATOR football. Go Gators

  7. Coupled with the disarray in Tally, the beatdown Miami just got from Wisconsin and the “retirement” of Urban Meyer, this total domination of Michigan will pay HUGE dividends for the Gators recruiting elite talent in the state of Florida. Recruits should now clearly see the advantage of coming to Gainesville and playing for Coach Mullen.

    The 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes will swell with nothing but blue chip talent who want to play for championships and stay closer to home. Maybe, even the 2019 class will provide a few pleasant surprises by signing day in February.

    Go Gators!!!

  8. What a great win for the gators. It goes to show you what good coaching can do. Hip Hip Horay for Franks after the confidence crushing season of last year. It is refreshing to hear the players gushing with pride for Florida and the coaching staff. Truly they have bought in. As far as Robbie goes, I enjoy reading his articles and can’t blame him for picking against the Gators. How many of us thought we would lose 5 or more games after the Kentucky loss? Go Gators!

  9. Like everyone else, I’m on Cloud 9 today after watching the Peach Bowl demolishing of Michigan and realizing that CDM and his staff have this program on an upwards trajectory that nobody saw coming. Great finish to this year and a strong feeling that the program couldn’t be in better hands. Gator Nation has suffered long enough and those days are over. The Gators are back, the Gator Standard has been reset – Thank You Coach Mullen and staff!

    • Tuna on ESPN radio this am they were all saying we only won because a lot of Michigan players say out. I say bs and think we’d have won regardless. So up here on cloud 9 it’s been a great Sunday. Really what I’m sayin is we don’t get no respect to borrow from Rodney D. Go Gators!

      • 65 – ESPN luvs them some Michigan and are trying to CYA for their lopsided predictions of an easy win for Big Blue. They ALL picked Blue to win. We beat the living hell out of Michigan, outplayed them in everything except punt blocking, and even their players were admitting it. A couple of starters returning would not have changed the outcome. 41-15 and it should have been worse. Kinda like the thrashing we gave fsu a month ago at Ron Zook field.
        It was Big Boy football yesterday – no excuses accepted – Michigan was outplayed and outcoached for 60 minutes.

        • There is some ESPN ranking today where we are 11 or 12 and Michigan is still 7. Not sure what taking that was. GF was relating it to me. I know a lot of guys are thinking making the leap. I hope they think long and hard and a few decide to come back for another year. Risk reward. But thinking back there were lots of times I leaped in youth and the reward want there. Of course there were times I should have and didn’t. Tough decisions for these guys. Much respect either way.

          • Gator65
            The rankings are still what they were Dec. 16. No further rankings come out until after the national title game. No worries, mate. Gators should be 7 or 8 in final AP poll due out on Jan. 6.

  10. I still love you Robbie ! ( Pat and Arnold also ) and could care less who you pick because I know who I am picking in every game next year already. I have to admit that I was a bit underwhelmed at the Mullen hire initially and wanted Frost as our coach, but will gladly admit that I was wrong ! Coach Dan Mullen has done an unbelievable job with our team and developing the players we had who were underachieving. He has done everything that he promised to do, produced a team that plays with relentless effort and made Gator football fun to watch again. I am SO glad and thankful that we have him as our coach and can’t wait to see what he is building with our program. I truly believe that we compete for a national championship next year.

  11. Gator Ed and Daz-have you not been watching ESPN Gameday for the past 10 or so years?? They HATE UF!!! Especially Desmond. Every chance he gets he picks against Florida, even when they were running college football with Percy, Tebow, and Spikes he always had something negative to say about them. I put absolutely NO stock into what he says and I’ve even stopped watching the show in favor of SEC Nation. I got so sick of him always hating on Florida. Don’t know but I think it’s personal. Maybe he wanted to go to UF and never got an offer but whatever it is it’s deep seeded. So I would applaud Corso for picking UF but his reasoning for doing so sucks. Pick them because you think they’re good enough to win not because you live in the state. I repped my old school Weurffel Saints jersey at the game, trying to bring some of that old feel good magic back-it worked!! GEAUXX GATORS!!!

    • BGRF U are correct. I was a newspaper/sports reporter for many years and the editors were always screaming at us to write a negative story/headline to generate readership and interest. I learned the hard way and no longer read or listen to ANYTHING a sportswriter or commentator says. All BS. Save your Gator health and ignore/don’t watch ESPN Gameday. When Gators are on TV, mute the sound and listen to Mic Huber. Always a delay on the radio, but u don’t have to listen to that TV crap. See you in Aug. 2019.

  12. The Bowl Games are done!
    With Washington, UCF and Notre Dame losing, the Gators should finish 7th or 8th in the nation in the final poll.
    We are also clearly #1 in Florida and we should now set our sights on netting the remaining 4 and 5 star undeclared recruits for the 2019 class, particularly for the D Line and secondary.
    Let’s load up for 2019 and win the SEC East and more.