Moral of the Story: Following coach’s direction gets Stephens in game

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Florida tight end Moral Stephens (82) celebrates his 20-yard touchdown pass reception Saturday against Mississippi State during the second half in Starkville, Miss. [Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press]

Moral Stephens’ potential in Florida’s offense was seemingly revealed in Saturday’s decisive sequence.

The redshirt senior hauled in UF’s lone touchdown of the night, a 20-yard grab on a trick play by Kadarius Toney, providing Florida with what would be the decisive 13-6 result in the process.

While Stephens’ improvement downfield is clear, the Perry native cites his improved blocking as a catalyst for his heightened playing time in 2018.

Rather than an overnight realization, Stephens said he’s worked continuously at improving on the line of scrimmage since arriving at UF in 2014.

Honestly, blocking has always been one of the main things I’ve had to focus on, because coming in everybody knew I could run routes,” Stephens said. “I came in playing receiver, because receiving, I could do that. But blocking has always been my No. 1 focus.”

And it was Florida’s blocking that allowed the trick play, dubbed “Kodak” after Pompano Beach hip-hop artist and renowned Gators fan Kodak Black, to succeed.

“I kind of feel like Coach Mullen had basically set that play up pretty nice because the whole night we had been blocking pretty good on the perimeter,” Stephens said. “I knew that I could get behind them, and Kadarius did the rest, he threw the ball. It was a great ball by the way.”

He didn’t haul in a touchdown in his first three seasons at Florida, meaning Stephens’ first collegiate score came several weeks ago in Florida’s 27-16 loss to Kentucky. Considering he has just over half a season remaining at Florida, Stephens is content with how far he’s come — yet there’s always room for improvement, especially with UF facing a dominant LSU defensive line come Saturday.

“I feel like you can always get better at something. I can get better at blocking. I can better at receiving,” he said. “As of right now, I’m kind of satisfied with where I’m at right now, but like I said I can improve in everything.”

It may have been UF coach Dan Mullen who harped in Spring about the need to create a large role for the tight ends, but Gators offensive line coach John Hevesy hasn’t shied away when it comes time to decide which personnel give Florida the best protection up front. Following Saturday’s victory at his former program, Hevesy praised Stephens’ hands in the pass game while emphasizing it’s Stephens’ ability to block downfield that has stood out in the 10 months since Mullen and Co. arrived in Gainesville.

“You look at Moral as not a big, stout guy, but you see he does a great job running routes, does a great job with his hands. So, you’re in those situations, can he do some movement stuff blocking for us, not necessarily on the line,” Hevesy said, “but to me he functions intelligently and knows what he’s doing. So, at that point he can do some certain things we ask him to do and put him in spots he’s going to be successful.”

As much as UF’s coaching staff has put Stephens in a position to excel, it wouldn’t have happened without embracing the revamped offseason strength and conditioning program. When Mullen arrived on campus, he sought to use the tight ends more if the unit put in the necessary work. Now, Stephens is seeing his preparation pay dividends.

“The first big stride I would say I made was probably when Coach (Nick) Savage came in the spring. I would say I lost a lot of body fat and turned into muscle,” Stephens said. “And Coach Mullen, he gives me more opportunities to make plays. He gives me more opportunities, and I’m just making them count.”

19 COMMENTS

  1. I know people don’t care for the other line but when you add downfield blocking it’s really improved things.. because any play can add more to the end of it. That’s what the numbers say. With our defense that’s a good thing. This week we need that evenore since LSU will be looking to kill the fun we’ve been having

  2. I mean offensive line. Not other line. Sorry

    I also just love this kid. True gator. From Perry. Like Kerwin was from mayo. No one thinks they can play because they ate from little towns but those guys are always good.

  3. Mveal, that is one of the things I thinks skews the * system. There are some players ranked lower because they are not on the radar. 3* would have been 5* in a high profile location. Doesn’t matter this guys got heart and drive. Hope we see more of our offense this weekend. Solid OL play, TE block, release after block catching passes, RB Block, hitting holes, Making holes, catching out of the backfield, G and T making holes in defense, WR Blocking and catching, QB making good decisions, not committing turnovers, making first downs. Last week someone said we looked like a Muschamp offense. Well we did a little in grinding the ball. I think they were working on the clock offense scheme. Hell I don’t know anything about being a coach. But I think these players are liking playing for this coach.

    • Good catch 65…….somebody also said that this is basically last year’s team, and the fact that they are now playing for this coach, and liking the results, means everything. First of all, win or lose, it provides a basis to build on; secondly, it’s contagious and should start to pick up recruiting in the near term.

      Actually, you do know a lot about being a coach, maybe not a football coach per se, but you’ve done your fair share of it in other arenas. Leads to discernment and principles of leadership which apply no matter what the “game” is.

    • Sure, Muschamp ball, short passes, runs, etc. — followed by a dagger of a trick play that takes advantage of everyone thinking this is just Muschamp ball. Muschamp ball was never the problem. I personally love the idea of running it down a team’s throat and the QB managing the game — if you can do it. It’s Muschamp predictability that was the problem and just when you think you can predict Mullen, he skewers you.

  4. Based upon their in field performance, Kyle Pitts and Moral Stephens clearly deserve more playing time, especially Stephens who is a senior.
    Let’s plan on at least 3 targets to each player vs. LSU. By throwing to the TE’s more we reduce the LSU pass rush, create more space for the WR’s and also open up the running game more. The TE’s could be a big factor in our favor vs. LSU.

  5. They are still talking Savage up. Can’t wait until he has another off season with them. We were so under developed the last few year. What a shame and difference in coaching staffs. We are so much better prepared for games these days.

    • The Savage comment is so telling. Someone needs to arrest the prior staff for theft. They certainly didnt earn their salaries. They ran the team like the execs ran Enron.

      We are in good hands now. Just thrilled with this staff. Win or lose Saturday we have the right leaders in place.

    • Got to agree with Pompano and especially JIM — when they turned the corner in attitude, and became aware of their actual physicality, remarkable things began to happen. It only gets better, and while I don’t know for sure what Savage makes, he probably ought to get a raise.

      • I almost added that in my post Gator-6. We have a history of losing talented assistants to what most of the time seemed like higher pay. Maybe that is more legend than reality but let’s not test that theory. As KGB (John Malovich) said in Rounders, “Pay that man his money.”

        • Roger that Bud…..and it certainly appears that Mullen’s group are not only talented coaches in their own right, but they have enormous loyalty to him and thus a level of cohesiveness that might be a good predictor of the future as well.

  6. Where I feel this is very different from Mushbrain’s offense is that Mush was obsessed with the idea that he could run right at the strength of the defense. We would line up repeatedly, see eight men in the box, and just run a dive play right off the center into the jaws of the defense.

    What Mullen did was attack the defense where they were weak– throwing all those screens because MSU never adjusted, and then when they started biting on the screens throwing a pass over their heads. The announcers also mentioned that he told them he would run a lot of different looks and attack every part of the field to get them thinking, make their heads spin. He did do that. Mush would run predictable plays and rarely challenge to defense in any meaningful way. Yes, we only went deep the once, but I can’t say that there were other opportunities because, watching on TV, it isn’t clear what MSU was doing with their safeties.

    In any case, while there are similarities between the philosophies– run the ball, control the clock, move the chains… I would say when it comes to creativity and smarts this staff is far ahead of the group we had under Mush.

    • Hey Jaws — as we draw closer to game time, can we expect some scintillating prose from you? It’s getting to be a tradition late in the week……I’ve got an itch…..more cowbell won’t solve it……

      And by the way, where is Cody Alan?

        • La Flor Dominica, double ligero 6.5×60 ought to do the trick! We anxiously await the return of your passion. (I’m going to smoke the remnants of my own La Flor while my wife is at the grocery store, since she and my 12 year old doctor frown on it)

          • I’ll give it a try. Been smoking Montecristos despite the fact that everyone frowns on it and I am a cancer survivor. If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane!

          • No such thing as a bad Monte Christo! Have you tried the 6×60 “Monte”? Really same-same the Romeo & Julietta Media Noche, just smoother.

            After a stroke in February, I had to give away all my puros and a thousand count humidor — wife went ballistic. But I still get a Serie V in occasionally when I’m with my buddies in Waco or the lovely Gator-3 is out shopping.