D’Angelo: Florida’s next step is the playoffs

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Florida defensive back Kaiir Elam intercepts a pass intended for Virginia wide receiver Hasise Dubois (8) in the fourth quarter Monday at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. [ALLEN EYESTONE/The Palm Beach Post]
By Tom D’Angelo/Palm Beach Post
MIAMI GARDENS – Dan Mullen walked into his postgame news conference after tossing around oranges following his team’s Orange Bowl victory and realized the day had morphed from Monday into Tuesday.
He let out a sigh.
“After midnight,” he said. “Good thing we’re in Miami. Party all night.”
Now, the chance the Florida coach headed for South Beach after leaving Hard Rock Stadium with a 36-28 victory over pesky Virginia is about as likely as LSU and Clemson playing to a scoreless tie after regulation in the national championship game.
But that’s this year. A year from now, when Florida’s season concludes, Mullen just might be partying all night long in the 305.
The Florida Gators concluded their most successful season in the last decade with a victory in the Orange Bowl on Monday.
If they can conclude next year with a victory in the same stadium, but different game, then it will be historic.
The Gators (11-2) were pushed by Virginia, sealing their second win in a New Year’s Six bowl in the last two years by recovering an on-side kick with 38 seconds to play.
Now, after they finish in the top 10 for the second consecutive season (the Gators were No. 6 in the AP poll entering bowl season) they must raise the bar in 2020.
SEC East.
SEC.
Playoff.
Returning to South Florida to play the national championship game.
“I’m looking at what they’ve got coming back, they can do more,” said senior linebacker Jonathan Greenard. “This is only just the beginning, honestly. Last year was a little taste of it. We keep building, we got 11 wins, which is really difficult. Next year, they are just going to capitalize off of that.
“National Championship in my eyes.”
Florida ends the season with its most victories since 2011 and is guaranteed its highest post-season ranking since finished No. 3 in 2009.
Mullen, the man who has turned this from a four-win disappointment into a an 11-win contender, already is challenging a team that returns 12 starters and all but 11 players from the two-deep depth chart.
“January 6th we have a team meeting and that 2020 team will be born,” Mullen said. “And the mental toughness that it takes to come in day after day, work, push, get yourself better. …
“We have to do more than we did this year, get better than we were this year. You look at the two games we lost this year, close games, that we’re battling, battling, battling, that margin for error is really tiny in those games, it’s one or two plays can make a difference.”
Florida appears on the right track, but the climb becomes increasingly more difficult as it gets closer to the top. Mullen’s message at that meeting and during the spring and summer and start of fall practice will be that the road is paved.
“You look at the guys that made the playoffs this year, they’re not teams that just came out of nowhere and hadn’t been winning and finally won,” Mullen said. “You’re looking at teams … all of them were in New Year’s Six bowl games last year. You’ve got to be a consistent winner to go be a championship program, and I think the guys here in our program are helping us build that.”
Which is why Mullen and his team did not go through the motions during the week or treat this game as if it were some sort of punishment for not making the playoffs. This was important to them, not just for a successful end to 2019 but to build momentum to 2020.
“I think this win is huge for this program,” said junior quarterback Kyle Trask who will return for his fifth season in 2020.
Florida accomplished all that by unleashing a running game on Virginia it has been searching for all season. The Gators entered averaging 120.2 yards per game, 119th nationally, and had half of that on the third play of the game, a 61-yard touchdown run by the game’s MVP, Lamical Perine.
The Gators kept trying to get Trask untracked. He started slow, and although he never really found a rhythm, he was good enough, completing 24 of 39 passes for 305 yards and one touchdown.
But the Gators knew they could count on Perine, who ran for 138 yards on 13 carries and scored three times; two rushing and one receiving. Mullen said the running game never really became a factor this year because teams were mostly focused on stopping the run against them. But in Virginia, they faced a team “that decided they were going to try to stop the pass and drop a lot of guys into coverage.”
Florida rushed for 244 yards. Its previous high on the ground was 231 against Tennessee-Martin, 154 against a real team (South Carolina).
Still, this game was in doubt until the end, with Virginia (9-5) trying to prove it belonged in the game when everybody outside the ACC thought otherwise.
The key defensive play was turned in by freshman Kaiir Elam, the former Benjamin High standout. Elam, making his fifth start, was responsible for Bryce Perkins’ lone interception (against four touchdown passes) on the Gators 3-yard line with about five minutes to play and Florida ahead by 12.
Elam now knows what is now expected of this team.
“Next year I don’t expect anything less than a national championship,” he said. “That’s just me. I feel like we just need to keep improving, don’t take any steps back, and we’ll be there.”
tom_dangelo@pbpost.com
@tomdangelo44

17 COMMENTS

  1. Going to need a major upgrade in talent if Gators expect to be playing for a championship. Not even close on the defensive side of the ball. Offense needs to get a much better run game going too. Gators have some talented players capable of playing at the level, but not even close to LSU, Clemson or Ohio State. Better hope Jake Fromm declares for drat too in order to advance pass Georgia.

    • Agree. What Ive noticed this year is Grantham doesnt know how to play his secondary. He has been having them play zone all year and consequently the opponents WR’s run wide open. We are no longer DBU. We have great line play but are terrible in the secondary. For more than a decade we have had great secondaries and thus the moniker of DBU because we played tight coverage, batted balls away, rather than let WR’s catch and then tackle them, thus letting the opponent drive down the field. We also tackled well. Now we have the offense going and our secondary has gone to average. i dont know if its that he feels he doesnt have the talent to play man or he just is scared of the big play and wont. Henderson certainly had the talent and I believe marco Wilson also does. As a result he is constantly in prevent defense in the secondary and that just doesnt work except against average QB’s. Top Qb’s like Burrow and Fromm carved up our secondary in their prevent defense(which doesnt work).
      I believe that the O-line will be better next year in run blocking and we have talented backs. Coach mullen claimed our running woes were because everyone concentrated on stopping the run( thus implying that Trasks success was because they concentrated on the run and didnt pass rush). I watched all our games and thats bunk. They passed rushed a plenty. I recall Auburn being all over Trask(sacked twice) and he still carved them up. UK was doing nothing but pass coverage in that 4th qtr when Trask carved them up for over 200 yards, since that was about all we did was throw the ball, since we had 3 TD’s needed to catchup. You bet LSU was pass covering yet Trask still drove down the field over and over again. You could watch our o-line and there just wasnt any holes being created. What happened with Va. was just a very bad team(not even as good as UK, which Trask would have put 60 points on them had he played all 4 qtrs). Va isnt a very good pass coverage team either, Clemson just hung over 60 on them. Trask for the 1st time had an off night. you could see it from the 1st 2 throws. He was just off and his passes didnt have the usual zip. It happens, although i never thought it would since he has been such a machine. Him being off was noticed and wrote about by many sports writers.
      i would disagree that our players arent even close to LSU et al. If Greenard and Juniga would have been 100% and in the game we might have beaten LSU, we definitely would have beaten Ga.. i could see in the bowl game that Greenard is still injured, but like a warrior he still played, and did well against a weak opponent. What we lack is debth! we have a big drop off in many positions past the starters. Time and recruiting should fix that.
      We had a great year and if this is what we get every year i would be happy, I was just disappointed that as a TEAM, we played so poorly on a national stage against a very weak opponent. I never felt we wouldnt win, just disappointed we didnt show up like we had played all year and show the nation what a great team we have! Our poor secondary play has been covered most of the year due to the awesomeness of our d-line pass rush, but in games like Ga, LSU and now Va they got exposed because of our injuries at DE that allowed the QB’s to carve up our zone playing, soft coverage, secondary.

  2. Let’s start by winning the East, soft schedule next year, get LSU at home, can’t stub our toe at TN, but no tough early games, at Ole Miss is a blessing, FSU still in the middle of rebuilding, no reason a good Florida team shouldn’t win the East next year

  3. This is getting bad, my agreeing with someone else, but Daz has it right. I have been very disappointed all year with Grantham’s reliance upon zone coverage. It has led to too many points being scored agains the Gators by good QBs. Va wouldn’t have come close if UF had played man to man. I understand why coaches use zone, keeping the gains short and hoping that somewhere down the field the other QB will make a mistake or get sacked on 3rd down, but that won’t work against elite QB’s who will pick you apart. For those who are too young, just find a video of Joe Namath picking apart that Colt zone defense in Super Bowl III and Kansas City doing the same against the Vikes and Lenny Dawson was only a good QB not a great one. The only reason to play zone defense is that you haven’t got good DBs. I just remember too many games lost because coaches became too conservative trying to hold a lead. (See UF losing to MIami when Zook stopped blitzing and went to a zone. They gave up about 21 pts in the 4th Quarter because they gave Brock Berlin too much time to find open receivers in the zones. It still gives me heartburn when I think of it) Zones will work if you have really incredible Edge rushers who overwhelm the Oline. See the second Superbowl Giants against Patriots when the Giants sacked Brady in the end zone on the very first play of the game. But if the Oline can prevent the sacks or the QB can escape (see Perkins, Fromm and Burrow) and he i s good enough he will find the loose receiver in one of the zones.

  4. The bottom line is that a team doesn’t just become great. Recruiting, player development, calling plays that allow the talent to shine, all these things factor in and Florida is not yet there. Defensively, as has already been noted by everyone else that posted, Florida needs an upgrade in the secondary and needs to get more pressure on the quarterback. Offensively Trask is good but had a bad night against Virginia. Maybe it is the lack of experience. This coming season will be his first as a starter from the first game. Florida definitely needs to realign the offensive line so that we can run as well as pass and the graduation of our 4 best receivers will have some impact. I don’t think 12 wins is automatic and much depends on the development of the recruits that Mullen has brought in over the last 3 years. I do have confidence in Mullen but nobody will lay down for the Gators. They will need to take every victory with authority. Go Gators!

  5. Looked it up. Dawson, for his career, had more TD’s, more yards, fewer INT’s, and a higher QBR than Namath. In their respective Super Bowl appearances, Namath threw for more yards, with no INT’s, but no TD’s. Dawson threw for 1 TD and 1 INT, had a higher completion percentage, ran for 11 yards to none for Namath, and had a higher QBR. Both were MVP’s, but Namath is one of only four offensive players, and the only QB, to win the award without accounting for a TD.

    I’d say Lenny can keep his gold jacket.