Sweet success: Gators reach 11-win season with Orange Bowl decision over Virginia

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Florida coach Dan Mullen holds up the trophy as he stands with running back Lamical Perine, left, after the Orange Bowl win Monday against Virginia in Miami Gardens. Florida won 36-28. Perine was named the MVP. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI GARDENS — Since his first day on the job, and for so many of the days that have followed, Dan Mullen has been stressing the Gator Standard, talking about restoring it, about bringing the Florida football program back into national prominence, making it a championship contender again.

 And he always said that it can’t come back with just one big win or one successful season. It would only come with consistent success.

 That’s why after the Gators went 10-3 last year and finished in the final top 10 with a New Year’s Six bowl win over Michigan, Mullen was reluctant to proclaim the Gator Standard was back. 

 He is making that proclamation now after the No. 9 Gators defeated Virginia 36-28 in the Orange Bowl on Monday night to finish 11-2 on the season and earn what will be a certain consecutive top-10 finish.

 “To go out there and finish with a win. … a couple of years ago with this senior class, a new coach got brought in and we told them, ‘If you buy in to what we’re doing, believe we’re going to be successful,’ ” Mullen said. “They’ve done that. They’ve brought in back-to-back 10-win seasons, back-to-back top-10 (finishes), back-to-back bowl victories. They’ve restored the Gator Standard.

 “They get to walk out the door knowing they’ve restored the Gator Standard to what it is. Build on that foundation. We’re not where we need to be yet, to go win the SEC and a national championship.

 “But they’re certainly living up to that Gator Standard of being one of the best teams and best programs in the country.”

 The seniors, including Lamical Perine, the bowl MVP with 138 yards rushing and three touchdowns, also are walking out the door looking forward to what happens next in year three of the Mullea era.

 The national championship game is in this very stadium (Hard Rock Stadium) a little over a year from now, and maybe, just maybe, the Gators might have a chance to make it back here. It would not surprise Jon Greenard, the senior rush end who closed out his UF career with another outstanding performance that included a sack, a forced fumble and one quarterback hurry.

 “I’m looking at what they’ve got coming back, they can do more,” he said. “And the guys coming in. I’m excited. I mean, this is only just the beginning of it, honestly. Last year was a little taste of it. We keep building, we got 11 wins, which is really difficult. 

 “A couple plays this year and we would’ve been right where we wanted to be. Next year, they are just going to capitalize off of that, understand where we were this past year, and the national championship in my eyes. We’ve got that in our eyes now.

 In the win over the Cavaliers, the Gators played like championship contenders at times. They rolled up 549 yards of total offense, 305 on the passing arm of quarterback Kyle Trask, they contained elusive UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins, holding him to 24 yards rushing, and every time they were threatened, they had an answer.

 After the Cavaliers cut UF’s lead to 27-21 early in the fourth quarter with a 7-yard TD pass from Perkins to Joe Reed, the Gators responded with a 65-yard TD drive to retake command of the game. The score came on a 1-yard TD run by Trask with 9:33 to play.

 UF stretched the lead to 36-21 on a 42-yard field goal by Evan McPherson with just 2:32 to play.

 Virginia scored a touchdown to make it a one-score game with just 38 seconds left, but UF sealed the win when wide receiver Freddie Swain recovered the onside kick.

 “This win is huge for this program, not only for the program but also this team and the seniors that bought in when Coach Mullen first got here from day one,” said Trask, who completed 24 of 39 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown. “They worked day in and day out.

 “And as far as my season went, I couldn’t be more happy the way that my teammates had my back when I won versus Kentucky, and we just continued to grind every single week and get better each and every single week and here we are winning the Orange Bowl. That’s pretty incredible.”

 It is. It means back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl victories and another top-10 finish, maybe even top five.

 “I really want to congratulate our team,” Mullen said. “I’m really proud of our players. Just under a year ago, this team was born, and we talked about going from four wins to 10 wins was special, but to go from 10 wins to 11 is going to be a lot harder, and those guys bought into it. They started working last January, and they worked, they grinded all season long in everything that they did.”

 The work doesn’t end now. It starts all over next week.

 The goal: improve on 11 wins and compete for a championship.

  “You’ve got to grind,” Mullen said. “It was tough to go from 10 to 11, it’s even harder to go from 11 to 12, the mental and physical toughness that it takes, the preparation that it takes starting Jan. 6 when we get back and when the 2020 team is born.

 “We’re going to try to enjoy this for a couple days, but January 6th we have a team meeting and that 2020 team will be born, 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 last year, get better than we were last year,

 “We’re going to work harder starting Jan. 6. We’ve got to work harder next year than we did this year and try to get from 11 to 12. Once you get to 12, you might get a couple extra ones in there.”


UP NEXT

The Gators open the 2020 season Sept. 5 against Eastern Washington at Florida Field.

20 COMMENTS

  1. I am SOOO pisssed off! What was THAT? Even Trask was off. Playing like that they wouldnt have beaten half the teams they played. Va isnt a very good team, look at all the rushing yards we got yet all season we couldnt move the ball on the ground, that isnt because the Gators finally got a running game after a month off but just shows u how bad Va really is compared to even the bad SEC teams we played, yet couldnt run on. Gators played flat AND Im so sick of Granthams secondary. We have lost the monicker DBU. They play soft coverage, let guys catch passes then tackle rather than play tight like DBU and deflect passes, thats how average and bad teams play. How many times tonight did the line do a valiant job while the secondary let guys run wide open to give their QB somewhere to throw the ball, usually for a 1st down! I’ll bet they didnt have good practices and were acting like they were on vacation. They played like they practiced as if they had it in the bag. It would serve them right if they fell out of the top 10 in the final poll! Clemson just beat this team 62-24. They are better than that, yet showed the nation and recruits this garbage play! you want to be ranked as a top team you must play like it. The final impression we left in the minds of recruits and the Nation wasnt very good.

    • You’re one of the people Spurrier was talking about when he left, and one of the folks Drooley was referring to when he wrote, “Nobody suffers a victory worse than Florida fans,” or words to that effect.

      JEEBUS! It’s a football game and the Gators WON! They weren’t playing any other team; they were playing Virginia, and THEY WON!

      Be happy, no make that ecstatic, for Lamical Perine; what a way to go out! And be happy, no make that ecstatic, for the rest of the seniors, Jefferson, Cleveland, Swain, Hammond, Reese, Greenard, et al.; their hard work and leadership have shown the way back to prominence. And get down on your knees and thank (insert name of deity of choice here) that Chip Kelly wanted no part of the SEC, freeing Strickland to make the right hire, Coach Dan Mullen, who will one day lead the Gators back to the mountaintop.

      I am happy as a mofo for our guys! Congratulations Gators on a great season! Let’s win four more next year!

      IT’S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR!!!

  2. I am taking the opposite side to Daz Wazlle. See Daz, my first Gator game was when Houston was supposed to blow the Gators out in our own stadium in 1969. I sat with my father and watched the game. John Reaves was our QB, and Carlos (“Chico”) Alvarez was our wide receiver. The score at halftime was UF 35, Houston 0. The score at the end of the game was UF 59, Houston 34. A true Gator fan NEVER rips down our team, but rather finds the positive and encourages our team to do better. Perrine was phenomenal, and the NFL will see that. His stock rose considerably after the Orange Bowl. I love my Gator football team, and am very happy we won. It was a hard-fought game. Trask was a bit off, but our O-line allowed UVA to pressure Trask at times. If you have anger issues, don’t take it out on our outstanding defensive coordinator – we are blessed to have him, as he could just as easily return to the NFL. No more bad-mouthing the Gators – this drives away our coaches and prospective players. Show your love and support and help build this team up. We won 11 games this season for the first time since 2012 – that’s seven long years. GO GATORS, GO GATORS, GO GATORS, GO GATORS, GO GATORS, GO GATORS, GO GATORS, GO GATORS!!!

  3. I have to agree with Daz. While over 300 yards in passing might seem hard to quibble about, Trask was not himself. At first he seemed over-amped and it showed in his missed passes early. After that it seemed that he was tight and aiming the ball instead of just rearing back and letting it go as he has all season. As a result he missed two long completions that on any other day he would have completed for touchdowns. Perhaps it was rust after a month-long layoff. On the other side of the ball, once again Trey Dean lost his discipline and the next thing you know there was the Va receiver in the end zone. I didn’t see Dean for the rest of the game so I don’t know whether Elam replaced him entirely. Question whether Grantham should have played so much zone and loose coverage, but perhaps that was designed to prevent Perkins from running too much. On the other hand, give Perkins credit. He really escaped again and again and he threw very accurately on the run. It also helped Va that his receivers seemed to have very sticky fingers. I have difficulty with Henderson sitting out. How does that make him seem to potential draft teams when they see that he preferred to protect himself rather than be true to his team. If I were deciding between two players and one of them sat out, I don’t know if I would have a lot of respect for him; that is unless he really had an injury that threatened to get worse if he played.

  4. Agreed, IAMIOWAN. It’s one thing to be upset after a loss, or to criticize aspects of the game (I’m not happy with the secondary either), but to come out of a bowl victory and say you are ‘sooo pissed off!’ is absurd. Even the best teams play flat at times, notoriously so in bowl games after a long layoff. Even the worst of teams can play hard. Give some credit to Virginia. They had a good game plan and played a good hard game. They might have had an easy schedule but they are a 9-4 team. I would love to go back in time and show you some pretty flat, even downright bad, games by national championship Gator teams that you probably now thing couldn’t have done any wrong.

    • South Carolina, in The Swamp, 2006, comes to mind. No Jarvis Moss, no natty…

      And I think if you peruse the rest of the 2006 season there was at least one other game where the Gators squeaked by. It’s the reason Bob Ryan said the Fiesta Bowl should have been encircled by the National Guard to keep the Gators out because they were SO undeserving, and what the nation really wanted was a Tosu vs. Meatchicken rematch.

      No team plays at its peak in every game. Daz and GBarnett1 are obviously a glass half empty guys, and apparently Dan Mullen celebrated the victory by going to their respective houses and p*ssing in their cornflakes this morning.

  5. It was pretty easy to get upset last night and I certainly was one of them at times. No doubt the players didn’t carry out the game plan at times and there were a few questionable play calls. Trey Dean had a bad night and some of our guys were slipping and falling especially on defense. Overall, the gators gave us some trying moments but stuck it out and found a way to win. I think we all want to return to championship play so bad that when we see a great play we look forward to the next great play. When it doesn’t happen, disappointment sets in. This game could have gone the other way and we would all be sitting here wondering what happened. No Florida didn’t play well at times but they played well enough to win and by the end of the game I was just happy to see the Gators achieve 11 wins. The consistent big wins will come in time. It is only year #2. Here’s to next year. Go Gators!

  6. 11-2 and a Orange Bowl win in year 2. Anyone who isn’t happy with that, has forgotten about the 7 years before Coach Mullen. This season over and I for one enjoyed every bit of it. Now on to my second favorite sport, Softball . Happy New year to all…..🐊🏈.