Gators respond in big way with boost from special teams

Florida punt returner Freddie Swain heads to the end zone to complete an 85-yard touchdown in the second half Saturday against Colorado State at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

This Florida football team hasn’t yet shown any signs of being, or possibly becoming, special. But the special teams, well, that’s another story.

They are becoming special, and that potential was on full display Saturday in the Gators’ 48-10 win over Colorado State before an announced crowd of 80,021 in a sweltering Swamp.

“Special teams are a critical part of the game,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. I’m on them all the time. We spend a lot of time on it. You see guys embracing how special teams can make a difference and sway a game. The outcome of this game is really a result of special teams.

“The special teams aspect of it, the big plays made, guys buy into that. They’re really starting to see how important it is. Here at Florida, we should always have dynamic special teams. We have through the years and it should continue.”

It continued Saturday.

In a game that Mullen described as “funky”, the Florida special teams were spectacular.

With the Florida offense sputtering and the defense giving up some plays in the passing game, it was the special teams that ignited the victory to improve the Gators to 2-1.

The special teams outscored the Rams (1-3). They scored two touchdowns and made another play that directly led to a field goal for a total of 17 points. That’s seven more than Colorado State’s potent offense put on the board.

The special teams set up an early field goal when linebacker James Houston IV tackled CSU punter Ryan Stonehouse on his own 11, then followed up by scoring two touchdowns over the course of the game — one on a blocked punt by Amari Burney that wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland recovered in the end zone in the second quarter and an 85-yard punt return by wide receiver Freddie Swain early in the fourth quarter.

“Special teams, from our perspective, are more important than any offensive play or defensive play,” Swain said. “Everything starts with special teams. When we win special teams, we’re going to win the game.”

Special teams, which were a non-factor under Jim McElwain, have become a priority under Mullen and his staff.

They’ve been putting in the work, and it showed in a big way Saturday.

“Since coach Mullen has been here, he’s had a big emphasis on special teams,” Houston said. “We practice special teams every day. We have a special teams meeting every day.

“It’s definitely a big emphasis and it definitely paid off today.”

Special teams helped the Gators overcome another sporadic performance by quarterback Feleipe Franks and the offense. Franks got off to a miserable start, going 0-for-6 in the first quarter with an interception. He recovered to complete eight of his last nine passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way.

“Special teams had a wonderful day,” Franks said. “Those guys work tirelessly every day to make their craft effective. Today they did a really good job of that. They had a good game today.”

The other two phases had some positive moments as well, but the overall performances on offense and defense often resembled what the Gators produced in a loss to Kentucky the week before.

Clearly, there is much room for improvement as the the Gators jump back into SEC play at Tennessee on Saturday.

“Great win for our guys today,” Mullen said. “It’s hard to win football games. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. We’re going to enjoy the win today and get into work tomorrow as a staff and evaluate what we can do better and see the things we can improve on.

“The improvement needs to continue from week to week. We’re trying to get this program back to where we want it to be.”

Mullen called Saturday’s game funky. And it was. The Gators ran only 44 plays on offense to Colorado State’s 83, but UF still managed to outgain the Rams and find a way to win — mostly through special teams.

“Any time you win how we won, you’ve got to be pleased,” Mullen said. “We had 44 plays for 341 yards. They had 83 for 310. You might not think it was a 48-10 game. That’s a real positive for our guys that they were able to go and win.”

Up next

Who: Florida (2-1) vs. Tennessee (2-1)

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.


Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM


  1. In fairness the guys that had some trouble last year is all we had going in the beginning but hopefully some good counseling (I’m told that dealing with anger is the path to success for this type of challenge) is making a difference. If we have elite special teams and a decent defense we can be a winning team imo. In many ways this program is starting over as nothing good or bad from the past Will mean much on the field at least and we as fans can’t be sure if our expectations are correct until things play out a little more. But swain is showing he can replace Callaway kinda. The kickers and punter are great and we now just need the young guys to get better at coverage. I think they will! Very good news imo.

  2. To be fair, when you score on something other than offense, then your offense doesnt get to come onto the field and then you dont have so many downs on offense! Its not like poor play caused them to have so many less downs, they just werent on the field! Yea Franks is the weak link along with the line but that really had little to do with only 44 downs. We have great Rb’s, Wr’s and special teams thank goodness. That D showed up much better today, yea I know it was CSU, but they did do better, much better than last week.

    • Your point is exactly right. The blocked punt/TD and return for TD meant two fewer possession for the Gators and two more for CSU. If you add to that the fact that some of the turnovers gave the Gators a very short field, it is no surprise that the Gators ran fewer plays. At the same time, the size of the disparity is also due to a defense that sometimes did not do a good job of getting the CSU offense off of the field right away and a Gators offense that was still pretty inefficient much of the time.

  3. As we continue to pick apart Dan Mullen’s failure to instantly turn around this team — in some quarters at least — I am reminded that he told us early on that there would be a special emphasis on special teams. We of course — again in some quarters — expected this to show immediately. It took three games for it to develop, so I guess the logical reaction would be to hand him his head — in some quarters, at least.

    The team showed a lot Saturday, from better physicality to better attitude. It’s a good sign. It is indeed a work in progress, but I’m more confident than ever that we’ll get there with this coach and staff. If we can now carry over and focus on next week, things will only get better. There will be a few bumps in the road, but things will get better and better. Or would you rather have Willie Taggart?

    • Almost Sounds to m e like you guys are hinting that the Dan Quinn plus,Wil muschamp model can work for Florida in the next couple of years. Those kids took special teams seriously..and as trey Burton said..if Notre dames academic cheating would have been caught earlier they would have been in the national championship game.
      One thing about it if any player other than the best of the best wants to play at the next level they will need to produce on special teams.
      It’s probably faster to build a defense than it is an offense. We’ve moved a coup l e of offensive guys to defense and might have to do that some more. I look forward to our special teams again being a nightmare for our opponents!

      • Yeah, I noticed too that Dan Mullen is thinking of that, so that definitely shows some creativity on his part, for which he gets too little credit IMO. If we can sustain the special teams tempo as we really move into the meat of our schedule, you’re right mveal…..we’re going to break some other team’s hearts.

  4. Mullen said. “It’s hard to win football games. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. We’re going to enjoy the win today and get into work tomorrow as a staff and evaluate what we can do better and see the things we can improve on.”
    And in the meantime, U.F. has ”special teams” to lean on. It has been the bright spot a 1/4 way through the 2018 U.F. college football season. It will be very interesting to see though, ‘IF’ Coach Mullen will ”pull the trigger” for special teams in a close, tight game, against say Tennessee, or an L.S.U., etc… Either way, no place but ‘UP’ for U.F. Football! Go Gators!

  5. I’ve liked Swain as a punt returner since it became evident in Game 1 that he was going to try to field the ball and get positive yards. I’d gotten tired of seeing our punt return guys back up, get out of the way, and watch the ball bounce for negative yards.

    • Joe Shiver. Swain returned punts last year as well. And guess what, he backed up and got out of the way of punts last year. It is about coaching. He is getting good special teams coaching now and it shows for him and the entire teams, with maybe the exception of kickoff coverage (that stunk yesterday).

    • Taiylor. It is called coaching a team up from one week to the next. Gator Nation did not see much of that last year. How refreshing was to see yesterday? Frankly, based on recent experiences (last few years), I was not expecting to see improvement. But hope lives eternal, and so does good coaching.

      • TG, I too woke up yesterday thinking this was going to be a tough day.

        And like you said, hope paid off. You could see the coaching that had happened since last Saturday. Let’s see how big a jump they can make next week.

        Felipe will be the keys to the biggest improvements.

    • Speaking of which, tuna, I got home today from church and realized that not only did Troy beat Nebraska and Scott Frost, but Fresno State laid an old fashioned whuppin’ on UCLA and……damn, forgot his name too. You know who I mean tho, the guy who is supposed to be God’s gift to football and all…..

  6. Yes special teams won this game against a team with weal special teams. The defense improved a little perhaps, but that may be because of a weaker opponent. The offense showed as it has some promise, but no consistence or decent play calling. Lots of improvement needed.

    • Vulcan alex: Mullen has not implemented his full playbook into this offense, and he has clearly stated that. He is slowly developing Franks and does not want to overwhelm him and hurt his confidence by asking too much before his confidence is stronger and he is capable of executing more of the playbook at a much higher level. Clearly, Franks is not there yet, and that limits “decent” play calling by Mullen. Simply put, Franks is not there yet and Mullen cannot go there yet.

  7. Post game comment from FSU DE commit Quashon Fuller when asked about his reaction to the Florida win over CSU:
    “They did good but I’m waiting for the higher level of competition.”

    What he meant to say was:
    “I am waiting for Florida to get big wins over teams like Va. Tech and Syracuse.”