Notebook: Gators teach Bulldogs new tricks

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]

STARKVILLE, Miss. — To beat a ranked team on the road, it usually takes some creativity and and aggressive play calling.

The Gators produced both on both sides of the ball Saturday night in the decisive second half against No. 23 Mississippi State.

The winning touchdown came on a 20-yard pass from slot receiver Kadarius Toney to tight end Moral Stephens midway through the third quarter. Toney took a lateral pass from QB Feleipe Franks and then launched a strike to Stephens in the end zone.

“I knew they were going to bite, when they did it gave me just enough time to get a touchdown,” said Toney, a former high school quarterback. “I just needed to make a perfect throw. It was kind of an easy one because I played quarterback. It was like kind of getting back in a rhythm.”

The Florida defense also got creative in a dominant second half. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham dialed up numerous blitzes, including the safety blitz by Donovan Stine on fourth-and-10 that resulted in a big sack that sealed the win in the closing minute.

“In the second half, we made adjustments to their offense,” junior outside linebacker Vosean Joseph said. “We felt that the only way we could win the game was by stepping up, and that’s what everybody did.”

Secondary blow

The Gators’ already injury-depleted secondary sustained a significant blow early in the game when starting cornerback Trey Dean III was ejected for targeting on MSU punt returner Keith Mixon.

Dean fell on top of Mixon after he muffed Tommy Townsend’s punt. The officials flagged Dean for a late hit, then the play was reviewed and Dean was called for targeting.

With Dean out, sophomore C.J. McWilliams moved into the starting lineup.

So few plays

In the three games before Saturday’s, the Florida offense averaged only 52 plays a game. That trend continued against the Bulldogs.

The Gators ran only 26 plays in the first half. It was a combination of the offense failing to sustain drives and the defense failing to get MSU’s ball-control offense off the field.

The Gators did a much better job in the second half, driving the ball with some consistency on offense and getting some three-and-outs on defense.

The result was the Gators ran 40 plays in the second half and controlled the game on both sides of the ball, which led to the victory.

Crowd noise a factor

As it usually is, Davis Wade Stadium was very loud Saturday night. All that crowd noise seemed to have an impact, especially on the Florida offensive linemen, who had four false starts in the first half that helped stall drives.

Overall, the Gators were penalized six times in the half, while the Bulldogs were much cleaner, getting flagged twice for only 15 yards.

Homecoming for many

Much was made throughout the week about Dan Mullen’s return to Starkville. But he is only one of about 20 members of the Florida traveling party who returned to their former home this weekend, including athletic director Scott Stricklin and seven assistant coaches, including some of their wives, according to

“Coach (Mullen) has a program and an identity and a culture he wants to get accomplished here, and when you have people who already understand what his vision is, I think it makes the transition easier and smoother,” said strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage, who spent the last four seasons at MSU with Mullen. “The biggest factor is just making sure everyone helps everyone out, crosses the T’s and dots the I’s. I think Coach excels because of his relentless effort toward excellence and having multiple familiar faces around, it just helps that overall vision.”

Savage met his wife in Starkville. So did assistant athletic director for football operations Jon Clark, who made the move from Gainesville to Starkville with Mullen before the 2009 season.

“When I moved to Starkville, it was me,” Clark said. “When I come back, it’s me, a wife and two kids. The second one being born after Dan took the job (at Florida).”

This, that and the other

The Gators have now scored in 377 consecutive games, which extends their NCAA record. … Mullen is the first former MSU coach to be on the opposing sideline as a head coach since 1934. The last man to do it was Stanley “Sid” Robinson, who coached the Bulldogs from 1917-19 before serving as the head coach at Mississippi College from 1920-23 and 1928-53. Robinson faced MSU eight times, going just 2-6. … Heading into Saturday’s game, MSU defensive end Montez Sweat and nose tackle Jeffery Simmons had played 17 games together with the Bulldogs. In those games, they combined for 42 tackles for losses. …. UF’s game captains Saturday night were junior linebacker David Reese and senior tight end R.J. Raymond. … After wearing blue pants in their win at Tennessee a week earlier, the Gators broke out their road orange pants Saturday night. … Junior safety Quincy Lenton is the only player on the Florida roster from the state of Mississippi. There are nine MSU Bulldogs from Florida, including freshman running back Robert Rivers, who attended Trinity Catholic in Ocala. …. There were thousands of State fans wearing “Dan Who?” T-shirt at Saturday’s game. There were numerous anti-Mullen signs outside the stadium, but their content is not suitable to run in a family newspaper.


  1. The future is bright for the Gators. I wanted Trask to get a chance. Now I know why I’m not the coach. Franks is getting better every game. I take back very negetive thing I ever said about him. Yes, The future is bright………….

    • Ricky, I believe your comment about Mullen’s choice of Franks is beginning to be shared by more and more Gator fans with each passing week. After last year’s debacle I also wanted to see what Trask could accomplish. However, Mullen is doing exactly what he said he would do with whoever won the QB battle. He is calling plays that play to their strengths. While we all like to play Monday Morning QB, we need to have patience and put our faith in Mullen’s decision making.

  2. The Gators really settled down in the second half and took control of the game.

    With the revolving coaching carousel in the SEC, it’s quite an advantage to have staff with up to ten years of experience of working together, come in with your first-year head coach. That showed today in half-time corrections and performance of the two teams.

    I thought earlier in the week that MSU may have an advantage in motivation for this game, losing Dan Mullen to the Gators. In retrospective, it may have been an emotional gut punch for the Bulldogs to see him in Starkville and coaching on the visitor sidelines.

    There were a lot of raw emotions in that stadium. None were felt less than those of Coach Dan Mullen.

  3. I hope they awarded Todd Grantham a game ball. He and his assistant coaches did a great job in getting the D ready and in making nerded adjustments at half time. The D kept us in the game. MSU’s receivers made a couple of critical drops, but overall the Gator defense was impressive. And they say in the SEC, “You win with great defense.”

  4. What does the defensive backfield have to do to persuade everyone they are elite and deep? I don’t worry when guys go down…the next guy is also good.

    Here’s my only negative thought. I’m not seeing a lot more improvement coming for the offense for a few years. It’s a good offense..I think 27 can play more and better….but the line is good but not great. I just don’t see Philippe throwing for 300 yards in any game….We can get to 10 wins quickly but we may stop there for a while. Just too much film on cdm nowadays. 10 years ago this offense would have had better numbers…the final push to win more than ten, I don’t know. That’s where better recruiting is going to be needed.

      • Still, I think Mveal makes a point worth remembering as we go forward. I don’t think it will take a few years tho — one or two at the most — depending on what CDM’s recruiting targets are in the immediate out-years.

      • I just got back from the gym and I’m wearing that 2006 T-Shirt as I write. Smith, you are absolutely correct! I was stunned when I put it on this morning, because I had forgotten how close and low scoring most of those games were, right up to the explosion in the actual National Championship game.

        That team had character, resolve, and gumption — the same intangibles Dan Mullen is building into this 2018 team.

  5. Just posting to say that “targeting” ejection was one of the worst calls I’ve seen yet. The guy muffed the punt and Dean was going for the football and his helmet just happened to connect in the process. Give me a break, ref! Way to overcome that garbage, Gators! Let’s beat LSU!

  6. Bad targeting call on Dean. The other guy muffed the ball and Dean was only trying to dive on it and not on the returner. Overzealous officials made a mistake. What did they want Dean to do, ignore the fumble.

    • I guess we have to teach our guys to just kick the guy or the ball in that situation. Unlike fumbles, TDs and out of bound reviews that require slow motion review, those kind of calls should be reviewed in real time. You are judging a player’s actions and reactions, which do not occur in slow mo. The refs and / or the NCAA should also take a short course in physics and biomechanics. These rules , or their interpretation, often defy science and reality. They assume these guys are robots. Like everything else, even football is being redefined for the sake of safety or is it sensitivity?

      • Good question, mkf……we all buy into the safety aspect within appropriate reason, but this does seem like “mission creep” of the first order. I can tell you first hand, even with the advent of imaging, the research still has a way to go in terms of causation predicates. How about a little common sense in the meantime?

  7. I agree with Tim and George. ”Targeting” needs TO BE LOOKED at, and SERIOUSLY CORRECTED, yet again!
    To make it a ”safer game” with less head trauma. I get it, I do! I laid knocked-out cold in a little-league football game at N.E. Park off 16 Ave, back in the 70’s. ”Got my bell rung!”
    Now, it’s a different day. Progress! But to let the ESPN crew DICTATE, by their on-air comments, a Ref’s flag coming out, well, I ain’t into that! And, b.t.w, a player playing with ”relentless effort” will go head 1st for loose balls, sometimes. Either way, the Gators got it done! CHOMP-CHOMP!

  8. we need to give our strength and conditioning coach…..Mr. Savage a lot of credit for getting our players SEC ready….what a difference from a year ago when YT was the coach…..players are as strong in the fourth quarter now as they are in the first… to watch a physical football team again….GO GATORS

  9. Other than 2 comments in these posts, there has been no mention of that targeting call. Not by sportswriters, coaches, or sportcasters! It was bogus. No player should be punished for going after the ball, even though the player had possession before Dean got there. Dean’s momentum was clearly in play but when there is a loose ball, all bets should be off. You get posession however you can. Does anyone know the rule here?

    • Ron: That play was in Gatorsports’ coverage in several articles.

      The rule is frustrating at times (in college and the NFL). Here is the NCAA rule:
      “No player shall target and make forcible contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow or shoulder.” A defenseless player in Saturday night’s game was “a kick returner attempting to catch or recover a kick, or one who has completed a catch or recovery and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a ball carrier. A player on the ground.”

  10. Said we’d win by 10, and actually was surprised we didn’t win by 14. We had several chances to score TD’s at least twice more.

    That said, I was saying that we needed to isolate MSU’s strength on defense, their DL, by attacking the perimeter a lot and was sort of miffed that we didn’t do that as much in the first half, but we went to work at it in the second and moved the ball so much better.

    On to LSU… and the Tigers are going down next weekend.

  11. what improvement did Franks make in this game? what gets me is CDM says all three were the same same right? his own words go fact check, so that being the case why not give Trask a chance especially i say again when the game is in hand, like last week and the North Colorado game, games that were in hand, and still didn’t put him in until what about five minutes left, my point is if they are the same why not, the only reason i think is that he played a little last year and that is why Imho which we all have, Franks will not progress to the point of being the Quarter back of past years”forget about it ” don’t believe is the quarterback whisperer many think he is.

    • Leave it to a so-called fan to whine even after an incredible win. I would stop watching if I couldn’t enjoy the wins.
      Actually what Coach Mullen said was Franks gives our Gators the best chance to win right now! And according to almost everyone, Ole Yeller wasn’t actually coaching anyone last season, so Franks has only played 5 games. Support this team and coaching staff, or feel free to get off this train before it gets up to speed.
      Geaux Gators!!!!

    • Honest answer imo – 1) Franks is developing. Needs reps. As many of them as he can get. 2) it defies logic to think Mullen wouldn’t play Trask if he thought that was the best thing for the team. — it seems like everyone who disagrees with Mullen thinks he’s stupid. I believe his track record and the progress of this team indicate otherwise. Respectfully, I’m gonna gonwith his opinion over yours.