Dooley: Gators executing a gameplan can be tricky

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks is tackled just short of the end zone by LSU safety John Battle after receiving a pass last Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

Dan Mullen was kidding.

I’m pretty sure.

But not 100 percent.

I asked him on the SEC conference call Wednesday whether running trick plays in each of the last two games — one for a score and the other setting up a touchdown — would make him less likely or more likely to run a trick play today at Vanderbilt.

“We’re going to run a double-reverse, hand-off, kneel-down flea-flicker, and we’re going to run it on the seventh play of the game,” he said.

So keep an eye on the seventh play.

“Naw, it doesn’t have any effect on us one way or the other,” Mullen said.

The truth is that trick plays are all about the element of surprise. So it’s doubtful you’ll see one early.

The Kadarius Toney touchdown pass to Moral Stephens came midway through the third quarter and the Lucas Krull throwback to Feleipe Franks came midway through the fourth quarter.

Mullen has said repeatedly that the key to trick plays is when you call them.

And so far, he’s two-for-two and both were huge factors in Florida wins over Top 25 teams. (Is the jump pass a trick play? Then, he’s three-for-three. I’m not giving him the rocker play he used against LSU.)

The play Saturday was the kind that is a great call when it works and could have been a disaster if it had not. That’s the yin and yang of trick plays.

“That was a great call at a great time,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said this week. “That was a good play. Here’s what happens — we work trick plays, but you gotta follow your rules. If you don’t follow your rules they’re going to get you. The inside linebacker didn’t stay with the quarterback, but the quarterback did a good job of getting lost in the line of scrimmage.

“Trick plays can be deflating for a defense. It changes the tempo and fires up the crowd and fires up whoever ran it.”

I remember watching Utah in Mullen’s final game there in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl against Pitt. There was this play I had scribbled (drawing up ball plays is my way of doodling when I’m bored) and Utah ran it to perfection, a bubble screen reverse that went for a touchdown.

Now, he didn’t get it from me, but right away, I knew I was going to like the offense Florida was bringing when Urban Meyer came to town.

Of course, I’m not the only one who has some plays for Mullen.

“I get emails all the time for them, too,” Mullen said. “People send me all kinds of plays. Some of them aren’t even legal in the game of football.”

There are probably plays the Gators have practiced that make them wonder if they are legal. That’s one thing we know — we haven’t seen the last of them.

Because Mullen takes the trick plays as a serious part of every game plan. It doesn’t mean he’ll use one today against Vanderbilt, but we know they’re in the arsenal.

So does Derek Mason, the Vandy coach.

“I’ve known Dan for awhile,” Mason said. “He always has something up his sleeve. We have to have something up our sleeve also. I’m looking forward to showing exactly what we can do with our trick plays. It’s going to be fun.”

Every coach has them. Some are reluctant to bring them out, some bring them out at the wrong time. Think Ron Zook in the Outback Bowl when he ran a reverse throwback pass to Rex Grossman against the wrong defense and it turned into a game-clinching interception.

Then there was Meyer, who always seemed to call them at the perfect time, like he did with the fake punt reverse to Jemalle Cornelius from his own 15-yard line against Arkansas.

Timing is everything.

Unless it’s execution.

Because these trick plays don’t happen by accident.

Florida practiced a bunch of them in training camp. Mullen wouldn’t say just how many the Gators have in reserve.

“There’s so many plays and so little time,” he said. “Give me a pen and I can probably draw a thousand. There are so many of them. We have libraries of them.”

But it’s after watching the tendencies of the opposing defense on video during the week that he decides which ones could be run in any particular game.

“We carry about four to five every game and you practice them every week,” he said. “You put them all in during training camp so the guys have an idea what it is.

“This week you carry these three to five. You might use one or two of them. Some might carry over so you can practice two, three, four, five, sometimes seven weeks in a row.”

Today in Nashville, the Gators will get up early to try to avoid a hangover game, a trap game, whatever you want to call it. They know they have something special in reserve. They just don’t know when or if any of those plays will be called.

But just knowing they might is one reason this season has been so exciting.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. Mullen called two of the best games I can remember the past two weeks. I can’t remember a time I saw so many timely calls– and not just the trick plays, but going to to option pitch plays against LSU… etc…

    One of the keys to the Mullen trick play book is he sets them up so well. We had run so many successful wide receiver screens that MSU couldn’t help but bite, and it would be my guess they saw that happening and knew they were ripe for the plucking. We gashed LSU inside and got them focusing there and then went wide and had them outnumbered. It was really stealing as the play almost couldn’t fail because they had no one out there to account for the pitch man.

    Yeah, Mullen is human and you can question this or that, but the time he and his team put into preparation really shows. One of the things I love is how he works so hard to keep the defense off balance, to keep showing different looks and attacking different areas. It gets them thinking, forces them to stay home and that not only makes them play slower but it contributes to wearing them out. Physically, I felt like MSU’s dline and linebackers ran 5 miles side to side and got gassed running sideways all night.

    It’s been fun to watch each week what he comes up with and how he goes about cutting up the defense. And I will also offer huge praise to Franks because him throwing the ball to so many different people is also a big part of it.

  2. although the article was about trick plays, the headline was about plans which is a big deal. any plan is based on prediction, which in a trial and error world that we all live in, is not goi ng to work out as much as we all think. backup plans arent much better, but the process of planning helps prepare for scenarios so it is useful. trick plays fall into the risk management category, obviously they work over time when the downside isnt so onerous. One advantage of being a gator is that our athletic dept understands things like this far more than most places.

  3. Mullen clearly knows how to call game specific designed plays to effectively attack any particular team’s defense at opportune times to take advantage of situational football. Looking forward to how he attacks the Vandy defense and what creative plays he calls today. I am feeling a big win for the Gators today with or without trick plays.