Ultimately, Saturday’s 37-27 win at Vanderbilt wasn’t pretty, nor was it anything to write home about.
Yet the win over the Commodores, which gave the Gators a 6-1 record heading into a much-needed open week, revealed the full potential their offense when they strike a harmonious balance on offense.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks set a new career-high in passing yards and then some, and the Gators had two running backs eclipse the 100-yard mark in Nashville.
And the skill position depth that was harped on in the 10 months prior to the 2018 season? It made the trip, too, as Franks’ 19 completions were spread among nine Gators.
When the 60 minutes had run its course, the Gators had gashed the Vanderbilt defense to the tune of 576 yards, despite turning the ball over three times for the first time all season.
And to top it off, Florida’s offense led UF to a tie of the largest comeback on the road in program history.
For a team frequently dubbed a one-dimensional defensive power by those outside the program, the victory over the Commodores revealed the Gators as a team more than capable of tearing up opposing defenses.
“There’s always things that you’re going to be correcting and getting better at. Overall, I’m pleased with the running backs, the (offensive) line, tight ends, and the receivers did a really good job today getting open, as well, blocking on the perimeter,” Franks said Saturday. “Everybody did a sound job.”
Franks stopped short of saying what many are thinking: the 18-point comeback likely wouldn’t have been possible under the previous regime, and that’s a testament to not only coach Dan Mullen’s arrival, but UF’s improved ability to adapt.
In Florida’s lone loss this season, the Gators struggled to respond when faced with adversity, resulting in a more-monumental-by-the-week loss to Kentucky. When the going got tough, Franks and the offense drifted away from the game plan, instead looking to beat the Wildcats with big plays.
Florida’s comeback against the Commodores featured a team more than willing to trust the plan in place, however, and one willing to remain patient before it came to fruition.
“Being a resilient team, that’s something that Coach Mullen always stresses. No matter what the point deficit is, it doesn’t matter — you just have to keep going out there, playing each and every play,” Franks said. “You never know what play is going to be the difference in the game. You just got to play every play independently. That’s what we did today.”
It is what the Gators did — once the team settled in to the early kickoff, that is. Mullen said the Gators continue to struggle with trusting the pre-installed game plan when faced with adversity, and the early 21-3 deficit may serve as evidence.
But if there’s one consistent aspect the head coach was pleased with, it was the sense of urgency the offense brought to each drive. The tempo is a reflection of UF’s growing confidence each week, and it was a welcome sign for Mullen.
“I liked our tempo. One of the things we wanted to do was come in the game, play with some tempo. I thought we played with a little bit of tempo this week,” Mullen said. “Got up on balls, went quick, we were able to do that. We ran 92 plays. That’s more what I’m used to.”
For now, however, it’s something the Gators must continue becoming accustomed to. With a critical week of rest ahead before facing Georgia at TIAA Bank field in Jacksonville, the Gators offense will get a breather before it’s back to running 90-some-odd plays in a contest that will have lasting implications in the SEC.
“Maybe we’re a little tired from those three (previous) games. But I don’t think physically tired. I think just emotionally, mentally a little bit. A little bit exhausted from those three games. So for our guys to battle through, I mean, a good team can beat anybody every once in a while, but great teams find a way to do it every single week. You’ve got to find a way. You can’t slow down,” Mullen said. “We got a bye week right now, everybody gets a chance to catch their breath. Then we come back, we got five in a row. So we got to get rested, and then build our mental toughness for those next five.”