Florida’s quick turnaround in Dan Mullen’s first season has surprised many around the country and in the SEC, but don’t count Georgia coach Kirby Smart among the surprised.
He could see this coming.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Smart said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “They’ve got talent. They’ve got good football players. They had good football players last year.”
Smart’s Bulldogs drummed the Gators 42-7 last season. A day later, UF parted ways with embattled head coach Jim McElwain.
Georgia will be facing a much different Florida team on Oct. 27 in Jacksonville, Smart said.
“They’re extremely athletic on defense,” he said. “They’ve got one of the premier secondary cover guys. They do a tremendous job on their offensive line. They’re huge. They brought in two new receivers (Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes) that are as good as anybody in the league, on top of the wideouts they already had.
“Their backs are really physical downhill runners. I think Dan is really pleased with the backfield he’s got. And they have great tight ends.
“Across the board, they have really good football players. Florida always has. So, the turnaround hasn’t come as a shock to me because Dan and his staff do a great job.”
One of Mullen’s most important jobs has been the development of quarterback Feleipe Franks, which is ongoing. He’s a much different quarterback than the one who looked lost in last year’s loss to Georgia. In that game, he completed just seven of 19 passes for 30 yards with an interception.
“He’s playing a lot better,” Smart said. “Just like every quarterback in this league, when you get experience, you gain the ability to make decisions. I’ve seen this young man grow from a kid that I recruited a long time ago to become a better player.
“He’s very sharp. He’s much more disciplined with the ball. He protects the ball better. He has better playmakers. He’s got people around him. He’s got wideouts that make plays. He’s got good tight ends.
“When you’ve got an arsenal like that, along with the run game, it makes you a weapon.”
Since losing to Kentucky in the second game of the season, Franks and the Gators have won four consecutive SEC games, three on the road. UF enters next week’s game against the Bulldogs with a 6-1 record and a path to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game.
Mullen was asked Wednesday if he’s surprised at where the Gators are halfway through his first season.
“I don’t know that I’m surprised and I don’t know if this is where I expected us to be. It is what it is,” Mullen said. “You look at what your guys do well and what they do poorly and you keep trying to improve on that.
“I’m not disappointed with where we are. I still think we have a lot of things we have to get better at in every phase of the game and in the program as a whole. I’m certainly not disappointed with how this team is progressing.”
Mullen said what he’s most pleased about is how the Gators have come together as a team over the course of the season.
“That’s a really important thing for us and for the program,” he said. “Our guys are learning how to go play the team game. If you look at how we’ve won football games. We haven’t won with just defense, haven’t won with just offense.
“We’ve found several different ways to win games and we’ve done it as a full team. That’s been a big plus that our guys have bought into that and believe in that team concept.”
This is a much different team than the one that was starting to disintegrate at this time a year ago.
Maybe that’s why Mullen isn’t even watching tape of last year’s one-sided loss to Georgia.
When asked how much he can take from that game, he had a one-word answer.
“Nothing,” Mullen said.
Who: No. 11 Florida (6-1, 4-1 SEC) vs. No. 8 Georgia (6-1, 4-1)
When: 3:30 p.m. Oct. 27
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850