Just 10 games in Dan Mullen’s tenure at Florida, the Gators have seemingly developed a reputation as the “comeback kid” of the SEC.
A nickname previously made popular by the likes of Bill Clinton, Joe Montana and a popular film of the same name, the term “comeback kid” has been bestowed upon those who have shown a propensity for turning the tide and achieving victory in the face of adversity or overwhelming odds.
The Gators, who at No. 15 in the College Football Playoff poll are in prime position to make a New Year’s Six Bowl at the end of the season, have mounted a winning comeback in three games where Florida trailed at halftime. And if you factor in arguably Florida’s best win of the season, a 27-19 victory over LSU, the Gators have won four games this season on the backs of a comeback effort. The most recent odds-defining victory for the Gators came just last week, as Florida overcame a late 17-point Gamecocks lead to escape with a 35-31 victory.
For a redshirt senior like Khairi Clark, who has seen more than a fair share of both comebacks and collapses during his time at Florida, seeing the Gators turn the tide late in contests has validated Mullen’s offseason development program. Down seven at halftime Saturday, to the coach who recruited him to Gainesville no less, Clark said the Florida locker room prior to the comeback over South Carolina was solemn yet focused on the task at hand.
“We were just serious, because we knew in our mind that we could win the game, because all the stuff in the offseason built us for times like this to come back and beat teams,” Clark said. “When everybody’s doing their part, the whole team’s together, we can win anything.”
It’s a far cry from a UF locker room that saw its fractures magnified in the face of adversity. Now, Florida is seemingly fueled by doubt.
Whether it’s Feleipe Franks shushing the home fans, or simply trailing at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the Gators have shown a knack for capitalizing on the “us against the world” mentality that’s festered behind the scenes, using the 60 minutes on the field as a positive outlet for said anger and resentment.
Rather than mold him into a prototypical SEC quarterback, Mullen has let Franks be Franks — and that can sometimes entail helping the emotional redshirt sophomore channel his vexation.
“If you’re trying to run somebody over, it’s good to be angry. But in managing the game, you have to make sure you balance the two. I’ve always said that with quarterbacks. You got to be able to use your emotions all over the place, you know what I mean? You got to go pump up the crowd and get crazy and excited, then the next play be completely locked in in making a three-way check, and changing the protections, and reading a read and going through your progressions,” Mullen said. “You got to be able to control all your different personalities and emotion.”
One emotion the Gators are feeling as the home stretch approaches: relief. Clark, who opted to return for one last ride rather than wrap up his UF career with a 4-7 mark, said he’s begun to get emotional, as Saturday marks his final home game at Florida. One of six Gators currently on the roster who’ve had three head coaches in five years, Clark can depart knowing he helped build a solid foundation in Mullen’s inaugural season.
“It shows the amount of work that we’ve been putting in. Not just during the season, but during the offseason, because it’s been a long journey this past year, having a new staff, we had to buy into everything,” Clark said. “The training staff, the coaching staff, everything. So it’s real big to go out and not just win four games like last year.”