MIAMI GARDENS — In his two years at Florida, Dan Mullen has shown that he’s not afraid to take chances, to gamble, to go for fourth downs maybe when most coaches wouldn’t.
He did it twice in UF’s victory over Virginia in Monday night’s Orange Bowl, and the Gators converted both — one leading to a field goal, the other leading to a critical touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave UF a 33-21 lead with 9:33 to play.
To keep that crucial TD drive alive, Mullen went for a fourth-and-one from his own 44. A run up the middle was called, but quarterback Kyle Trask, seeing the Cavaliers bunched up in the middle, audibled to an option play outside and Lamical Perine gained the necessary yardage.
“(Trask) knows you prepare for a lot of those situations, and he spends a lot of time in preparation,” Mullen said. “Brian Johnson obviously does an amazing job getting him ready for the different situations and different looks. Those moments, those are key moments in a game.
“We have situations, we have plays we want to get into in those key moments, and a lot of times you want to make sure you’re getting in the best play possible. You don’t want to run a bad play with the game on the line, so he knows the different looks of what we want to run what plays to and is able to get us into the right play.”
Elam comes up big
True freshman cornerback Kaiir Elam came up with the biggest defensive play of the game for the Gators, intercepting a pass on a fade route at the UF 3-yard line in the fourth quarter when it looked like UVA was going to cut the Gator lead to 33-28 with less than six minutes to play in the game.
After the pick, UF drove for a field goal that gave the Gators a 36-21 cushion with 2:32 to play.
“Kaiir was one of the top DBs in the country when we recruited him, we thought, a special player, and high character, hard-working guy from the day he got here,” Mullen said. “Obviously as the year goes on, he’s played more and more, he’s gotten more experience in what’s going on out there on the field. I’m sure it was pretty special for him to be back here near home, playing at home, and obviously a huge play for him.
“We have some DBs that left to go to the NFL and a couple guys graduating, so we’re expecting him to carry on that tradition of being DBU here and having one of the best secondaries in the country (next season).”
Starting defensive end Jabari Zuniga, who missed three of the last four regular season games with a high ankle sprain, had a chance to end his UF career the right way, on the field playing again.
Zuniga started the game. It was only the fifth game this season where Zuniga and rush end Jon Greenard have started together. Both missed the LSU game, one of UF’s only two losses on the season.
Wilson back at CB
With junior CJ Henderson entering the NFL draft and no longer part of the team, redshirt sophomore Marco Wilson made the move from the star position back to cornerback for Monday’s game. Elam started at the other corner spot. It was his fifth start of the season and third in a row.
Showing out for Aschoff
Members of the Florida staff, including athletic director Scott Stricklin, paid tribute to the late Ed Aschoff by wearing flower lapels for Monday night’s game.
Aschoff, 34, who worked for ESPN and whose journalism career started at the Gainesville Sun, was a UF graduate. He died on Dec. 24 of pneumonia.
Aschoff’s main funeral service will be Saturday in Atlanta. A memorial and celebration of life will be on Jan. 18th in his hometown of Oxford, Miss.
This, that and the other
Steve Spurrier, who was 3-0 in the Orange Bowl as a player and coach, was the Gators’ honorary captain Monday night. … For the first time since Urban Meyer instituted it at the start of the 2005 season, the Gator Walk did not take place before Monday’s game. Instead, the UF team busses drove the Gators right into the stadium, bypassing the crowd outside Hard Rock Stadium. … Wearing his No. 13 jersey, former starting quarterback Feleipe Franks was on the UF sideline showing support for his former teammates. Franks, who was lost for the season with a dislocated ankle in the third game of the year against Kentucky, has entered the NCAA transfer portal as a graduate transfer and will be enrolling in a new school in January for his final year of eligibility. … With the Gators wearing their traditional home blue jerseys and the Cavs in their orange tops, Monday’s game looked a lot like an Orange & Blue game in the spring. Both schools’ colors, of course, are orange and blue. … Former UF wide receiver Travis Taylor was inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony. In the 1999 game, Taylor caught touchdown passes of 51 and 26 yards in the Gators’ 31-10 victory over Syracuse. He was named the offensive player of the game.