A result needed to build a season

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Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson sacks Charleston Southern quarterback London Johnson during the first quarter Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

It was eight years ago when an ecstatic Scott Stricklin presented a game ball to Dan Mullen in the visitors’ locker room at The Swamp.

“There’s a picture of it somewhere,” said the Florida athletic director, “but I can’t find it.”

On that night, Mullen beat the Gators.

On Saturday night, he truly joined them.

The doubters could embrace more than just promises. They could enjoy a night under the stars without worrying too much about what lies ahead.

Everyone could have flashes of the good old days of offense complete with the shovel pass to the tight end and the perfectly awkward jump pass for a score.

It was just one game against one bad team. But, hey, can you let everyone enjoy this?

“I had fun,” Mullen said. “I hope everybody else had fun.”

On Saturday night, Mullen got another Swamp game ball from Stricklin, this one signifying his first win as the Florida head coach.

It didn’t matter that this Charleston Southern team would be in the argument of worst teams ever to play in The Swamp or Florida Field or even old Fleming Field where the Gators used to play.

All that mattered was that there were enough encouraging signs to make you think things are pointed in the right direction.

You know, the one where there is an end zone.

Ignore that man behind the curtain telling you that Jim McElwain’s first Gator team scored 61 points in its opener.

Pay no attention to the message-boarders questioning Florida’s running game in the first half or the lack of offense in the second half.

Get over the fact that the back-ups allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown.

Pooh-pooh the issues with Kyle Trask and Emory Jones trying to get a simple shotgun snap in the second half.

Just go with it.

Go with the fact that your quarterback looked totally different than he did a year ago. Feleipe Franks threw five touchdown passes in the first half before sitting out the second half. Five. He threw nine TDs all of last season. The up tempo-offense led to an up-tempo postgame interview.

“I think coach does a great job of making practice faster than the game so when I get in the game it slows down,” Franks said. “It has really helped me a lot. We’re just scratching the surface.”

Go with the fact that your defense dominated, allowing only one first down in the first half and recovering two more fumbles than it did in the first two months of last season.

Go with the fact that only three penalties that were called on your team all night, none of them serious.

Go with the way your special teams played and try not to spit-take your coffee because I am praising Florida’s special teams. The Gators actually scored two points on a blocked extra point and sprint and I’ll bet you right now those aren’t the last points Florida scores on special teams this year.

Clearly, a lot of you have felt the way I have about Florida’s special teams play because the loudest roar of the night came when UF blocked a field goal at the end of the half.

“If I’m proud of one play of the game it’s the blocked field goal,” Mullen said.

Look, nobody is trying to make this more than it was. But for this team, this group of wounded guys with hunger pains, Charleston Southern was exactly what they needed.

It was what Franks needed, a simple defense that wasn’t difficult to solve.

“Overall, I thought he played well,” Mullen said.

It was what a defense that was leaking confidence late last season needed, an offense bereft of danger.

It was what a new place-kicker needed, a team that barely rushed his field goal attempts.

Saturday night might not help Florida in a week against a Kentucky team that is much better. But it can’t hurt.

“We’ve got a game under our belt,” Mullen said, “now let’s take some huge strides before the next game. Reps are precious and I think a lot of guys realized that tonight.”

This was step one on a slippery stairway. The key was that this team didn’t stumble. The rest of the steps are a lot tougher to negotiate.

But for a night, just go with it.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

25 COMMENTS

  1. I love and agree with everything said except “Saturday night might not help Florida in a week against a Kentucky.” Albeit he said “might” I absolutely think this games does help us in one area, confidence. After all the team has been through they needed to lay the wood on a team they were supposed to dominate. Not some 14-9 win over FAU (or whatever that sad last win was last year). They can see with their own eyes that they can trust the game plan and coaching from Dan & Co. because it actually produces results! Now they don’t have to hear their “coach” tell the media that it was a good game plan, but the players screwed it all up.

    I totally understand the quality of the opponent but don’t underestimate the confidence boost this gave the team. Go Gators!

  2. This game was a joy to watch in the stadium. The crowd was not capacity but a good showing was there, and we were all in a party mood! The 1st string dominated in the 1st half, both O and D. The 2nd half with backups protecting Trask and Jones needs lots of work, but we have the coaching staff to develop them. Franks looked great, like none of us have ever seen him. That is clearly a product of great coaching; Dan has already proven himself to me. The fans were yelling, cheering, singing… it was just a blast!

    • Agree 100% tuna…..but I would say that those backups better get up to speed most ricky-ticky, because once we get into the meat of the schedule and injuries inevitably begin…..some of them will be starters!

      Go Gators…..Just Did It 🐊🏈😎!

      • 6 The only time the backups will likely be on the field en masse is if we have a game like last weekend and it was in our best interest to rest the 1&2’s. If the opponent is still in the mix later in the game the 3-4’s will rotate in to give the other a break but not as a whole. If we can keep the hammer down and gain a comfortable margin then the 3-4’s will get more time and up to speed. My opinion only which really only matters to none but like the feet, ass, head landing or the ultimate feet, ass face landing (experiences neither but witnessed both), everyone has one of the 4th points of contact even if some of the others are ignored.

  3. Great article. Great start to the Mullen Era. I think the fact that Franks and the receivers showed that they can make plays will open up the running game a little bit(which I still think will be the strength of our offense). CSU came in and focused on the run, and we made them pay. The opponents are only gonna get tougher, but we’re only gonna get better. Great job Gators! On to the next one!

  4. As this article notes, there are still areas of concern and CSU wasn’t much of a test. But we shouldn’t downplay the value of getting the experience of playing in a game, as opposed to a scrimmage. In spite of the weak opponent, I believe that going through this experience is a good way to prepare for a much tougher opponent this next Saturday.

    I wonder, too, whether CSU is as bad as you suggest, Pat, or the Gators are simply much better than they have been for a number of years. Time will tell.

    • “Charleston Southern team would be in the argument of worst teams ever to play in The Swamp or Florida Field or even old Fleming Field” I disagree with a lot in this article, but I especially disagree with this! Ive watched 50 years of UF football and this team was far from that bad. This shellacking was what we used to do to every 1st opponent until the last 9 years. I believe CS will do well in their own conference. What this did show us was UF is back to an SEC standard and against SEC teams will win some and may lose some but an SEC team that cant shutdown a lesser opponent is going to struggle in SEC play(like UK did yesterday). So I disagree UK will present any real challenge and will be another tune up game but a little bit more of a challenge! WE will not have a true test until the MsSt game! I do see the backup defense as a problem in the run, that is a real weakness I hope can be corrected.

  5. Good way to start. These kids should realize after the last 8 years that they have something special if they continue to work hard. I can’t imagine them taking this CSU victory for much more than it’s worth. I can’t see this coaching staff letting their heads get too big after beating a weak team the way they should have. Kentucky will pose a real challenge and this warm up should give UFs players more confidence that they can depend on this staff and this system to put them in a position to win, As Vince Lombardi said “Winning is a habit”. It’s unfortunate that they lost this habit for at least the last 7 years. This was not a good team from CSU but as someone said earlier we won they way we should have against a weak opponent. Here’s hoping this group has matured enough to know that each team is different. I look forward to their continued success.

  6. They may have scored 61 in Macs first game, but lets not forget it was 28-13 with about a min left in the first half and Grier stayed in for most of the 3rd qtr. This game was a complete blowout right from the start and they could’ve easily dropped 100 on them. This was a thorough beating in all aspects of the game and no matter how bad the team was they were playing, we’ve played a lot of bad teams like this in the last 8 years, we haven’t seen that type of all around game in a long time.

  7. My only negative takeaway was the run blocking in the first half. The offensive line needs to open more holes and let our RB’s get into the secondary. And we all know that a strong running game opens so many more opportunities for a great passing game.

  8. The biggest takeaway I get from attending the game was seeing Franks make passes and put the ball where only the receiver could get it. The one touchdown in the north end zone where the received grabbed the ball from behind the defensive back was awesome. The camera couldn’t even track the ball, even in slow motion. Plays like that happening often are a real turnaround from last year. I am expecting more to come with the team gaining confidence. Go Gators!

  9. Nice to feel some optimism in the Swamp last night. It was palpable. Thank you Coach Mullen.

    Shame on the students who couldn’t take a few precious hours from their Saturday to welcome a new coaching staff to their first game. 50,000 students and gaping holes in the student section. And please, I don’t want to hear how smart they are, or how difficult their studies are. Welcome to college, welcome to life. it’s like that. Hard. Put down your smart phone, stop texting and putting pictures up on Instagram with duck lips and go to The Swamp to cheer your team. Being a Gator is a privilege. Get over yourself.

    • The hell, dude. Did you go to school? I was excited to buy season tickets my first year in ’93. But between classes and other activities, I only got to the last game of the season. I assume I’ll burn in hell for that. Going to UF does not mean being a Gator. I went to study; the sports were a side benefit. Going to UF means you are capable of doing great things with your brain and life…you know, like doing something above shaming young adults because they don’t watching a game as much as you do. Time to take a deep breath, get a better grip on reality, and stop taking a game so seriously. I’d hate to see your attitude if UF had lost.

      • And yes, I went to school. Did quite well for myself, thank you very much, and, amazingly, never missed a home Gator game. This is a self-absorbed generation. That was my point. Watched the A&M game Thursday night and it was packed for a weak opponent. Coach Mullen asked people to come to the game. One side of the stadium did, the other side was lacking. This isn’t the first time. Perhaps you are fine with half the student body showing up. Frankly, I think it’s sad, and part of a larger issue. Dude.

  10. Glad to see we could overwhelm an inferior opponent, rather than “play down to the competition” as has happened in the recent past. The team looked great! Fantastic to see Coach Mullen talking to the QB during the game. Reminded me of him doing it with TT during the wonder years. Great start to the season.