There were smiles all around as Florida’s players left the field Saturday in sweat-soaked orange jerseys and slapped hands with fans. It was only Colorado State, but after the way these same players felt coming off the same field a week ago it was a necessary tonic.
Nobody enjoyed the caffeine-less jolt more than Dan Mullen.
Because it was another game filled with teachable moments, this one not ending in crushing defeat.
That’s really what this season is all about, building through teaching, no matter how painful it can sometimes be.
So even when Feleipe Franks starts 0-for-6 with a pick, Mullen doesn’t give him the quick hook no matter how loud the noise in the system gets.
“He did complete one,” Mullen joked after the game.
While there may have been boos cascading down a baking Swamp after one failed series, it’s pretty clear this is Mullen’s guy sink or swim. The personal foul penalty was dumb, and Mullen let his quarterback have it. But the interception, the missed reads, the poor throws, they are all part of it.
“He doesn’t have a short leash,” Mullen said.
I still don’t think this team is very good or at least as good as I thought it would be. It struggled to run the ball until the fourth quarter except for Jordan Scarlett’s 30-yard score against a blitz. It still has a banged up secondary, and it still misses David Reese terribly.
But you do see little signs of progress.
Like Freddie Swain. The receiver from North Marion High obviously has a knack for running back punts. His 85-yarder was a thing of beauty.
His timing was just a little off. Swain told Mullen near the end of the third quarter he was going to run one back so there was no need to get a play ready. That kick went out of bounds.
The next one was the highlight of a special teams highlight reel Saturday.
“It was actually safe (meaning Florida wasn’t setting up a return and was looking for a possible fake),” Swain said. “You just have to catch the ball and make a move.”
He did just that and continues to be an example of how a guy who was best known for being uncovered on the winning touchdown (and his only one in 2017) against Kentucky last year is turning into a football player.
Swain now has matched his receiving yardage totals from last year after also catching an 18-yarder for a score.
“My hard work is paying off,” Swain said.
That’s what UF fans are hoping happens for Franks, even though he has already matched his total of touchdown passes from a year ago. They still see the guy who waits too long on throws down the middle and sometimes makes poor decisions.
They see 0-for-6, not the 8-for-9 that followed.
“You have to have some thick skin here,” Mullen said. “If he’s throwing picks, he’s throwing picks. But I don’t want to see him out there pouting and whining about it.
“I might pull him then. But I’m not going to pull him for making a bunch of mistakes.”
So sports fans, he’s your guy whether you like it or not. You can love the perfect strike to Van Jefferson for a touchdown and hate the interception that occurred because he waited way too long to throw to an open receiver.
Because either of the two are going to probably happen again this week.
The goal is for the bad decisions and slow reads to stop eventually.
You want sooner. It sounds like Mullen can live with later.
Because that’s part of the teaching process. You wish it would speed up the way the commitment by the players to special teams has sprinted back into the Florida football personna.
The teaching continues and that includes the psyche of what is still a mentally fragile team.
“Sometimes we’re looking at the guys’ eyes and they’re coming into this program and they fear losing and they’re relieved by winning,” Mullen said. “You can’t be successful that way. You can’t play that way. You can’t act that way. You can’t even think that way. You have to go out and play hard because you love to win. You can’t be nervous or afraid to lose.”
Lesson No. 326.
There are a lot more to come.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.