Gators gain confidence, but also need consistency

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Florida athlete Kadarius Toney runs for yardage in the first half Saturday against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. [Wade Payne/Associated Press]

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The cavernous stadium had long been reduced to a few Tennessee fans who had yet to escape into the night, but that wasn’t going to stop the Florida football players from celebrating this one.

First, it was Chauncey Gardner-Johnson who hopped up on the brick wall in front of the Gator band and the orange-and-blue clad fans who had the good seats at Neyland Stadium. Then guard Tyler Jordan and some offensive linemen and then a few more players until there were a dozen or so cheering and chomping as the band played on.

Once the band stopped, it was Feleipe Franks slapping palms with fans with the knowledge he is now 2-0 as a starting quarterback against Tennessee.

He didn’t need the Heave to Cleve this time, although he did fire a different kind of dagger to Tyrie Cleveland. This one gave Florida a 40-13 lead and sent the Vols’ orange army filing toward the exits.

Quick, a show of hands. How many of you had Florida scoring more points in Neyland Stadium than any Gator team before it?

More than Danny Wuerffel’s teams or Tim Tebow’s.

More than Steve Spurrier or Rex Grossman.

This.

Florida.

Team.

The one that looked weak two weeks ago and incapable of scoring 47 points against air at times this year almost put up half-a-hundred on Tennessee.

They did it not so much because of offense (although the offense did have its moments), but because of a defense that is playing the risk/reward card like daddy’s Visa. The Gators gave up some big plays, but made so many that it didn’t matter.

I guess it’s time for the caveat here.

You saw it.

Tennessee is awful.

We knew after the Kentucky game that Florida still has a long way to go.

Now we know that Tennessee has so much farther to go it can’t even see Florida.

The Vols made enough mistakes to last a season. But the key is that Florida was able to take advantage of them.

You don’t have to have a great offense to score a lot of points. I mean, it would be nice, but clearly this offense is so under construction it has the Bob’s Barricades and the guy with the “Slow” and “Stop” signs.

“What I gotta see is a little more consistency out of our performance,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “We’re getting better but our consistency.

“We can’t be big explosive play, terrible play. Big play, we went the wrong way. We missed a coverage, we had bad coverage. We start a series with two penalties. The mental toughness.”

For the second week in a row, Florida had fewer first downs than its opponent and still won easily.

This may be the stat of the year for this team — Florida in the last two games has made 28 first downs and has scored 95 points.

That’s mind-boggling.

But that’s the different mindset that Mullen has brought to the program. This is still a team that can frustrate its fans with three-and-outs and silly mistakes and maybe you still aren’t convinced of a whole lot other than Florida can beat the stuffing out of bad teams.

But it was still Tennessee and it was still 100,000 screaming fans minus a couple of thousand Gator fans who made it and even if we don’t want to believe this team has progressed from two weeks ago it was still an SEC win, the first since last September.

It was Jeremy Pruitt, the Tennessee coach who inherited an even bigger mess than Mullen did, talking about being dominated on the line of scrimmage. It was the OTHER team having a guy being told to leave (linebacker Quart’e Sapp refused to go into the game and was sent to the locker room and you can insert whatever joke you want right here).

We still don’t know whether Florida is any good. We just know it is a lot better than Tennessee.

“There are a lot of things I like,” Mullen said. “I like the direction we’re heading, but we have to get tougher mentally.”

We still don’t know if this team is close to turning on the switch that will make the offense shine. We just know the Gators reached for it Saturday night.

“When we play with confidence and play at the level we did tonight,” said suddenly-turned playmaker Freddie Swain, “it’s hard to beat us.”

Florida had six touchdown drives in the game. The length of those drives — four plays, two plays, one play, one play, seven plays and one play.

Aren’t short fields wonderful?

You add the Gators’ performance into what happened in Lexington on Saturday night and suddenly, things don’t look as bad as they did. I know, every game is its own game.

But there’s a little more hope, a little more promise, a little more confidence.

“We took a step forward,” Mullen said.

Nobody wants to get too carried away.

But for a night in Neyland, why not?

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

40 COMMENTS

  1. Yea Brett I agree with this completely. Kudos to Mark Stoops and the UK admin for hanging onto him, he’s turned that team into a dangerous squad to play, that could win 9, 10, or more this year, and may be good for a while. They made MSU look inept. Next week may actually end up being the barometer for whether UF flirts with 8 or 9 wins this year, or whether they struggle to stay above .500. But, I do think DM has these guys on the right path long term. He was the right hire. Who would take Chip Kelly now? A win next week could put us in a spot to have a nice year in 2018, including our best chance to beat FSU in a while (they are just bad). Franks may never end up as a Wuerffel, Tebow, or Grossman, he just needs to be good enough to not give games away, and I think he might be good enough to do that. What we are seeing now is that coaching does matter at the collegiate level.

  2. The defense was outstanding but the offense needs better coaching in mixing up pass and run plays since it looked like Tennessee knew what to expect but didn.t have the players to stop the Gators. also am I seeing the same sloppiness in Franks handoffs and his lack of running deception that makes the offense look bad. I really think we have not found the right quarterback to look like a championship team

    • There’s a learning curve with this offense, and Franks is having some of the same issues that Chris Leak had when Mullen first came here as OC. Leak was incredibly smart and more seasoned, so it took him less time, but it’s still a work. He has to keep learning when to hold onto the ball and when to give it. It’s not just stepping back and putting the ball in the breadbasket like in most pro-style offenses. He’s reading the defense while deciding whether or not to give the ball to the RB. He’s improved, but still has some work. Give it time, and let the offense continue to develop. Heck, after the last 3-6 years of offensive ineptitude, even against teams like Ga. Southern and the like, I would think Gator fans would be happy that the offense has put up 34 points against Colorado St. and 45 points against UT. Enjoy watching the team grow….I can only hope that the team continues to step up their intensity in practice as they apparently have over the past couple of weeks. If they do, then I believe we’re going to be watching a team really grow into something special this year.

          • Yeah….I think Leak was under rated as a Gator QB too. What I will always remember Leak for tho, when he committed he made the following statement on national TV: “Let’s bring a National Championship back to the Swamp”…….and by God, that’s exactly what he and a few other Gators in the same class did!

          • Actual not fictional Spell Check on phone got me. Didn’t mean to slight Leak in anyway. He did some awesome things and could have been better had there been better coaching prior to Meyer. Meyers system didn’t fit him well either and it showed at times. I liked him as our QB but Zook was a great recruiter not a great coach and players like Leak payed for it. He suffered from coaching, system changes etc. I thought he was going to do well in the NFL even @ 6′ Not saying Franks is great either only that what a difference real coaching has made. My opinion only not worth much. 6 I forgot about that statement. He did it with two coaches and three coordinators.

          • Leak was a good QB. He was not phenomenal or great. He tended to make some bad decisions. It’s true that he didn’t have great QB coaching under Zook and that he really didn’t fit into Meyer’s system. Yet Meyer and Mullen were good enough coaches to make adjustments and make the offense work with him under center and with great defense. I think it goes to show that we can be very successful if Franks can just reach “good” level. He doesn’t have to be great. It’s a team sport.

  3. Before the game tonight I posted on Pat’s twitter account that the Gators would win by 3, possibly 4 TDs. And they did. Am I’m I a genius or a great prognosticator? No, I just thought Tennessee wasn’t that good and I wanted the Gators to have a big game. Of course it was Tennessee that self distructed, but the Gators took advantage. Sure Franks holds the ball too long and doesn’t make decisions quickly enough, but he didn’t throw an interception or even make a throw that could have been an interception: He managed the game. Sure the offensive line didn’t make many big holes for the running backs, but they did give Franks more than enough time on almost every pass play.
    My freshman year at Florida was 1978, so I’ve seen a lot worse. Like 0-10-1 kind of bad. I’ve read almost everything that Pat has written since he started and I have never thought him to be more negative and subsequently more boring than this year especially since the Kentucky loss. Reading (and hearing) him talk about how mediocre and bad this team is just because they lost to Kentucky is not interesting. To hear and read someone bad mouthing the Gators is not why I listen to his podcast or read his column. He needs to keep his grumpy attitude in check and quit complaining about all of his aches and pains and write and talk about aspects of the Florida Football team that fans want to know about:
    Like how the offensive line is adjusting to yet another offense, offensive coordinator and line coach. Like how Coach Mullen hasn’t begun to open his playbook. Like how “the knucklehead 9” is contributing this year after having lost a year. This team has holes in it’s roster, but recruiting hasn’t been as bad as he keeps saying. This team showed fight tonight despite the fact that it’s most tenured columnist is barely giving them a chance to go 6 and 6.

    • Florida is a meat grinder of a program and a lot of fanS tend to be unhappy…it’s part of the culture. The ole ball coach made sure his players believed and I like what cdm is doing. Pat on a good day can really write but he still thinks we should have kept champ so why should you worry about his Judgment..just use him to find out facts and enjoy one thing worth the time in today’s unfriendly world…gator football.
      Now to the team. I like the down field blocking. If I’m kirby smart of Georgia I’d get started getting ready for that tomorrow rather than waiting for the cocktail party to start.these boys we have ain’t listening to grump e gator…they are looking to hit all if a sudden. That trait can make up for the newspaper not giving you 5 stars in highschool.

    • I appreciate Pat no longer drinking the Kool Aid and being such a homer. I couldn’t stomach the writing/reporting when Muschump was HC. Pat knows good teams from bad ones. He’s seen both. I have too. QB play largely determines success. FF is barely serviceable. That and the cumulative effect of 2 awful coaches, and 4-5 star kids mostly snubbing us. We were way to quick to offer 3 star kids a scholly. And you can scream “coach em up” all you want but the truth is every kid is getting coached and you’re much better off coaching up a 4-5 star kid. Not rocket science…just football. Thx Pat & Robbie for no longer telling us the flaming turd smelled like Rose’s on a Spring day

  4. Yes, it was a step forward. Love your historic facts! Poor UT is way further lost int he jungle then us. A player refusing to go in! That indicates a very bad internal UT football family problem! Purit has his hands full. Can he or anybody fix them? UT vs FSU would make a good non bowl game.

  5. This team is getting better as the season moves on even if Dooley can’t see it.

    Turnovers don’t happen on their own, our players forced them. Franks did what he’s been asked to do. 3 passing TDs, 1 rushing, zero turnovers in front of 105k on the road at night.

    Getting Reese back is huge for the defense.

    Can’t wait to see how this team responds next week in Starkville.

  6. OK I predicted in Andreau’s column last week UT 20 FL 10. I admit I am an idiot. This team is still fragile but I am going to sit back and watch and cheer for them each week knowing full well it could be good or not so good. They are playing better at times and its way better than watching the 2017 edition. Mullen and staff are doing a nice job trying to change the culture and I really enjoyed his “teaching moment” with the player who jumped off sides last night and stood there. Reminded me of Kirby Smart at Missouri yesterday going ballistic! One more observation, Kyle Trask can flat spin the football! Let’s buckle the seat belt (there will be turbulence) and going to enjoy the ride. A teams progress is great to watch and winning on the road in the SEC is always a good thing. Our team is in good hands and headed in the right direction. From a UF fan in South Dakota….GO GATORS!

    • Totally agree. I may not agree with all of CDM’s decisions, especially the snubbing of Trask who may be a better field general than Franks, but the man is a seasoned SEC head coach and he knows how to win. Unlike Mac (hopeless) and Muschamp (training wheels) Gator Nation can sit back and enjoy the ride. Mullen has the reigns on this team and as a whole they have shown massive improvement on D (welcome back Reese!) and moderate improvement on O. Special teams are off the charts good both scoring and setting up points for us. We are a year or two away from great but we have the coaching staff in place to get there.

  7. I saw definite improvement on both sides of the ball in last night’s game. The defense was vastly improved over the KY game, perhaps in part because of the return of Reese, and the offense looked pretty decent in the first half. Their drives may have been short, but they still took advantage of the opportunities they had. Franks looked confident and decisive, firing passes that were mostly on target during the first two quarters. The offense appeared to lose its way somewhat in the third quarter, but got on a better footing by the fourth. All in all, this game gives me reason to think that Mullen is on track in his rebuilding project with the Gators.

  8. So, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again: this defense has the players to be something special. Now, there were horrible blown coverages in the secondary. With that said, C.J. Henderson was allowed to interfere with Callaway basically all night. There was maybe one or two interference penalties called, and there could have been more! But, the hustle on the fumble through the end zone was awesome. Loved the never quit attitude. So, if the secondary can get its act together, this can be one special unit. David Reese is a BEAST! He’s NFL bound after this year and he’s extremely football smart!

    Special teams with Tommy Townsend is a weapon! McPherson didn’t have the opportunities I thought he might in this game. That’s a good thing, but I still think he’s got a game winner in him. We’ll see. Toney needs to be our return man at all times. You can keep talking Swain all you want to. Toney is being under utilized. His talent is wasting away.

    So, to offense; one play to Toney and then…..nothing more? What are you afraid of, he’ll score or show up the other “talent.” He’s right out of the Percy Harvin mold, jet sweep, end around, reverse. He’s a speed demon fiend. Get him the football!! And yet, we heard all spring about Trevon Grimes and Van Jefferson. Grimes through 4 games has 6 catches for 90 yards and 1 TD. Jefferson is 8 for 127, but 3 TD’s. C’mon man! If these guys were going to light it up so much, where’s the production?? Where, pray tell, is the productions from the “most featured position in the Mullen offense, the tight end??? I would expect Jefferson to have 15-20 catches by now, with 8 TD’s. We’ve played the talent level to make that happen. And yet, it all boils back down to the QB position. You can make stats and numbers say what you want, but Franks is scared to make a decision. That’s right, he’s being COACHED to not make a mistake. In other words, he’s being coached that it’s better to not make a mistake, than to make a play. If the receiver isn’t wide open, don’t throw it. And, again, these receivers cannot get any separation from the defenders either due to poor route running or they’re slow. But, when we run hard routes over the middle, low and behold they’re open! But then they drop the pass. (still no idea what we’re paying 89, 80 and 82 for. Let’s trim the payroll). I’d talk more about the offensive line, but it’s time for yoga. Also, for all the running backs except #27, watch the film on #33 from Tennessee. Even in a losing effort, THAT’S HOW YOU RUN THE FOOTBALL.

    • Amen Grump….why is nobody constantly getting open…they don’t know how or where to go? When Franks sprints left, guys run to an open area! I have the same observations. It appears Franks is “avoiding ints”.

    • I seen Frank’s throw into double and triple and smothering coverage all night. Mullen says he didn’t watch Frank’s film last season, and he probably see what the other coaches saw in practice. I see a QB who makes roughly 10 good throws a game, if Mullen can have a good season with that passing kudos but it will not win big game.

  9. If this is the Gator offense, the Gators defense is going to have to play every game like it’s Tennessee.
    Dameon Pierce once again shows his speed and ability with a 47 yard run. i think he got 4 or 5 touches all game. This kid is a difference maker, but he’s mostly just getting a different seat on the bench each game.

  10. There were so many negative comments about our gators yesterday that I was actually embarrassed. I get down and disappointed also about our quarterback sometimes and curse and swear during the games. But I have to stay positive and since 1972 I have always felt the Gators had a chance to win even when they had some of the worst teams in program history. Some of you guys that posted all of your crap yesterday are probably back on the bandwagon this morning of course. But anyway just try to stay positive each and every week and build these kids up because I’m sure that at least some of them can’t help but read some of the stuff that is on this website. Go Gators!!

  11. Trask threw a nice, tight slant pass, the short time he got to play. Sure like to see more of those. On another note, it should be interesting to see if Coach Mullen has any surprises in his game plan for his old team Saturday. He ought to know where their weak spots are. Go Gators!

  12. I think yes Kentucky is good, but the bigger question is how good they are. Also, is the West still light years ahead of the East division (minus Georgia)? If Kentucky is indeed the 2nd best team in the East and can match up with the West teams, then yes, they are very good. Btw, we get to find out soon and first hand how good or bad this Mississippi state team that lost to Kentucky really is. It’s a home game for them whereas they played Kentucky on the road so I expect a tight game.

  13. Last year’s team was incapable of beating the crap out of bad teams. Saturday night was a lovely change from that. So there IS progress. We’ll have to see if they become good enough/tough enough to beat good teams. Kentucky is the only good team they’ve played so far and they came up wanting. But there are plenty of opportunities the rest of the way. I would like to see fewer penalties though. The Gators have been a penalty machine going to back to Muschamp’s STUPID comment about “penalties don’t matter”. They’ve got to shake that. That’s controllable. That’s on the coaching staff.

  14. One off the wall comment: Did anybody else notice that there were many times that Gator players gave a hand to help TN players back on their feet? Great display of sportsmanship, and it wasn’t just because the game eventually turned into a blowout.