Gators acknowledge up-and-down practice week played role in slow start

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida coach Dan Mullen talks with offensive lineman Richard Gouraige during the first half against Vanderbilt.

A three-touchdown win typically wouldn’t warrant inquiries into a team’s preparation, but Florida’s 38-17 victory Saturday at Vanderbilt is an exception following coach Dan Mullen’s post-game comments. 

Florida’s head coach knew the atmosphere in Nashville would be atypical at best, with under 1,000 fans in attendance and a visiting locker room more comparable to a Texas-based high school than those throughout the other 13 institutions in the Southeastern Conference. It wasn’t surprising for Mullen to pin the issues on Vanderbilt’s game-day experience, but he didn’t stop there. 

Mullen acknowledged the week’s practice sessions weren’t up to snuff, saying Florida’s preparation likely played a more significant role than the circumstances at Vanderbilt when it comes to UF’s performance Saturday.

“I don't know that we had our best week of practice this week. Not attitude-wise, I just kind of thought we were a little bit blah a couple of the days, two of the days, a couple days of practice, not as sharp, not as crisp with everything we were doing,” Mullen acknowledged. “That was kind of top to bottom. I think at times we came out here and played. It was kind of we had a good day and then a bad day, a good day and then a bad day of practice this week, and it kind of looked that way offensively and defensively.”

Florida found itself trailing 10-7 within the game’s first 20 minutes of action, possibly invoking memories of UF’s last trip to Vanderbilt Stadium. 

In 2018, Mullen’s first trip to Nashville as the Gators head coach, UF fell into an early 21-3 hole before ending the game on a 35-6 run over the final three quarters of play. That game featured a midfield clash between Mullen and Commodores head coach Derek Mason, too, which may have sparked Florida’s offense the rest of the way. No such shouting match occurred Saturday, leading the offense to dig deep the old fashioned way. 

The on-field leader of the 2020 iteration of UF’s offense, quarterback Kyle Trask, echoed the sentiments of his head coach regarding the team’s practice sessions throughout the week. Facing the only winless team left on their schedule resulted in a drop-off in practice for the Gators –– not necessarily the most promising sign for a team with championship aspirations. 

“It wasn’t our best week of practice by far. It was a little up and down. We had some good days, we also had a day or two that we could have been a lot better. We’ve just got to really hone in on taking advantage of every opportunity we’ve had,” Trask said. “You see around college football, your game can get canceled out of nowhere. Every chance that we have to play on Saturdays is another opportunity. It’s a blessing just to be out there and able to play. We really have to make the most of our opportunities that are given to us.”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Gators considering the team did head home with a victory in tow; the other side of the coin is championship-caliber teams find ways to win even when the pre-game preparation period is subpar. Issues aside, the result is what ultimately matters, although Florida won’t soon forget how mercurial the eventual result was in the early going. 

“It’s huge. Something Coach Mullen’s told us was he’s been on championship teams and sometimes they came out flat but they still found a way to win,” Trask said. “And obviously we came out pretty flat, obviously you want to start off faster than that, but at