Stricklin evaluates 2020 season, state of football program

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida football coach Dan Mullen, right, exchanges fist bumps with athletic director Scott Stricklin while walking off the field after the Gators defeated Kentucky on Nov. 28 in Gainesville.

Florida’s football program took a step in the right direction in 2020, even though the year didn’t result in a SEC championship. 

The Gators had their first four-loss season under coach Dan Mullen, but beat rival Georgia to win the East, put themselves in College Football Playoff contention and competed with national champion Alabama in the SEC title game.

Athletics director Scott Stricklin appeared on UF’s official podcast this week to evaluate the season and state of Mullen’s program with host Adam Schick. 

“Obviously there’s a lot of excitement. It’s well documented,” Stricklin said. “Just the highlights of a super exciting offense, one of probably the most prolific offenses in our school’s history. We got off to an exciting start with the big win (at Ole Miss). Had two close losses in the regular season, both by three points. Had the big win over Georgia. There’s no question it was a really exciting team to watch because of the playmakers and the offensive play-calling that went along with it.”

Florida ranked ninth nationally in total offense (509.8 yards per game) — marking its highest finish since 2009 — and No. 1 in passing offense (378.6 yards per game). Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask led the country in passing yards (4,283 yards) and passing touchdowns (43), both single-season school records. 

Trask had a talented receiving corps in Mackey Award winner Kyle Pitts, leading receiver Kadarius Toney and deep threat Trevon Grimes. They became the second UF trio in school history to all have at least nine receiving touchdowns in a season.

Despite that success on offense, Florida’s defensive struggles also defined 2020. The unit finished 83rd nationally in total defense, and Stricklin acknowledged how that drop-off prevented the team from reaching its full potential. 

“It was obviously a year where we were in transition on defense,” he said. “A year after being a top-10 defensive unit, we took a step back and that probably limited how good we could be because we obviously had one of the best offenses in college football. To go to a New Year’s-Six bowl for the third consecutive year, there’s only two SEC teams that have done that for the last three years — and that’s us and Georgia. Even Alabama missed out on a New Year’s Six a year ago when they went to the Citrus Bowl. 

“So I’ve always felt like in order to be great, you have to be consistently good. And there’s no question that in the last three years since Dan has been here leading our program that we’ve been really consistently good. …  Just because they fall short of a championship, that doesn’t necessarily diminish anything that this team has accomplished. I still think we’re making progress toward achieving those goals and it will be exciting to see what next year brings.”

Stricklin is hopeful that more Florida fans will be able to attend home games in 2021. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was capped at 20-percent capacity last year due to COVID-19 protocols. 

Stricklin said “one of the more surreal moments” during the season was the post-game scene after the Gators defeated UGA in Jacksonville. 

“After the game the team is all happy and giddy and they do their interviews. And usually I walk out of the stadium after that and it’s a bit of a madhouse, even after the game. And you walk out and there’s just a few dozen cars in the parking lot. It’s just surreal. Even when things seemed somewhat normal, there were constant reminders that things were not normal,” Stricklin said. 

“Obviously we’re all hoping to return to some short of normalcy (in 2021), hoping to play a 12-game season, hoping that we can welcome Gator Nation back to The Swamp and have those raucous crowds that we were accustomed to in pre-COVID times.”