Gators notebook: Mullen on SEC opener against Alabama, Diwun Black update

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is sacked for a loss by Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter in the SEC Championship Game at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December.

After going three years without playing Alabama, Florida is set face the defending national champions twice in a span of nine months. 

In a rematch of last year’s SEC Championship Game, UF will open its conference slate against the Crimson Tide this season for the first time in three decades. 

Gators coach Dan Mullen was asked how he feels about the Sept. 18 matchup during his virtual speaking tour last month.  

“We’ll play ’em whenever,” Mullen said of starting league play with the Tide. “Hopefully we play them early and late. They’re usually pretty good. I don’t mind playing them twice next year. 

“If we get to play them a second time, I imagine it’ll either be in the SEC Championship Game or the playoff. So I’ll take it.”

UF has lost seven straight to Alabama, including the previous four meetings in Atlanta. Mullen was Florida’s offensive coordinator and Nick Saban coached the Miami Dolphins when the Gators last defeated ’Bama during the regular season in 2006.

That 28-13 win marked just the second victory over the Tide at Florida Field in program history. The first was a 35-0 shutout by Steve Spurrier’s second UF team in 1991. 

Since then, the Tide have won two of the last three games in Gainesville and eight overall. The Gators have hosted Alabama 10 times, the same amount of SEC Championship Games between the two teams (eight in Atlanta, twice in Birmingham). 

Last year’s contest was a shootout, with Alabama outlasting the Gators 52-46 in the highest scoring SEC Championship Game in league history. The Tide beat every other opponent on their 2020 schedule by 17 points or more. 

“We were able to win the East and head up to Atlanta and go play Alabama, who ended being the best team in the country. And to go play them really closer than anybody, I think was huge for the confidence of our guys,” Mullen said. “They had an expectation to go win that game.” 

Latest on Diwun Black

Mullen provided an update Monday on Florida signee Diwun Black, the nation’s No. 1 junior college prospect. 

He signed with the Gators in December during the Early Signing Period, but was unable to enroll in January. Black is on track to start classes in the ummer A semester, which begins May 11. 

“He’s a guy that committed to us, was steadfast in his commitment to us the whole time,” Mullen said of Black, who signed with UF out of high school in the 2019 class. “He’s taking care of his business to get everything done academically he needs to get done to make it here. Give him a lot of credit because he’s worked hard to get that done. It'll be great to get him here on campus, we’re hoping in May."

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Black is ranked as an outside linebacker by recruiting services, but the long, rangy athlete could also play BUCK or safety in Florida's defensive scheme. His position is still to be determined. 

“We’ll see when he gets here,” Mullen said.

McMillon playing safety

Another defensive player with position flexibility is true freshman Donovan McMillon, one of 12 early enrollees for the Gators. 

The 6-foot-1, 197-pound athlete has the potential to line up at safety or linebacker, with the former being his first spot on defense this spring. 

“He’s playing safety for us right now, but obviously he’s got great size. So you never know with physicality how everybody grows into the backend of their career,” Mullen said of McMillon. “A high energy guy. He really plays hard. I mean, I like intelligent football players. 

“His dad is a coach, and you can see that with his attention to detail with all the little things. Whether we’re in special teams or whether we’re on defense, his attention to detail to try to do it right really stands out.”