Gators at SEC Media Day: 5 questions Florida didn’t answer

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen address the media during SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency in Hoover, Ala., Monday, July 19, 2021. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Sadly, not every inquiry is fielded in Hoover, Ala. Factor in the (hopefully temporary) decrease in the amount of invited players from three to two, along with the fact UF didn’t bring any players on the offensive side of the ball, and you’re left with a whole lot that went unsaid.

Here’s five — but certainly not all — questions that went unanswered at SEC Media Day on Monday, and it wasn't for a lack of trying. 

Who’s Florida's starting quarterback?

Let’s start with an easy one. If you expected coach Dan Mullen to reveal his starting QB behind the lectern at The Wynfrey Hotel, you were essentially guaranteed to have a disappointing Monday afternoon. Mullen did nothing of the sort, instead opting to praise both Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson. The best part? He offered up the information in his introductory comments rather than wait for a question from a curious sportswriter. 

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“We have a couple quarterbacks that have experience. I know Emory Jones coming back and Anthony Richardson competing for that job with him, but if you look at those guys and what they've been able to do with the experience they have. If you get into statistics and go look at Emory Jones' statistics, he's a guy that's played a bunch of football. He's not coming in as a guy that's never played before. So I'm really excited about that.” — Dan Mullen

What’s Florida football team’s vaccination rate?

Keep in mind the following information is fact rather than opinion: the Southeastern Conference has several member schools in states that rank among the bottom when it comes to vaccination rates in the United States. Despite this, six of 14 teams have reached the 80% vaccination rate threshold required for programs to cease regular testing or require masks inside facilities. Furthermore, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the league won’t reschedule games due to COVID outbreaks, meaning teams may face a forfeit if they aren’t healthy enough to compete. Sankey didn’t elaborate on which teams had reached the threshold, so Mullen was asked.

“What percentage of your team has been vaccinated for COVID?” In a lengthy answer, Mullen said the Gators are close to the target number, but wouldn’t offer specifics. 

“I'm not going to get into the specific numbers right now, but I think we're doing very well with that, with those numbers. I think, when you look at COVID and what we dealt with last year, I think our medical staff, Paul Silvestri, our training staff, has done a phenomenal job of educating our players.

"Obviously, in the state of Florida, our governor has done an amazing job with the accessibility of the vaccine for quite a while now. And we have the UF Shands Hospital system, throughout the entire pandemic has done an amazing job of what we've done. So we're at a pretty high number of vaccinated players right now, but I think that the medical staff and really looking at Governor DeSantis, what he's been able to do, and the leadership of UF Shands Hospital system on campus has really been beneficial for our program and the university as a whole. We're getting close to the threshold numbers that you need to be at.” — Dan Mullen

Will Florida's defense improve?

It’s fair to say Mullen hasn’t admonished the defense, choosing instead to point out how much of a mixed bag things were in 2020. Yes, there were issues, but Mullen said his belief Monday that the Gators looked very good at times last season. But that’s not the narrative surrounding the team heading into the 2021 season — many believe the defense, most notably the secondary, experienced an overall drop-off in 2020. Mullen was asked several times about the defense, and he explained the perception was worse than reality. His reasoning? Florida’s prolific record-breaking offense resulted in teams attacking the defense uniquely. 

“I think there's a lot of different things, you know what I mean, when you evaluate things? You could point to a lot of different situations. Well, if you just look at the numbers statistically defensively, you say well we were a really high-scoring offense with a big lead and they tried to play us differently, they tried to score with us during games. So statistically, that can throw it off, or when you’re up three scores, that can throw it off. People are onside kicking, trying to get more possessions, launching balls downfield. Cause there’s times I thought, really we played really well defensively. You can go to certain games last year and say ‘hey we played really well defensively in this situation. Not as great and missed some other ones.’ So I think there’s some, I don’t know if there’s one little thing you put your finger on and say that’s exactly what it was. I think that’s part of it, the lack of tackling and missing a spring practice and doing a lot of those things early in the year. And then I think maybe the style of how people played us relative to our offense.” 

What about the college football playoff expansion?

Mullen’s not the only one who didn’t have much to give on the recently proposed expansion of the College Football Playoff to 12 teams — mum was the word from UF senior linebacker Ventrell Miller, too. Mullen did say he believed the initial format would be tooled and re-evaluated, which is about to ring true when the inevitable expansion occurs. 

“You have to look at it. Honestly, I could pull up my (Liverpool coach) Jurgen Klopp and say, ‘that's a question for Commissioner Sankey’. I'm just here to coach football. I think change — I think, when the playoffs started, if you'd have asked me, you created the four-team playoff, I'm sure someone did, if you ever look back in the files. I said, it's going to change a lot of things about college football, not immediately, but it will in the long haul, it will change a lot of things about college football. I think eventually it will, and eventually we will end up getting to an expansion. I would imagine that would come sometime in the future. I think we're still learning. It's interesting to see. Last year we had several opt-outs during the bowl game. Now, last year was also a very, very difficult year as a whole mentally and emotionally for players, and the previous two years we didn't have any opt-outs for bowl games. When you look at it, I don't know if that was a one-off or how that was going to change in the long-term picture of how that will change things, but it's going to be interesting to see. I think college football will continue to evolve, and once the playoff system started, I think that was just the first step of the college football old bowl system that you knew and the college football we knew changing into the future.” — Dan Mullen

“I'm not sure. I don't really got too many thoughts of that, but definitely it could be a good thing and also a bad thing. I don't really know where I stand on it as of right now.” —Ventrell Miller on playoff expansion

What’s Dan Mullen’s favorite Star Wars movie?

This one’s a bit of a curveball, but valuable information was still acquired. In a two-part question from ESPN 97.7’s Drew DeArmond, Mullen was first asked about cornerback Jaydon Hill before being put on the spot in regards to his favorite George Lucas (or J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson) cinematic masterpiece, and Mullen evaded the latter question. Let the rumors begin as to whether or not Mullen even likes Star Wars. In all seriousness, insight was gained as to whether or not Hill is in position to start opposite Kaiir Elam at cornerback for Florida, and Mullen actually gave a memorable answer that should remind people college football’s right around the corner. 

“Jaydon Hill is much easier than the Star Wars question, right? You can go so many different directions with the Star Wars question. Jaydon Hill has done an amazing job. You're looking at a young guy who was injured in high school, came in, played for us, got over that injury, has continued to work, has had a great mindset, a great attitude. Obviously really — great family, high character, excellent student in the classroom, studies the game.

"I think he's going now into his third season with us. That first year, kind of learning and figuring it out. Second year you get the opportunity and take a growth to learn where you are. We really — I expect him to jump into being a starter, being an every down player for us this season. So really excited to see that growth throughout his career. You talk about development and you look at the growth throughout their career, people get all excited, I want to see this guy play right away. I'm more excited in seeing consistent growth throughout your career, and Jaydon is a guy that's done that.” — Dan Mullen