Despite postgame smile, Mullen not happy with Florida's penalty-plagued loss

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida coach Dan Mullen, left, can't believe assistant coach John Hevesy's offensive line was called for another penalty Saturday against Kentucky at Kroger Field in Lexington.

Gator Nation isn’t happy with Florida coach Dan Mullen about a number of things from Saturday’s 20-13 loss at Kentucky. 

His team’s 15 penalties, the most by the Gators in a game since 2001. 

His play-calling and lack of deep shots.

Not using his timeouts before the half. 

And even his facial expression. 

A screenshot of Mullen showed him smiling as he went to shake Kentucky coach Mark Stoops’ hand after the game. Mullen was asked to clarify what he was thinking at that moment during his weekly Zoom news conference Monday. 

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m thinking about how I want to talk to the team, how we’ve got to build it back up. We have a whole long season to go. 

“If you keep a camera on me the entire game, you’ll probably catch me doing all kinds of things that probably would be like, ‘Boy, I wonder why he’s doing that at this very second.’”

Several Florida fans, as well as ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, had that thought about Mullen at the end of the first half. The Gators got the ball back at their 13 with 1:56 left to play, but Mullen didn’t use any of three timeouts and ran the clock out. 

He defended his decision to play it safe in that situation, noting how it backfired on Kentucky last year. After UF’s defense made a stop in the final minute of the second quarter and forced a punt, Kadarius Toney returned it for a touchdown to give the Gators a four-point halftime lead en route to a 34-10 win. 

“We went out there looking for explosive plays,” Mullen said of Florida’s final series of the first half Saturday. “I think Emory [Jones] had to check it down a couple times and all the sudden we really hadn't moved the ball very much and the clock's under 30 seconds. It wasn't like we weren't going to look to take a shot.

“Two of those plays we called to see if we can take a shot down the field. They bailed everybody back, we checked it down. Now you're looking at the clock and you're a play away from having to punt and they potentially get good field position. … I mean, go back to last year’s game, that’s how we won the game.” 

Jones checked it down twice on that two-minute drive, but also didn’t take any deep shots throughout the game. His longest completion was 22 yards to Xzavier Henderson, and just 12 of Jones’ 134 passing attempts this season have gone 20-plus yards.

“I trust him throwing the ball deep down the field,” Mullen said of Jones. “You look at the last game, they were playing a lot of one-high deep soft coverage. So schematically they’re just bailing everybody really deep, so you’re not going to just launch it into coverage down field.”

Of course, the flags were Florida’s biggest problem in Lexington. Mullen couldn’t recall any of his teams being penalized 15 times in a game during his 13-year head coaching career. 

He vowed to fix the false start issues in practice this week, which squandered two red-zone trips in the fourth quarter against the Wildcats. 

“I take it personally … I don't think I’ve had one with that many penalties before, so that is disappointing for me,” Mullen said. “Our snap count, we’ve used it. Most people use it around the country. The teams we’ve played have used it in the Swamp. That’s something we’ll look at with our guys to make sure we’re communicating everything the right way.

“The second-to-last drive we're in the red zone, we convert a fourth-and-2 to go in to score a touchdown, but there was a penalty. So that caused us to kick. And then the next drive, we’re down inside the 5-yard line, there was a penalty. We had 15 penalties. That's on me. The penalties are on me. It's my responsibility to make sure the discipline this team plays with and executes at a high level. I’d love to say it's more than that, but you go watch the film and it's pretty obvious.”


Who: Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-1 SEC) vs. No. 18 Florida (3-2, 1-2)

When: 12 p.m.

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Tickets: Available at Gator Ticket Office.