Gators find success in new offensive style

Florida head coach Dan Mullen speaks to reporters during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Home » Uncategorized
Posted September 24, 2021 | By Mark Long
AP Sports Writer

Florida head coach Dan Mullen speaks to reporters during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days on July 19 in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

GAINESVILLE — Later, Gators. Chameleons might be a better team name for Florida this season.

Coach Dan Mullen has successfully transformed his finesse offense — the one that led the nation in passing in 2020 behind Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney — into a formidable ground attack that nearly stunned top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama.

The Gators (2-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) currently rank second in the country in rushing, averaging 335.7 yards a game on the ground, after an offensive overall that required trust, adaptability and an unbelievable amount of buy-in from coaches and players.

No. 11 Florida, which hosts Tennessee (2-1, 0-0) on Saturday, ran for 244 yards and averaged 5.7 yards a carry in a 31-29 home loss to the Crimson Tide on Sept. 18 and did so without dynamic, dual-threat quarterback Anthony Richardson. It was the highest yards-per-carry average against coach Nick Saban’s team since the Tide lost to Ohio State and star running back Ezekiel Elliott in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, a College Football Playoff semifinal game.

Florida was mostly a passing team during Mullen’s first three years in Gainesville, culminating with last season’s record-setting aerial attack. Trask was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Pitts was a matchup nightmare. And Toney had more wiggle than anyone in the program since Percy Harvin.

The Gators averaged 378.9 yards a game through the air, the second-most in school history. The only Florida team with more passing prowess was coached by Steve Spurrier and led by quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Rex Grossman (2001).

With Trask, Pitts and Toney all leaving for the NFL, Mullen turned the page – and tweaked the entire playbook.

“That’s what makes (Mullen) the guy that he is, the great head coach that he is,” starting quarterback Emory Jones said. “He’s able to adapt to whatever team he has and make the best out of it.”

With Richardson sidelined because of a hamstring injury against Alabama, Jones carried 19 times for 76 yards and a touchdown. The Gators botched a 2-point conversation late that would have tied the game.

“The worst thing I can ever say as a coach is, ‘I have a great system, but it doesn’t fit the players that we have so I guess it won’t work,'” Mullen said. “Ours is to always make sure it has enough adaptability within the system to make sure it fits whatever our personnel is at a given time.”

Mullen learned that the hard way in 2005, his first season as Florida’s offensive coordinator and his foray into the SEC. He remembers trying to get quarterback Chris Leak to direct a spread-option system that Alex Smith ran to perfection at Utah in 2003 and ’04.

It was a square peg in a round hole for weeks and resulted in ugly losses at Alabama and LSU. They scrapped the system and Florida responded by beating Georgia in nearby Jacksonville.

Ever since, Mullen has enjoyed offensive success, in a variety of different ways. It gave him the confidence to make sweeping changes in the offseason that gave the Gators, a chance to knock off Alabama.

“I guess we are fortunate to have a bunch of years of knowledge of doing this, how to make it fit all the different styles of personnel that we’ve had over the last 20 years,” Mullen said.

newspaper icon

Support community journalism

The first goal of the Ocala Gazette is to deliver trustworthy local journalism so corruption, misinformation and abuse are not hidden from the public or unchallenged.

We count on community support to continue this important work. Please donate or subscribe: