Updated: Oct 5, 2019
The ESPN College Gameday set is framing the University of Florida library, a universal symbol that the biggest college football game of the weekend is here in town. They're here to broadcast ahead of the No. 7 Auburn vs. No. 10 Florida game. It’s been seven years since the Gameday crew was here in Gainesville, spanning a stretch when the Florida program has been through twists and turns, highs and lows struggling through turbulence. But now, for the first time since that last Gameday trip, the Gators have a Top 10 matchup in the Swamp.
“It’s a different animal man, SEC,” remarks Gameday analysts Desmond Howard.
"They’re so adamant and they’re so passionate about their football. It’s just great to come down here, especially when they get rolling. It’s not always like this. When we were here, obviously you had the Chris Leak's, the Tim Tebow’s, the Percy Harvin’s and those guys and it was rolling. It was probably not a better atmosphere in college football. So I think that Dan Mullen and his staff is trying to get it back to those good days.”
Dan Mullen was here in Gainesville from 2005-2009 as the Gators offensive coordinator and for a Gameday visit in 2006 when Florida defeated LSU 23-10 with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow under center.
For Florida to pull of a monumental win this weekend against Auburn, the Gameday crew see some clear keys to the game.
“Both teams have strong defenses,” remarks Howard.
“Florida can capitalize on [Auburn quarterback] Bo Nix, putting pressure on him. He’s not a quarterback that has high completion numbers when he’s pressured so that may be a matchup, see how they gonna try to put pressure on a freshman quarterback in the Swamp. I mean he’s been battle tested on the road before in the SEC, but I mean, this is the Swamp and I think that they have athletes that can really cause some problems defensively for Auburn so that’s probably the matchup.”
The Gators defensive line has been one of the country’s best in applying pressure, with 24 sacks (second in the nation) and leads the country in redzone defense.
"I don't expect this to be a high-scoring game because of that,” admits David Pollack.
“I think Florida's defense is really good. We talk a lot about grad transfers all across college football. [Jon] Greenard should be one of the guys that comes to the top of the list, I mean he's been unbelievable. And I think [Jabari] Zuniga is back now, right? So Florida's defense is also going to get healthier. It's also one of the best in the country getting to the quarterback, sacking the quarterback. I think what's a good matchup for Florida is Florida has speed.
Auburn likes to do the zone read game, Auburn likes to do the quarterback run around the quarterback. They make the defensive ends play slow and play run, play the running back first and then react to the quarterback. Well those guys are athletic enough where they can play the run and then still chase Bo Nix down possibly and make plays.
“I think it's good on good. It's going to be two great defenses working against two offenses that haven't found their way yet, but if you watch Auburn against Mississippi State last week and you're a Florida fan, you're going, 'Crap, like don't find your offense now.' True freshman looks like he's continued to grow up, but it wasn't against this kind of defense and this kind of atmosphere. So the crowd's going to have to play a factor in being loud and annoying Bo Nix.”
On the offensive side, Kyle Trask will be making his third start against one of the best defensive lines in the country, facing the Tigers. The Gameday crew are in agreement that it will take short passes and working the edges, much like the way Florida did against Mississippi State last year, in order to win that battle. They can do that thanks to Dan Mullen, who host Rece Davis has a very strong opinion about.
“I think he’s one of the most underrated coaches in the country, one of the bright offensive minds in the game.
“He’s his own guy and he’s got a great personality but he’s very comfortable in his own skin. I think sometimes people take for granted how difficult it was to win at the level that he did at Mississippi State. I think that’s the primary reason for it. I think it’s an unfortunate thing in the coaching business but sometimes if guys go somewhere for three years and then jump then all of a sudden we decide they’re a whole lot smarter than if they go somewhere and stay close to a decade. He went, stayed at Mississippi State and they were solid all the time and really good at other times.
“Think about it, Mississippi State was No. 1 when he was the coach there. That’s hard to do and he did it. I think he’s going to do great here. I think they’re a year or two off in getting their roster just right in terms of depth and the number of linemen on both sides that they’d like to have and that kind of stuff but he’s doing a great job and this is a great opportunity to be a proving ground on Saturday.”
The Gators offensive line has been admittedly suspect and it has hampered the run game to the tune of averaging a mere 141.40 rushing yards per game. The passing game however has flourished, averaging 288.2 yards per game through the air. Now it will take finding the Jimmy’s and Joe’s to match Mullens X’s and O’s, as Pollack explains.
“I don’t doubt Dan one million percent when it comes to Xs and Os and football. He’s proven himself. If you don’t buy in to what he’s done, you’re an idiot. I can’t help you. I can’t fix you. But from a recruiting standpoint, can he get those guys out wide and those playmakers. Because if you get that, this offense goes from really good to next-level great. And a quarterback, he’ll find one I’m sure that will do what he wants from a running standpoint - Nick Fitzgerald, Dak Prescott, those guys, Fitzgerald set all the rushing records.”
The talking is over, the conjuncture is finished. So can Dan Mullen help give the Gators their biggest win in years? As Desmond Howard says, “We’ll see tomorrow.”