The No. 9 Florida Gators (4-0, 2-0) have every reason to be distracted this week. There’s a playoff implication game next Saturday with Auburn. And a date with FCS Towson on Saturday means that the HBO cameras in head coach Dan Mullen’s Monday afternoon press conference got a lot of attention.
“I’m a huge ‘Game of Thrones’ guy. I was huge ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Veep.’ I loved ‘Veep,’ ‘Game of Thrones.’ We’ve got to ask them what they’ve got new coming out. You know, old-school, ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ I can keep going. I’ve watched most of the shows on HBO. So, we need to ask them really, what’s replacing Game of Thrones for us now?”
As Mullen joked and showed his extensive knowledge of the HBO catalogue, the multiple cameras in the room caught every reaction. The network is airing a new docuseries focusing on four college teams during a game week. The Gators are the first up, airing Wednesday, October 1.
The cameras caught Mullen recapping quarterback Kyle Trask’s first start, going 20-28 for 293 yards and two touchdowns (along with two interceptions) in the 34-3 win over Tennessee. They caught his explanation of about BUCK Jon Greenard making such a quick impact on the locker room and on the field with his six tackles, 3.5 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. They picked up his bragging on tight end Kyle Pitts who has become a threat like with his four receptions for 62 yards and touchdown on Saturday along with his improved blocking skills.
The cameras made sure to catch Mullen sharing his fashion tips—or lack thereof.
“I’m not a skinny jean, skinny-type clothing, European-cut type of guy. That’s not my deal. I have the physique, I think, probably, for it, but that’s just not my style. I’m no [former Gator quarterback] Jesse Palmer. I’ll get a text later this afternoon [for that].”
But only twice did the cameras and media venture into the Gators upcoming opponent, the Towson Tigers. A lot of that is due to the languid nature of the week sandwiched between the Tennessee game and a (potential) Top 10 showdown next week with No. 7 Auburn that has already been tapped as the CBS 3:30et game of the week.
When asked to break down Florida’s next opponent, Mullen began with the basics, filling in a room of reporters who are currently learning everything about the FCS team along with him.
"Well, they're a school in Maryland. Baltimore area.”
A pause there made this statement unwittingly ironic. Most of the Gators coaching staff and fans can break down every aspect of the Georgia football program. This week, simply learning the school’s location is of first priority. Mullen, in true coach speak, did however give the Tigers ample credit.
“They're a very good football team when you look at them. Obviously playing in one of the best conferences in their division, the Colonial Athletic Association. I mean got a lot of great football teams and a lot of depth. Really similar, probably, to the SEC, with the depth their conference has, of great football teams.
“When you look at them, very, very sound football team. Solid football team, back to front…they can put up numbers now. They are an explosive offense. They do a good job. They mix up personnel. They give you different looks. They have yet to play a game this year when they didn't put up big numbers. It is a group that understands their system, understands their offense and executes it very well. They distribute the ball around. They are a very good football team.”
The Tigers are 3-1 and have outscored their opponents 160-99 thus far, with 52 of that 99 coming in an overtime loss to Villanova. In FCS rankings, Towson is currently ranked No. 10. This means technically, if want to embellish a bit and ignore only the FBS Top 25 holding weight, the Gators will face a Top 10 team in four of their next five games. No. 10 Towson, No. 7 Auburn, No. 3 LSU, South Carolina then No. 3 Georgia.
The Gators are bigger, faster and stronger than Towson. They should handle this Saturday easily. But it’s a trap game. It’s the definition of a trap game. It’s Admiral Ackbar screaming from the deck that’s it’s a trap, type of game. But the force may just be with the Gators thanks to a mindset that refuses to overlook Towson, simply because of what it can mean for Auburn and beyond.
As linebacker Jon Greenard said following the Tennessee win, “I'm excited about where we are right now. It's still somewhat early, midway through the season. It's not our best performance. We've got a lot of things to work on still. That's not our best performance. It was a greater performance than what we did and we had some pretty good numbers, but I just know what we're capable of and what we can do."
Mullen is using those leaders and a pointed message to remind the Florida Gators there is a lot to play for and don’t get caught in the trap.
“We talked to the team this week. Obviously, there will be a lot more hype on next weeks’ game [against Auburn], national hype, it will be the CBS game of the week. But for us to even have an opportunity to win that game, we have got to improve this week. It’s one of those things, you look at the steps we took, I thought we took some really good steps. I thought we played a lot better against Tennessee than we had in the previous weeks. That had a lot to do with because we practiced better. Our scout teams executed a little bit cleaner, the defense finished plays at practice a little bit better. Thought we did an amazing job of our Friday night and early Saturday morning, it was a quick turnaround and preparation going into the game, of guys really honing into their routine and getting ready to go perform on a Saturday.
“If we don't continue to take a step forward with that this week, it'll show. And it'll show not just this week, it'll show the next week and the week after that and the week after that as you continue to move forward. So I think that's the message for the guys, is you can't, I mean we have great goals for this season, for the team. And they all include continually improving from one week to the next. And that's got to be the focus. On focusing on what's important. Right? What's important is, 'Am I getting better as a player?' And I don't want to downplay this week's game or next week's game, because if you ask me that question next week saying, 'You're a week off from another Top 10 matchup, this one on the road [against LSU], is it harder to stay focused?' No, it's on our exact attention to detail and our development and our improvement from one day to the next of getting better. And that's what we can control and that's what we need to worry about. If we're worried about other things, we're worried about the wrong thing and we're not going to be able to accomplish the goals we have as a team.”