Dan Mullen wasn't in a particularly apologetic mood 30 minutes following ninth-ranked Florida's 38-0 win over the Towson Tigers Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and really, what's to apologize for? Why complain when your team moves to 5-0 on the season with a 38-point win, a second shutout of a season that hasn't even reached the halfway point and it's been nine quarters since the last touchdown was allowed? Why apologize when you've outscored three teams 88-3 since your backup quarterback took over in a road game in the SEC?
You never apologize for winning. As for complaining, there will be time enough for that come Monday. By then, the Florida coaches will have dissected every single play in the win over Towson and grades will have been issued. Come Monday, Mullen and his staff will be able to point to every single flaw and every single mistake made against Towson, the kind of which the Gators can't afford to make next week when seventh-ranked Auburn comes to Gainesville for nationally televised game on CBS that will also bring in ESPN with its College Game Day crew.
Against Towson, the Gators played well enough and winning was never in doubt, but this was a Division 1AA team they were facing. The Towson Tigers are a very good team in the Colonial Athletic Association, but the CAA certainly isn't SEC caliber. While the Gators played fairly well and beat a 1AA team by 38, Auburn went beast mode against what was thought to be a fairly decent Mississippi State team. What Auburn did to the Bulldogs can best be described as pillaging and plundering. That 56-23 win wasn't anywhere as close as the score might indicate. You can expect pundits and critics alike to spend the next few days proclaiming that If Florida plays the same way it played against Towson and Auburn plays as well as it did against Mississippi State, this will not fare well for the Gators.
Towson was in Gainesville for a six-figure paycheck but even though the Tigers lost by 38 points and didn't score, they didn't embarrass themselves. They had some moments when they moved the ball fairly well as evidenced by eight third down conversions in 15 tries and they made the Gators work for everything they got. Offensively, Towson couldn't keep the score close because the Tigers stick it in the end zone and of their two field goal attempts, one sailed wide right and the other was blocked.
Mullen thought Towson made a decent accounting of itself.
“Obviously, you give credit to Towson,” Mullen said. “We knew coming in that they were a really quality team. They have a good quarterback who could move the ball on people. They're a top ten team in their division and you saw that out there today.”
The Gators got all the points they needed on the opening drive when they went 82 yards in 12 plays, scoring on a five-yard Kyle Trask to Kyle Pitts TD pass. Trask was 6-6 on that opening drive. He completed his next nine passes before he finally threw an incompletion. He finished the game hitting 18-20 of his passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns while setting a school record for 18 consecutive completions (last three against Tennessee and first 15 against Towson). The Gators scored on six of their nine possessions (five touchdowns, one field goal). They ran for a season-high 160 yards and got two explosive runs from scrimmage by Dameon Pierce, who ripped off a 31-yarder in the first half and a 37-yarder for a touchdown in the third quarter. The Gators finished with 422 total yards on 60 offensive plays, zero turnovers and just three offensive penalties (one hold, two false starts).
Defensively, the Gators limited the Tigers to 248 yards, 183 through the air and 65 on the ground. Florida finished with four sacks, turned the Tigers over three times (one fumble and two interceptions) and committed only one defensive penalty, a dubious pass interference on an uncatchable ball that was a good 20 yards off the mark.
Could it have been better? Yes, but it was good enough to win and it was a game in which the Gators made visible progress, which is another one of the reasons Mullen didn't feel the need to apologize afterward. The Gators are 5-0 and they've controlled the only thing that matters which is beating all five teams on their schedule.
“You look at this team and we've taken care of business so far,” Mullen said. “We have taken care of business. Whatever the situation, good or bad, we have taken care of business so far to this point. We have played some good teams but now it's going to a whole new level. We have a top ten team coming in here next week. It's going to be a while new level.”
Auburn requires that the Gators take care of business at a whole different level than anything we've seen so far. In each of the five wins, the Gators have gotten away with the kind of mistakes that will likely be exposed against Auburn if they are repeated. If Auburn comes to Gainesville playing anything close to the level shown when it whacked Oregon in the season opener or in putting Mississippi State out of its misery with 42 first half points then the Gators will have to play virtually mistake-free to win. The win over Mississippi State was Auburn's most complete game of the year as the Tigers finished with 361 passing yards and 217 on the ground. Although the Gators have played well in spurts, they still have distinguished themselves with anything close to a complete game.
Long before the outcome of the Auburn game was known, Mullen was at the podium, happy the Gators were 5-0 but at the same time addressing what has to get better in this next week of preparation.
“We have Auburn coming in here next week,” Mullen said. “If we don't prepare and practice better, if we don't have a better routine, take care of our bodies, put in a little extra time and do the things we have to do as a football team to get better; if our scout team doesn't prepare better … in every aspect of the game, if we don't get better this week we can't expect to win.”
If you go simply by the outcome of Saturday's games – Florida's win over Towson and Auburn's win over Mississippi State – it's a no brainer who will be favored to win next week. Auburn will pass a lot of smell tests because the Tigers beat a Southeastern Conference opponent by 33 points and while the Gators took some positive steps in their journey toward becoming a complete football team, it was obvious they aren't there yet.
Mullen posed these two questions: “Where are we? Are we getting better?”
To answer the first, the Gators are 5-0 but still looking for a win over a truly quality opponent. As for the answer to the second question, yes the Gators are getting better but can they improve enough in a week to score what will be considered a statement win?
We won't know that for another week but for now, no need to complain nor apologize.