Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Look for No. 84 to find his way into the end zone -- again. The 'other' Kyle. UAA Photo
‘Those Gator fans complained and complained about their lack of offense. And now that they’ve got an offense, they’re complaining about the defense.’ --Talk Show Caller
Ever since Steve Spurrier first won Florida’s inaugural national championship and set the fans’ hair on fire with his offense, all Gator coaches have labored in his formidable shadow – even the guy who won two national championships.
“Coach Spurrier created a monster,” Urban Meyer told me this week on @TheBestFridaysInFootball podcast. “Let me know if the expectation level has changed at Florida, where all of a sudden second place in the SEC East is acceptable.”
Until the HBC showed up in Gainesville, Gator fans were content to win most of their games by slightly over the spread, or a touchdown, be in the hunt for an SEC Championship and go to the Sugar or Orange Bowl every few years and wind up ranked in the Top 20.
So then, Gator Nation will never really be happy until its team wins every game by at least three touchdowns, averages over 50 points a game, wins the Heisman every four years, builds three more statues out front of Ben Hill Griffin and, about every couple of years, refurbishes the Heavener Football Complex to accommodate all the SEC and national championship trophies. And by the way, NEVER lose to Georgia. While they’re at it, go ahead and scoop up every 5-star recruit east of West Texas.
Welcome to the world of Florida Gator Expectations – aka the Disney World of College football. (Oops, let me double check to make sure UCF doesn’t already have the trademark on that.)
Dan Mullen has the baton and has started to deliver on those expectations -- winning 23 out of 27 – but he can’t afford to fall behind the pace. Every fork in the road is fraught with possibilities, or problems.
The next fork in the road for this 2020 team comes this weekend on the way to the town that was a postal stop. Until 1876
College Station, Tex. became incorporated -- it’s actually known now as the Bryan–College Station metropolitan area -- is a community quite familiar to Florida quarterback Kyle Trask because the name was borrowed and bestowed on him by his Aggie parents.
Suddenly, after two weeks, people have heard of Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts and they are both being mentioned as serious contenders for the Heisman Trophy. No wonder. Trask has thrown 10 touchdown passes -- six of them to Pitts.
Mullen’s offense ranks 13th nationally in offense, still one spot behind Miami, with Mississippi and Mississippi State from the SEC in the Top 7 and onetime self-proclaimed national champion UCF No. 2.
It's a happy homecoming of sorts for Michael & Kyle Trask. Trask Family Photo
Back in the summer I was leaning toward A&M because of what feels like Kellen Mond’s 10th season in College Station, Jimbo’s ability to coach quarterbacks and the possible shifting of the balance of power in the Saban Division. All bets are off, because Auburn’s offense stinks. (BTW, did Chad Morris ever actually report to The Loveliest Village on the Plains?). Alabama is dominant. And A&M is just coming off the bruises of a ‘Bama Butt Whippin’ from which it might not soon recover.
Then there is that $75M salary albatross hanging around Jimbo’s neck like a gaudy Gucci Miami Turnover Chain that came out of a Cracker Jack box. Made in China.
The Aggies are 6½-point underdogs to a team whose quarterback is named after their field – which makes me wonder if someday a Gator quarterback might show up with the first name “Spurrier” because his parents named him after the UF Field.
I haven’t been able to get a handle on this game. The Aggies are still not a prime-time team and it’s doubtful they’ll put the skids on that Mullen offense. At the same time, the Gator defense is leaking oil.
Which got me to thinking about how a coach manages the division or units, offense vs. defense. First off, Todd Grantham’s critics are chirping again this week. The inability of Florida to make key third and fourth down stops last Saturday kept the outcome at risk and the Gators couldn’t put the game away against South Carolina. Grantham knows this, but isn’t panicking and prefers to think of it as “teachable moments.”
“The issue was they went for it on fourth downs, so that’s where I tell my guys, ‘you gotta have a mindset kind of like we’re in the NBA season right now and it’s game 7, you’ve gotta finish people off,’” said the Gator D-Coordinator. “We’ve gotta develop that attitude to understand the situation at hand and we need to be able to finish. I thought we did a better job of finishing plays last week, so now we’ve gotta work on finishing drives and finishing the game the way we want to. I think we were 8 of 10 on third down in the second half, but the issue was, it’s fourth down and you’ve got to get off the field because, it’s like a Game 7 mentality. If you go back and look, they averaged four yards a play. If we could go the rest of the year averaging four yards per play in a game, I’d be pretty happy.”
Mullen’s job is to make sure everybody’s singing from the same hymnal.
“On the practice field I spend as much time with the defense as I do the offense,” Mullen said. “In the meetings times, I spend more with the offensive staff than the defensive staff, just because that's kinda where my specialty is and where I've always been. But I do think as a coaching staff, we come together every week to know what the plan is and make sure everybody's on the same page, right?
“Our goal is to win the game, and if we win three to nothing, that's a celebration. And if we win 42-41, that's a celebration … We're collaborating … guys some rest between series, and that'll affect how we do thin offensively. ‘Hey, this team is a big-time defense, so defense we need this.’ Or, ‘hey, we have got to create three-and-outs to flip field position for the offense.’’’
We’ve all got our list of suggestions as to what Mullen and Grantham should do with personnel and scheme. They are already on it, shuffling some things like moving Trey Dean to a starting corner, Marco Wilson to STAR and getting back some players who have been missing.
Mine is easy. There doesn’t appear to be much bulk in the front seven. Kyree Campbell is needed, whenever he can get there. Mullen has noted that all 11 need to rush to the ball more intensively. They’re not getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, so Grantham’s blitzes need to get home. Receivers get open with relative ease. Tackling improved some last week but isn’t proficient yet. And above all, stop letting the opponent convert so many third and fourth down.
Meanwhile, Trask’s touch and his distribution of the ball to this young receiving corps is fun to watch. Mullen has been known to spring surprises and I suspect he’s got one in his pocket for Jimbo. What if Lorenzo Lingard suddenly showed up and rushed for 100 yards?
Once gain the critics are chirping about Todd Grantham but he's ready. Gator Bait Photo