Florida Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen met with local media on Monday. He recapped the Texas A&M loss, the upcoming LSU game, his comments on wanting 90,000 in the Swamp, the Gators defensive performance thus far and what could cause three quarterbacks to be on the field at once this year. He also addressed the day of his former quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Dak Prescott.
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What have you seen on defense after watching the film?
"You know what, defensively at times I think - one, you got to give (Texas) A&M some credit, they made some great plays, especially some of the shots down the field - 50-50 balls, one-on-one shots. The quarterback I thought played really, really well, played like a veteran, experienced guy, hanging in the pocket, delivered some balls, made some great throws. You know, a lot of times things that we do too. I mean, he threw guys open, we have guys in tight, tight coverage all over him and he threw him open and they were able to make plays, so that hurt some explosives. I thought we needed to be a little bit more physical within the run game. I thought that was one thing when they started kinda grinding out the run game we weren't as physical as we needed to be in the run-game aspect of things, so we need to be a little bit more physical within the run game. Especially, you know, I mean you got LSU coming in so that's gonna be another physical battle so we gotta get ready for that."
Have you had discussions with Stricklin about 'packing the Swamp'?
"No, I've been worried about trying to beat LSU"
Do you have any regrets about post-game comments regarding packing The Swamp and have you spoke with Gators President Fuchs or anything like that?
"Yeah, I've been preparing for LSU. But, I mean I'll be honest, I think if you look at what we've been able to do, the safety precautions we have that our players have followed, our coaches follow, our staff follows, you know, I think we're a model of safety of what we've been doing during this time period. So, I'm really proud of how we've handled everything and how safe we've been with everything we're doing and all the precautions we've had in place during this time."
Do you understand that 90k people with/without masks breathing on top of each other, how it would be a bad thing?
"I think Texas A&M actually, they created a great atmosphere at the game, created an exciting atmosphere, you know? I thought they did a great job of doing that. You know, and, so, like I said, I haven't talked to people because I've been really focused on trying to beat LSU. But, you know, whatever our government officials all say and what everybody does for the game, what we do need to do is however many people they allow into the stadium, we need to try to work as hard as we can - all the Gator fans and all of us - to create the best game-day atmosphere we can."
Those comments generated a lot of national backlash. Are you aware of this?
"No, I've been on LSU."
It seems there's a lot to re-evaluate by week four. Is that atypical? Is that a tough situation being so into the season?
"Yes and no, but I think you've got to, you see this every year. And I don't know that you expect it, expects not the right word, I'm trying to think of what the word is. I think you learn a lot about your team, right, as the season goes on, and you've got to learn about what guys are doing well, what they're not doing well. Obviously, this year is even more unique than regular, you know. Boy, after couple weeks last year, we ended up turning into this big, pass-happy offense, you know, and I didn't expect that, to be honest with you. So, I think every year you kind of get into it, you kind of see how your team comes together, how they gel, and then as coaches, really you're spending the time, 'Are we putting guys in position to make plays?' Right? You know, you've watched, and it's, you've got to learn your guys as you go. I think, if I go into our playbook, I think we have a great quarterback run package in our playbook. We're not really executing that much this year to be perfectly honest with you, and if I was calling a lot of quarterback runs, no matter how good the play's drawn up, you would probably be looking at me like, you know, 'You know your quarterback is like 6-5, 240, and couldn't run out of sight in a day?' You know, but we draw it up and it looks good on paper, when we draw it up. From one year to the next, and I make jokes about that one cause coming into the season, we had a good understanding that Kyle Trask doing a lot of quarterback run, was not gonna, I already had that part figured out. But a lot of the other things that you do, you're trying to find out all the different strengths and weaknesses of what works within the team for a given year, and I think we, you know, you're into that. Obviously, when you're playing right now, just a shortened, ten-game, SEC-only season, you've got to try to figure it out faster and it possibly gets exposed quicker with more consequences than maybe if we were playing the schedule we were supposed to play."
Change a bunch in 2005. Can you do that now with the D?
“Yeah, absolutely. We went from a team in 2005 that … we never really played much with a fullback. We had a couple fullbacks here. They were good players and we ended up tweaking the offense around doing some things with those guys on the field and helping out in areas that we were struggling. I think the same thing defensively. You’re looking and saying, ‘Are we asking guys to do things?” I think one thing you look defensively that we spend our time on is now ‘are we sound or not?’ I know what we’re doing sound. We’ve got a great coaching staff and I know our scheme is sound. But now, as guys are performing here on a live basis within a game, there’s a lot of new faces out there for us as well. Are we putting them in a position to make plays.Even though this is sound, right, this guy, we’re putting him … he’s not going to be as good at doing this; we need to put him in a position to be something that he’s going to do really well. If we struggle doing something make sure we’re not putting those guys in that position, right? The easiest explanation is to not put Kyle Trask in a quarterback-run-based offense. You know? That one kind of process is, I think, really easy to everything and you don’t have to get into all the intricacies of the defense of what we are doing. But generally the answer to that question is yes, what we’ve got to do is make sure we’re moving the guys into the right sports to be able to make plays.”
Do you get a sense the defense is thinking the offense will bail us out?
“Well, I think there’s a really positive to that as well, which is called team football, you know. I’ve talked to our guys all the time. There are three phases: offense, defense, special teams in the course of the game that goes on. I think when you trust the team, right, you gotta be able to expect the offense if going to trust the defense is going to make a stop when we need to, or if they make a mistake the defense will help bail out the offense and the defense believes in the offense the same way. Hey, the offense is going to get this one back for us. I think one of the things we gotta continue to do when you’re on the team, and I think you can create negativity on the team of hey this group is doing great, this group is struggling. We’re all a team. The goal is we gotta score one more point than the opponent. Whether that makes it 45-44 or 3-2, doesn’t really matter. We all celebrate when we win because everybody had a role in what we needed to do to win the game. I think as a team and the message to the team for us is, right now, hey, it’s fun to play defense with an explosive offense. You’re going to get the opportunity to play with leads. If you make a mistake the offense is going to go score. As our defense gets better the offense has some veteran players to say, hey, we gotta take pressure off them. If you look at that game, how that game was being played out last week you figure it was going to come down to a one-possession game and with four minutes left in the game we had the ball. Going in the direction, we played the win, obviously, you have to kick-off to start the second half, they got the extra possession, they scored on the final play of the first half and got the ball to start the second half. They were gonna get the extra possession. So I go spend time with Evan (McPherson) and say, you’re going to have to kick the game-winning field goal to win this game, which direction do you want to go? That’s the direction we were going in the fourth quarter, he hit a 50-some yarder already. We had the ball, driving down the field, we get the ball close to midfield, second and 10, not a great call by me. We end up missing a block. We end up turning the ball over in that situation and now they got the final possession. They had nine possessions and we had eight. One of the things I think you’re going to see this year in the SEC and a lot more of our games probably than in a normal year that are played out that way, where it is always going to come down to a one-possession game and are we doing what we need to do to win? I think to be disappointed, I was certainly hoping that how the game was set up there at the end that in a tie game, we had the ball with four minutes to go we put ourselves in a position to have that final possession and win the game and we didn’t finish it out offensively.
Through three games what do you think your defense is the best at? What are strengths?
“Well, you know, I think we have some guys that are pretty good. We’ve gotten better with our effort and our coverage in the secondary. You get into it, of looking at that game and some of their explosive plays, heck they made plays. We made plays offensively. I remember after game one Lane got up and was like, hey we had two guys on Kyle Pitts on that play and they threw it and he caught it where we couldn’t defend it. So I think ‘we’re getting ourselves in that position. So you can’t mistake great offense for bad defense. So I think that’s one of the things that we’re doing well, that. I think the other thing we’ve done pretty well is understand game situations of when we need to get stops. For example, you look at this last game and as we continue to grow, as we do it is understanding the team part of football is making sure we have the ball with four minutes to go in a tie game, with an opportunity for the offense to go win it. If you look the last two weeks, we had a big lead. Now I want a three-and-out and get off the field, everybody does. But I also don’t want to give up an explosive play to make it a one-possession game with four or five minutes to go when we can make it 30 seconds to go by the time that possession ends. So I think our guys understand the game concept, the team concept and having the play maybe a different style of football this year with how the schedule is going to be than you might normally play within the year.”
Does versatility of defense make it challenging to put guys in right spots to prevent confidence loss?
“I think that’s part of it, making sure, and we’ve been playing short-handed defensively. We’re hoping to get some guys back this week. But, I mean, who knows. As you know this is going to be a really, really unique year that you’re juggling a bunch of different things. So hopefully we have some guys back this week that will play. I don’t know. One of the things is you put all these gameplans together, and like you were saying, we put guys in the right position. I find out about Thursday night at 11:30 p.m. who is probably going to be playing in the game. That can always change on Friday, someone gets the sniffle, so .. not to make light of it but like all the sudden someone has, especially this time of year you got allergies, you have colds coming and now we’re rushing to get test done on Friday and Saturday morning. So that makes it different. It helps we do have guys that can play different positions, but it also is challenging to make sure we get the exact people where they need to be at all times, you know, to make us as stout and as good a defense we can be.”
COLLEGE DEFENSES ACROSS THE BOARD SEEM TO BE STRUGGLING, CAN YOU SPEAK TO ISSUE NOT BEING SPECIFIC JUST TO Y'ALL?
"Well I mean, you know it could be interesting, like you said, you don't know, it's still early in the season. Maybe we've played three unbelievable offenses already, too. I don't know. We'll see. You're looking on paper, there's an unbelievable offense rolling into the Swamp this week with talented players all over the field. So part of it can be. All of the sudden I think sometimes you get to the end of the season and you look back and you say, 'OK, well we thought this but in reality it was really something else.' But I do think, I see very different things from one game (to the next). Game 1, I didn't love our effort in Game 1. Part of that, obviously you're seeing they're a very explosive offense, explosive players, the tempo, getting adjusted into a game. I thought we played much better in Game 2 defensively and then last week, again, you look at some of their explosive plays... now did we make some mistakes? Absolutely. Do we need to be stouter at times? Absolutely. Did they make some great plays where we had a guy in great coverage and the quarterback throws a dime and they make a one-handed catch? Yes. We have a guy draped all over him and they make a leaping catch. That's great offense, too, that's not bad defense."
SECOND HALF THEY RAN IT DOWN YOUR THROAT, IS THAT GUYS PLAYING OUT OF POSITION?
"It was interesting that they were able to do that on that drive. Because you know what I mean? You look, it wasn't that case really the rest of the day. That drive, they did a good job of it. You know, and we've got to fit better. Some of it is good offense. Some of it is getting guys in the right position. Some of it's them creating some really good matchups out there on the field, of us, they have some players on the field you've got to be ready to defend. And them taking what they give us, you know what I mean? Or them taking what we gave them, and they were able to do that. But I think hopefully we're going to be a lot stouter in the run game this week."
Nay’Quan Wright. What kind of player is he?
“He’s a guy since he’s been here, that takes care of his business every day. Very quiet, not the loudest guy out there. Extremely, extremely intelligent football player, and I think you can see that not just with his talent but the plays that he makes – his reads, his patience running the ball, understanding this system, how to run routes. He’s got great hands coming out of the backfield. And I think, you know, part of it gets – I think everybody, as you are starting to see what we see more of every day in practice. Why are we rotating the backs? Why isn’t one back getting all the touches or all the carries? Because I think we have several guys that can contribute and do different things and run different styles in the game, that work hard and deserve those touches. I also think when you put different people in, plays hit a little different. I always say that. Plays hit a little different depending on what backs are in the game. We’re not running different plays, but they kind of fit differently and the same with guys running routes and how defenses want to match up with those people are different. The ability that we have multiple backs that can come in and do slightly different things and all of them play at a high level puts pressure on the defense. And Nay’Quan, I know not just with his talent but with his intelligence really puts pressure on defenses.”
Will you be more involved on Defense now?
“One, it’s my responsibility. I’m the head coach. I’m responsible for how we play and the performance of every phase of this team. Don’t expect me to be calling defensive plays out there. But we do. I went down and met with the defensive staff yesterday. We went through personnel. We went through each guy. We went through, are we asking guys to do things they can do well? Where are we being mismatched? Where is, right at this moment, where is their strength? Where is their weakness? And are we highlighting their strengths and protecting their weaknesses? We certainly look at that. I probably spent more time during a normal day with the defense but certainly not going to see – you know, just making sure we were going through every detail with them. But I wouldn’t expect me to be calling defensive plays or anything.”
Postgame changes, without giving your whole gameplan away what will they be?
“Tune in on Saturday to find out.”
Emory Jones unavailable vs. TAMU, what challenge does that present for you when he’s unavailable?
“I think one thing Emory does in coming up, like changing the running back that he brings a little different perspective to the position, and even running some of the plays he’s going to be a little bit different. Obviously the quarterback run that I alluded to earlier, when he is in there it does draw up very, very nicely, and the personnel fits him nicely as well, so that’s just another thing for the defense to have to defend and have to prepare for of finding where the guys are out on the field. I haven’t even gotten to a two quarterbacks on the field package yet, or we did have one in training camp where we had three quarterbacks on the field in one deal, but haven’t got to that yet, not that I want to give away all our secrets, but no I think when you’re utilizing personnel in different ways, it certainly puts and adds pressure to the defense of how they’re going to match up against those different people, and like I said schematically, there’s things Emory can do better than Kyle, so all of a sudden those things come into play schematically they have to prepare for, because you’re putting somebody in a position where they can do well.”
3QBs, Anthony Richardson at TE?
“I’m not going to tell you where they’re all going to be, but it is interesting to figure out who’s out there. I mean obviously one of them will take the snap, but you don’t know where everybody else might be, so.”
Dak Prescott’s injury?
“Yeah I was going to start with that today but went right into the question, but it was a very...First I had a lot going on, so I really didn’t get to see it, with everything going on, you know and all of a sudden I’m in meetings and my phone’s blowing up. And finally I pick up my phone after meetings and look that Alex Smith’s back on the field, which, you know, a very emotional deal I know to see him back out there, knowing everything that he’s been through, knowing the fight, the battle that he’s been through. A special moment for him, his family, for everybody. Probably one of the great comeback stories in NFL history, in sports history, coming back from an injury like that. So I thought that was so special, you know, and then within an hour or two of that happening you know you get the call that Dak’s out with a dislocated ankle. You see it right away you know what it is unfortunately, very unfortunately I’ve seen a couple of those before, and you know what it is as soon as it happens, you know, so I know we sent him messages and stuff and our prayers are with him out there. Despite everything else we had going on, the emotional day of seeing the roller coaster of both of those two guys, guys who are former players that you care about, you love so much, who you for them and their families and everybody to have to go through that, it was a pretty crazy day.”