Florida Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen spoke with local media on Monday. He recapped the No. 4 Gators win over South Carolina, previewed the Texas A&M matchup on Saturday and expressed frustration with a lack of pressure in the second half versus the Gamecocks.
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"I would like to thank all the fans that came out and cheered us on and created that atmosphere for us..Unbelievable in this time to have that energy and how critical their energy is over the course of the game. You go back and we have had a lot of improvements on both sides of the ball but made some critical errors too. The two turnovers offensively, giving them the ball on a short field twice to account for 14 of the 24 points we gave up really goes on the offense. And then at 38-14 our ability to finish the game, if you look at the game from that point forward, offensively is not very good at all. Defensively, they were going for it a lot on fourth down and we got to understand, when you get the big leads, getting off the field is not just about third down, it is about third down and fourth down. So we got that stuff that we could continue to improve on.
"On the injury front, we came out of the game pretty healthy…Here is how I will handle this the rest of the year. With the uniqueness of the situation, with COVID and everybody trying to find out, ‘okay, what's this guy got? What's going on with him? Is he COVID positive? He’s not.’ For the safety, security and the privacy of players, if someone does have an injury that will have them out for a significant amount of time I will certainly let you guys know on the injury front- as we did with Ethan White, who is coming along and we hopefully expect him back..hopefully two more weeks. With everybody else we will keep it with who is available and who is not available - to who is not available on game day. At this point coming out of that game, we didn’t have any injuries with Ethan still two weeks. Ethan and Ethan, Ethan Pouncey and Ethan White out a couple of more weeks. We expect everybody else to be available on Saturday."
Opponents’ abilities to run for first down in opening two games
"Well there are a couple of combinations of that. Number one which is in game one, a bunch of their first downs on third downs came on scrambles, which essentially is a run first down, even though it's a pass play - so we kind of break it down into different categories. Is it run play or pass play? Or is it a pass play that's a scramble? Or is a pass play that's a throw and a completion? So that's one. And then a couple, you know a bunch of the other ones in the short yardage you know and I think, you know, you go back to this past game when you're six, you know—you know the defense, we stop them 11 out of 17 on third down, but give up five out of six on fourth down, and you know a bunch of those were kind of fourth and shorts that we gave up the run. So you know we got to make sure that we're taking care of business not just third down, fourth down, especially when we're playing with a big lead.”
With that said, can you consider some of the defensive issues flukey? You did give up 350 yards-
“Certainly not flukey. I think, you know if you watch it, I think it's growing into it. I think we tackled, we tackled significantly better this game and our effort was significantly better this past game. I think we're still getting into the live aspect of football and the different things for, especially guys that haven't played, you know when you look at it and say 'hey, you know, Coach were great on third down.' When you put, you're up 38, you know, whatever it is 38-14 whatever it was at that point, when you're up at that score is really goes into fourth down. Middle of the third quarter they started going, they were a four down team. And, you know, so that is, you know you have double, you have to make two plays to get off the field instead of one. So I think that's part of it, of, of how the game came on and I think you know one thing I’d love to see is to start faster. If you look at the last two games, we've kind of started slow, completely shut them down in the middle, and then didn't finish at the end. You know, and then this week you throw into that the offense not finishing at the end. You know, I mean 38-14, when you look at that stat line and 38-14—from that point forward we had nine plays for 11 yards on offense. Had a turnover and a three and out. You know I don’t count the take a knee at the end of the game, but you know I mean, nine plays, 11 yards, three-and-out and a turnover. Defensively had 40 plays for 160 yards, more than a third of their yards came after we were up 38-14. Gave up 10 points and then stopped them on a goal line play at the end. So you know our ability right then as a full complete team, at that point to put the game away. You know you're, you're a stop, or a score away really from the game being completely out of reach and a lot of backups even playing, you know? And that was disappointing that we didn't do that to kind of like, you know, we kind of started a little bit slow defensively, got into a rhythm and jumped out big, and then kind of, instead of ‘let's finish the game,' we just kind of cruised the finish line. And we got to, you know, we got to get that that changed."
How do you coach or teach killer instinct?
“I just think it comes from playing, you know what I mean? It’s getting back into that whole game mindset. It’s like at practice, ‘Hey, we get it taught. I’ve got it figured out. I know we got this period. I got it, coach. I’m kind of going through the motions.’ And guys looking at the scoreboard and saying, ‘OK, 38-14, we got this one kind of in the bag. I know we’ve got to keep playing, but let’s go through the motions.’ You can’t do that. I just think it’s maybe a side effect of everything going on right now. Just part of the whole deal. It’s something that we talked about this morning as a team. It comes from practice. It’s got to be addressed at practice. It’s got to be addressed on how we practice. It’s got to be addressed with every aspect and every member of the team, start to finish the effort we give and the looks we give, whether I’m on the scout team, whether I’m a backup or I’m a starter. It’s got to start at practice with just that mindset of complete while we’re playing, everything we do, maximum effort to finish.”
Frustrating to get just a handful of plays in a quarter?
“Yeah, I think teams have their plan of who they are, you know? We played Ole Miss two weeks ago and they were just going to go as fast as possible. South Carolina plan obviously was to ball control, slow the game way down, limit the number of plays you can get offensively. I think that goes from game to game, but it shows the efficiency you need offensively. You’ve got to be efficient on offense. That’s a big thing we always harp on. You don’t know how many plays and opportunities you’ll get. Obviously, our last couple possessions offensively were very disappointing, really the whole second half very disappointing offensively of the game. But that’s the key to being efficient throughout the course of the game.”
How well do you know Jimbo Fisher?
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ve played against him. He got to A&M when I got here, right? So I don’t think I’ve ever played against him that way. I know him. I know him. I’ve talked to him a little bit. I know him from the SEC meetings, know him as a head coach, talking that way. Never spent significant amount of time with him. Always thought he does a great job, obviously a great offensive coach, puts his guys in good position to make plays, innovative, understands how to utilize the personnel he has to build the offense around the personnel, not just, ‘Hey, this is our system and everyone has to fit this exact system.’ Has the ability to kind of play to the strengths of his players.”
What's jumped out to you on film for Texas A&M?
"I mean, everything. They're very, very talented players, got a veteran quarterback, they got a bunch of really good skill players offensively that can make plays in the pass-game and in the run game. You know, defensively, hands down the best defensive front we've seen. They've been more banged up in the secondary, but they got really athletic guys and veteran linebackers. Certainly a team, I know that preseason a lot of people expect them to go compete for the SEC West championship, and you can see why on film that they are a legit football team. Even in last week's game, you saw them, I saw them play right with Alabama with the exception of explosive plays. You look at some of the big-number plays, it wasn't like Alabama was just driving up and down the field on them, they hit some explosives to kinda pull the game away."
Offensive balance elusive, is that just the nature of the team? What are the causes?
"You always play to the strength of your guys, so you go with what's working. Like our goal, coming in this week our goal is to be 50-50, right? I mean, if we can knock them off the ball, run the ball, we'll do that. If they're struggling covering us we're gonna keep throwing. I don't know, that's my best answer for you. When we write up the gameplan, our goal going into every game is to be 50-50. You know, the first two games, we go and do our evaluations we're run-efficient. So, our run game's been very efficient, been a positive for us this year as we evaluate from play-to-play, the run efficiency. So, our run game's been actually really good this year, we've had a lot of success throwing it so we probably called more pass plays. But, our goal is to be 50-50."
Just curious on thoughts, averaging 45 points.
"But statistically, I don't know, as you're just calling plays you kind of get into the flow of things and you're looking at matchups, and how people are playing you. Where we're getting the ball, who we wanna get it to, kind of the flow of the game and how it goes sometimes too, you know?"
How do you feel about the all SEC schedule?
“Nothing against South Alabama but Texas A&M is probably a little bit better. I think it’s going to be a challenge. I think obviously when you look at playing the all-SEC schedule it’s a lot of fun. It makes every game critical. When you’re playing in the best conference in college football — not even really close — and you gotta play 10 conference games and everybody is playing seven or eight, it certainly is going to lead for a challenging year but if you’re a competitor, I’m a competitor and our guys are competitions. I think our guys are really excited about it, having the opportunity to play an all-SEC schedule and every week being a big-time game.”
Playing young players at the same time show how much you trust them?
“Absolutely. You look at them and they make plays. One of the things we try to do is roll our guys through. Kind of going back to the other one, you’re going to play a 10-game SEC schedule, with COVID, with everything else happening you better have guys be ready for the next man up mentality more than ever before. Part of our job is making sure guys are ready to go do that. You don’t get better always sitting on the bench the entire time. We’re not afraid to roll guys through and get them out there on the field. Those guys, I mean Trent came out and had a pretty good game. Shorter came out and had a pretty good game, Xzavier Henderson’s played pretty well so far. What happens is when you get in on Sunday afterward and look at the total number of reps, very much to what we did last year, it’s allowed and going to keep guys healthier throughout the course of the season, hopefully. It keeps guys fresher during the course of the game. Receivers can be major contributors on special teams and the running backs, skill players are major contributors on special teams. That’s one of the reasons we do it. Those guys work at it in practice. They’ve earned the right to get some snaps. We keep them in and I think it helps the program as a whole.”
A school down two scores, you want to give them the clock a little bit. From an offensive perspective what could you do to counteract that?
“I think this, I look at things this way. I’ve always believed this as an offensive coach. When you’re down two scores, you have to get the first before you can get the second. Sometimes you get into such a rush to get the first that you never give yourself an opportunity to get the second. You’ve got to manage the clock, you’ve got to look at your timeout situation, the score of the game, how much time do you need for the second score. And make sure you put yourself in a position to get the second score. But not in a panic to not get the first, if that makes sense. After you get the first, now you’re in, depending on the clock, you’re going to kind of instead of going hurry-up, two-minute offense, you’re going to run your offense to get the first score. When it gets to the point where you need to pick up the tempo and go, but you want to run your offense to get that first score, and then it’s a one-score game. Do you onside kick? What’s your timeout situation? Do you kick deep and pin them deep and try to get the ball back how much time do we need to get it back down the field? Do we try the onside kick with the amount of time left, or how is that going to affect field position when we get it back another time? So, I think all of these things come into consideration. How you’re trying to manage the game in the fourth quarter. It does defensively. You look at the last two games, trust me, I know Todd, all of us, we want to get off the field. Get the defense off the field, get the offense back on the field. Multiple scores in the fourth quarter. But not to the point where we want to give up an explosive play and give them an easy score. We want to make them earn it. It’s that fine line back and forth in each of the the last two weeks, basically, the defense has kind of finished the game on the field. Basically, the defense eating up the clock for us instead of the offense have to go out there and grind out first downs. The defense forced them to go on a long drive, keep it all in front of them, don’t give them anything easy, and basically end the game.”
To fans can be frustrating to watch, why are they letting them pick up six yards for a first down. How much has analytics helped change your mindset to do something like that?
“It is. That term, it was like annoying. We want to get a stop and get the offense on the field. It got kind of annoying. In the end, our goal is to win football games however we need to do it. Now, trust me, I’d rather us get off the field, get the offense the ball back, go score again. Finish the game out that way and not even have the opportunity for it to get close at the end after being up by 24 in the third quarter, to not even let it get close. But you’re also going to play, everything you’re doing is to win the game, not to make mistakes. It’d be a terrible thing to sit there and say, hey, our, our … I don’t know what it would be, just our decisions cost us the game. I never want to sit there and say our decisions to play maybe for fun or excitement or whatever the word might be cost us the game instead of doing what we needed to do to win.”
Grading process, and Trent Whittemore among highest?
“Yeah, he graded out a Champion. So our grading process is this, basically the position coaches grade it and the coordinators will meet with them afterwards and we’ll watch kind of together as a group to go through the grades. So on ours’, you get an ‘S’ (satisfactory per Goldy), ‘S’ you did the right thing, minus you did the wrong thing. You get a plus, you did the right thing and something special beyond that. A double-minus you made a turnover or made a critical error. A zero, you really had no effect on the play, you weren’t involved in the play in any way, shape or form. Then mathematically we have the formula to kind of grade all that out - I”m not going to get into all the math on it right now. But essentially if you grade 80 percent, you grade a Champion for us. We had a bunch of guys who graded out Champions for us this week, Whittemore was one of the guys that graded a Champion - had a great game. It helped, a touchdown, so you get a plus for a touchdown, a plus for a spectacular catch over the middle, as well as being consistent on your other plays - so you get extra credit for those things. But that’s how the system works. We look at guys, we figure if you grade 80 percent or above that’s a championship effort, or a Champion effort, a championship effort, so you grade a Champion. You’re on the board downstairs, you get recognized in front of the team, a Champion tag and all that stuff.”
Talk about the offense and defense coming together, team buses?
"Uhh, no. I ride the defensive bus, but now we don't, now everybody's assigned specific bus seats. Normally, defense is on bus one and I'm on, I ride with the defense. But it isn't, no, I think we come together. Me as a head coach, my job, I know I'm a little more offensive-oriented, but I spend, on the practice field I spend as much time with the defense as I do the offense. You know, 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. And chances are, you know, both could frustrate fans but, usually, it's you know what the plan was going into it, right? We're collaborating, which is, hey, you know offensively, we want to, this team's a super high-tempo team. We might need to play a little bit more ball control to give the defensive guys some rest between series, and that'll affect how we do things offensively, okay? Hey, this team is a big-time defense, so defense we need this. Hey, we have got to create three-and-outs to flip field position for the offense. Same with, these guys got great players, it's going to be tough for us to drive the length of the field. Everything kind of works and is coordinated together within the staff, so that we go into the game, we kind of know the offensive and defensive plan as coaches. You know the players, they know and we put on them to a point of what we do, but you know, not as much the entire, before the game we talk a little bit about the big picture and after the game we talk about the big picture of it all. But you know, they have so many responsibilities from one play to next, I'm worried about 'Are you going as hard as you can, doing your job on this play?' And, we'll take care of the big picture part of managing the whole course of the game for you."
Taking what defense gives you, even with Kyle Pitts, what makes Trask able to take what the defense gives him?
“Well I mean, he’s been in the system for a while. Brian does a great job coaching the quarterbacks and we talk about this. As we design it, you come out, you look at the coverage, you look at the matchup, you have to anticipate. You don’t assume but you anticipate where you think the ball s going to go and you deliver the ball where it’s supposed to be. That’s why he’s playing quarterback for us. If he isn’t doing that we’d go with somebody else. That’s just kind of what we’ve always expected of our quarterbacks. We have get-it-tos and on those ones he’s getting the ball to that guy. If not, I’m just going through my progression. I’m just going through my reads and taking what the defense gives me. That’s the sign of what we expect out of our quarterbacks and that’s the sign of good quarterback play to be honest with you. Our job is to kind of create the matchups or the get-it-tos, or create advantageous matchups for a guy like Tre Grimes, or Kyle Pitts, or Kadarius Toney or whoever’s in the game, to create those advantageous matchups. For the receivers, or motion the running backs, how we’re creating matchups is on us as we create the game plan. His job is to take the game plan and manage it throughout the course of the game.”
Play calling is a collaborative, has it changed with Brian being the OC this year?
“No, it’s really the same deal. We are all collaborative in creating the game plan and putting it all together. Between series, we kind of get opinions on what everybody wants to run and what they like. While we’re on the field, Brian or I call the plays. So that’s kind of how the collaboration works. Right now everybody inputs probably equal in between series. Everybody’s input is kind of equal in what we want to do and then on that specific play, someone has to spit it out so sometimes it’s me and sometimes it’s Brian. Sometimes it’s both of us, we both want to yell it out. And I usually get the final say when that happens. It doesn’t mean we’re going to run that play, but if Brian and I both yell a play out, I’ll be like ‘run yours, call it’. Then he runs the play. I stop talking so that it’s not like multiple people talking at the same time.”
Zachary Carter Defensive Lineman of the Week, what did he do this offseason adding weight to make that transition?
“I think when you look at a guy that you play inside and outside, there’s a little bit of a mix there… really you look at your self evaluation and that’s a guy that has bought into our program more than or at least as much as any of the d-linemen that we’ve had since we’ve been here in what we expect from him, with the effort from him we expect to play, and how we expect him to do it. He’s done an amazing job of buying into all of that. Part of that is you look at a self-evaluation… I’m not this twitchy, edge rusher, even though I have the athletic ability to play defensive end. I’m not this big, bulky interior guy. So how do I become this guy that’s a really athletic interior guy that can be a bigger outside guy? And really buy into that. You’ve seen him look at what his strengths are and then play to his strengths and buy into his strengths, and you see the success he’s having now. He’s not going to be a big 340 inside guy, but he’s really quick. He’s big enough to be quick inside, and he’s not this twitch edge guy, but he’s a big edge guy that has athletic ability. So that helps him create those different matchups where we can move him around on the field.”
His transition – how much has that helped with Kyree out?
“I think really the first two games, different guys that we’ve had missing on defense has made it a challenge. Guys missed for multiple reasons. It’s been a challenge. It’s forced him to have to step up a lot more. But sometimes when that stuff happens, when you have guys out, it might be a struggle on that given week, but it creates depth in the long term of a season. And hopefully we’re going to see that as we move forward. We’re going to start to have a lot more depth on the defensive front.”
Kyle still not thrown a pick?
“Kyle Trask? He threw a pick.”
It didn’t look like it on the replay…
“Call those guys, then. They evaluate all the turnovers. It’s one thing, you know, I think when you’re a coach when you get into a challenge situation in the course of a game on a bang-bang play, you’re going to think you want to challenge it. On anything like a scoring play, on any scoring plays or change of possession plays, there is a gap between one play and the next. It’s not – you don’t see the offense…If it’s a questionable play in our favor, then you want to snap the ball as fast as you possibly can the next play. If it’s a questionable play in our favor, we probably hard count, take our time, snap it with one second left on the play clock, right? Or if we’re not on offense, challenge one way or the other. But on those type of plays, they review every play. And so the ones that were going to have – you look after turnovers, when there’s a break in the action or a scoring play before a PAT field goal’s going to be kicked, you just kind of assume they got the call right. Because if it wasn’t confirmed, they would stop the game play.”
Discuss Justin Shorter’s effectiveness on the goal-line rub or pick play that freed up Whittemore’s TD:
“He just ran a hitch. The benefit he has is he’s a big guy, so he goes and runs a hitch. And he’s a physical guy, so sometimes it’s hard to press physical guys. He did a great job of shoring up the hitch and being there. When you’re whatever he is — 6-4 and 220 or 225 —you can push and get leverage, and then he itches on the goal. They ended up with both guys covering him and Trent wheeled around and came free. The benefit of having big guys is if both guys passed off to Trent, you’ve got this big, giant guy standing there with a big target right in the middle of end zone. I thought he did a great job.
Assess your tackles through two games:
I think these guys have done pretty good. I mean, I’m always extremely critical so there’s things we can get better. At a consistent basis though, I think these guys have played pretty solidly so far this year. When you’re gonna throw the ball, and we’ve thrown it more than we’ve run it, those guys get put on a little bit more of an island and those expectations go up, or there chance of exposure goes up, and they’ve handled that well. It’s nice to have guys that are veteran guys there and have played some football so they can handle all of that stuff”
Do you see the Gators having a cutthroat mentality:
“I think it’s growing, and I don’t want to downplay that we don’t have it. I think the uniqueness of the season has led to that. If you would’ve asked me in March, ‘Do you think you are going to have that?’ I would’ve said yes. But with everything that’s gone on I think we’re still developing and figuring a lot of things out.”
Biggest pandemic impact?
“I think our experience at certain positions — obviously continuity of the program and continuity of the staff — certainly helps with all of this that’s going on. On the flip side of it, there’s probably too much to go over. For men, there’s certain things we like within our development and son much has been missed and so much is different. Our routine’s different and how we meet and how we do things. Everybody is very much out of their comfort zone. And I’m a very routine, discipline, structural, development-type person, and so that’s probably the hardest thing. Just everything that’s going on with the whole pandemic.”