Transcript: Mullen on the Opening Win, the Kyle's and Where The Florida Gators Defense Can Improve


Dan Mullen talks with Lane Kiffin before the 2020 opening game. Photo Courtesy: SEC

Florida Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen met with local media on Monday to recap the No. 3 Gators win over Ole Miss, how the Kyle to Kyle connection has been forged and what the defense needs to do to improve. He also spent time talking about his relationship with Steve Spurrier.


As a valued subscriber to GatorBait Magazine, we are offering this transcript in full.

Opening statement: 


“Obviously excited to get going and play in the Swamp this Saturday. You know it’s going to be great to be home and back to being in the home environment - playing in the Swamp, there is no environment like it. I can’t wait to see it. I think one thing. Even though there is a limited capacity at stadiums right now, fans can make a huge difference. So we need the Gator fans maximize, we can’t pack the swamp, but maximize what we can do at the Swamp on Saturdays. I know there are still tickets available for the game, which is something that is a little bit of different, unique. I think there are a lot of people I’ve talked to out there, 'oh coach, it’s just a shame, we would love to go to game this year, but we can’t get tickets this year’ or what the situation is. So there are still tickets available. All the Gator nation out there, if you want to come to the game, please contact … get in touch to the ticket office. There are still tickets available for Saturday’s game. And just like I said last week, it is such a huge deal to be in the Swamp on a Saturday in, I guess it will be in October now. To be in the Swamp in October feels normal, and I know life hasn’t always felt normal the past six months. Come join us in the Swamp this Saturday, it should be great the first home game.” 

Worried about defensive guys losing a bit of their confidence? 


“I think there is a lot of teachable moments from Saturday. I think there is a lot you can see in what happened in that game and why we had some of our breakdowns. I don’t want to take anything away from Ole Miss, obviously we were down some players in game one playing against an extremely up tempo offense, and they do a really good job of getting their playmakers the ball - you know what I mean. I mean they got a couple of guys that do stuff with it, and they do a good job of scheming those guys to make sure they get the ball. But I expect a much better defense. Normally at the beginning of the season, everybody is like, ‘okay the defenses are great and the offenses are going to take a little time to catch up.’ I think now that you have eliminated spring ball; when you eliminate the amount of tackling that you have done at this time; you expand this long training camp with the limitations that we had in it; I think it’s an advantage for the offense really - so this is what you are seeing. I expect us to make a really big jump from week one to week two defensively with tackling, the effort, with running to the football, with communication and making sure we are fitting everything properly. I think all of those things since we are kind of in a game mode, I expect us to be much better defensively this week.” 

DO YOU THINK THAT'S WHY WE SAW SO MANY CRAZY OFFENSIVE STATS IN SEC THIS WEEK? 


"I think it certainly has something to do with it, you know what I mean? I think there's great explosive players, but I certainly think that probably does have something to do with it. That opportunity; the guys could still throw and catch. They could go out and throw and catch on their own. They could do different things like that. We're able to have a ball at a walk-through, so you could, even though you're walking through, you can just throw it and catch it to somebody, so you get a little feel for the pass game that way with the walk-throughs that we had. What you missed was the defense fitting tackling, those things. I think it'll change as the season goes on." 

YOU'VE USED TIGHT ENDS FOR YEARS, DID YOU SPECIFICALLY CREATE LOT OF YOUR OFFENSE AROUND PITTS THIS OFFSEASON? 


"Yeah, you know, it was, I don't know if we created around it, we had it in there, but we know he's a mismatch out there on the field. So as you go pull different things and you're looking at your players, 'what do you expect to do well?' we looked at the tight end position and we know we have some really good tight ends. Not just him, but the other ones that we feel comfortable with in the offense. It's a position when you have those guys that we think are big, advantageous matchups for us, we're going to use the part of the offense that's going to highlight them more than maybe other years. That's something we certainly spent a lot of time with in the offseason, that we have enough ways that he's going to get the ball in his hands during the course of the game trying to create matchup problems for the defense." 

DRINK BOTTLE OF WINE FROM SPURRIER YET? 


"No." 

EVEN CALL THAT A BOTTLE? 


"It was a, right? I mean Kassidy's got a picture of it right there. I see it in her background drop. It is actually a bottle and it is wine. Hey, coach, I mean he didn't miss a beat. He was in here this morning, first time I saw him he had a botttle of wine for me. I called him out and he brought it." 


Coach spared no expense on bottle of wine? 


“Hey, that’s one thing about having Coach Spurier, I love having Coach Spurrier around because it’s, one, obviously to have a football person like that around the building and around all the time. I mean, I grew up a huge fan of him. Very rarely does he not walk in the room and put a smile of the face of everyone in the office.” 

Keeping Kyle Trask grounded? How improve on six TDs? 


“There’s a lot of things he can getter better at. We went through them on the film, I don’t know, you know. If he likes the attention and he likes his name being on the ticker of ESPN. If he likes that stuff then keep doing what he’s doing. If he doesn’t, go out and throw three picks, they won’t talk about him anymore. I don’t know, that’s kind of my take on it. You know what, he’s a guy who’s worked really hard to put himself in this position. He’s been on the big stage - it’s not too big for him. I think he understands and respects the position he’s in and doesn’t take it for granted, so I think that’s going to be the biggest thing. I don’t know that he’s going to look … hey, I don’t know that he’s going to have six touchdown passes every week. It’d be great if he does. But I think most important to him is he’s doing his job managing the game, making good decisions, putting us in the right plays, getting the ball out of his hands fasters and being accurate. That’s the stuff that he worries about. Just like before, I mean, he never came in and worried about being the starter, he wanted to be the starter, but he wasn’t worried about it. He was worried about improving and getting better. Now that he’s the starter I expect more of the same of him just worried about improving and getting better.” 

Never had a QB throw 6 TDs? 


“That sounds about right. That’s because Brian Johnson, once you make him the coordinator right there we start, you know, as he said if you let me call my own plays when I was playing for you I would have had six touchdowns all the time. I’d throw it every play (laughs). That helps a lot. I’m probably a little bit more run heavy and he’s a little more pass heavy, and we end up throwing the ball a little more.” 

What does it say, though, given the dudes you’ve had at QB? 


“I think it’s great. A lot of the credit goes to him and where he went with the ball, and how fast he made those decisions. And how to get it to the right player. I think he knows we have a lot of confidence in his throwing the ball. It does say a lot about him. I’ve had some pretty good quarterbacks over the years, so that’s pretty unique deal. I would bet, I don’t think I’ve had anybody throw for six. Timmy had seven, right?, but he didn’t throw for all seven, he accounted for seven in a game.”

You had a lot of fives, Dak Prescott and Alex Smith, but no sixes.


"Alright! If he would've thrown that ball a little quicker to Trent Whittemore, he would have had seven."

How does your time as a college TE influence how you see and use the position?


"Well you know, I'm biased to those guys, right? I mean, I was a quarterback and a tight end really in my football career. So you know, and you wonder why our quarterback threw six touchdowns and four of them to our tight end? I'm just biased to those guys I guess, is what it must be. No, I think in football, you look at, one of the things we've always tried to do is try to create advantageous matchups, right? And, you know, just go through the years of different guys I've had. You know, used to be a big zone-read team and then all of a sudden you have a Chris Rainey, a Jeff Demps with a Tebow, and you just run the reverse zone-read. Then those guys run outside, Tebow pounds away inside. You have a Percy Harvin, how are you getting him in space, right, to go make plays. Dak Prescott, are you building your offense around what he does well and change from one year to the next, not kind of box yourself in. To me, it's really about having enough offensive system that can highlight players. We've had years, we've had a bunch of years we've had 1,000 yard rushers. But how do you build your offense around, being able to highlight players, and then pick and choose and make sure you're putting them in position to do that and play to their strengths. That's what we've always tried to do."

How did young guys on defense do and how much will those reps help moving forward?


"Well, it was a lot. We had a lot of guys play defense and special teams. Obviously, it's a long season, there's a chance this could be a season like no other, you know what I mean? I don't know who's going to be available from week to week. And so, when you look at those things, when there's a possibility that happen, it's probably more than next-man-up mentality as a regular year would be. So it's great to get guys reps, get them out there, get them that experience on the field. You know, I talked to the guys. 'You never know how many reps you're going to get, and reps are valuable, but you better make sure that you're ready for when your number's called, that you've prepared the right way to be ready to go make plays during the course of the game'. So, it was great to get guys reps, get guys out on the field, because you don't know how much we're going to need them as the year goes on."

See elements of this offense being explosive? 


“Well, we were on Saturday. We’ll see how we do this Saturday. I don’t know. I just want to see us get better from week to week. Do we have components? Yes, because we have explosive players in the offense. We have guys that are explosive players, so when you have those, when you have guys that can make big plays happen, it gives you the opportunity to have a much more explosive offense. So I think it certainly has the potential to be from week to week. But, like I said, I also think defenses … unlike normal years, where kind of the offenses pick up as the year goes on, I think it’s going to go the opposite way and defenses will start catching up quicker. So you’ll see the bigger stats earlier in the year offensively rather than late this year more than in normal years.”

How much can we attribute this to a more experienced O-line? 


“I think it helps. There are certain things that help. One, we have a little bit of a veteran offensive line. Two, we played an SEC road game where, even though there were good people, in the crowd there was this. Usually, when you’re playing on the road in the league, it’s deafening; you can’t hear a thing. You saw that in the NFL. I think I was leaving the office last night and I saw Aaron Rodgers _ I had the TV on background _ in New Orleans using snap count to use them to jump offsides. I’m sure no one’s every used snap count in New Orleans as the visiting team before. There’s certain offensive advantages to those things that you have just because of circumstances this year. Obviously having a veteran quarterback helps, a veteran offensive line certainly helps as you have to make in-game adjustments. And then just game mechanics it’s a little bit easier this year with not having to deal with massive crowds on the road. That’s why every Gator matters this weekend to make it as loud as we possibly can for South Carolina.” 

How often does Spurrier just pop in? 


“He wasn’t waiting for us. He came in. He comes in, does his workouts, does different things. When he came down, he has his office. I saw him walking by, so I…Right before we tweeted it, we go the picture, then we tweeted it out. He’ll come by. He’ll come by, have some thoughts on different things, football thoughts for us. And I just love it. It’s always good that you have…since I’ve been here, he’s a guy that comes in and is not judgmental. I think as everybody knows, he’s not afraid to give you advice on different things, or speak his mind and give his thoughts. But he always does it to me in a very positive, constructive, helping way as a coach. I think it is great to have somebody like that around, just sticks his head in every once in a while, give his thoughts on what’s going on.”   

Any suggestions you’ve used? 


“Oh yeah. He’ll draw up some plays for us now. He’s got a bunch of plays.” 

Any that you’ve used? 


“Yeah. We called one. Usually it’s not as much during the season sometimes offseason, he’ll review stuff and say hey, we’ve run this before, or we’ve run that before. We put one of them in last year, we ran a bunch of times called Spurrier because he gave it to us, so we called it Spurrier and put it in. I can’t give you away our play calling. Obviously it was pass play, not a run play. I’m sure you guessed that.” 

Ventrell Miller is Defensive POY in the SEC. His performance? 


“I think he had a great deal of tackles. He plays so hard. He’s a great leader for the defense. I think last year was really his first time starting. This year I think he understand that he’s expected to be the leader of the defense. He does that every single day. I think it’s a great learning experience for all of our players out there. You watch him practice, and you watch how he prepares, how hard he practices, how he prepares to be in the right position, his attention to detail and everything he does at practice. And then you see that translate over to the games. That’s not just that he’s a vocal leader and going to talk up and get guys going, but he’s also going to back it up with his actions. You know what? You watch how he practices, how he performs every day on the field, it translates to seeing a guy be able to go out and have a huge game like he did on Saturday.” 

Is this indicative of what the offense can do? 


“Well, I think it’s a little bit of having veteran players that are still able to throw and catch, so you’re a little bit ahead. I certainly hope we continue to improve offensively. We didn’t come out to peak in week one. I expect the offense to get better. I just think the curve is going to be quicker for the defense as the season goes on and we start playing more football.” 

Guys really didn’t get penalized much. Just looking at the past of Florida and how much the Gators were penalized, last in the league, three times in the last 10 years. What emphasis do you have on not having penalties? 


“They kill or extend drives. We put a lot on it. Our one big thing is going into game one was a lot of the focus not as much on Ole Miss as on ourselves and handle game mechanics offensively. Can we come out there execute and handle being back on game day Saturday. Obviously, you look at the Shawn penalty was big early. But, we really didn’t have many penalties the whole game. That was something that we attribute to. We talked a lot about going into game one. We hadn’t watched their offense or defense play. They had a whole new coaching staff. A lot of our focus and attention had to be on ourselves and could we execute, could we handle that transition into game wee? Offensively, we did. With not many penalties and defensively with the exception of the. … you know the targeting, which is a tough call, guy’s running over the middle. I think Shawn tried to throw the shoulder in there. Guys are lower at catching the ball. We talk about it all the time. It’s kind of a bang-bang play. It’s tough that that happened. I don’t think there was intent there at all in any way shape or form. It’s just one of those things that try to coach and try to get out of the game, keep the game as safe as possible. Even with that one, overall I think we were pretty clean on the day penalty wise.” 

Something you work on in the offseason, procedural wise you work on? 


“Yeah. It helps having some older players. It’s something we really talked about paying attention to going into the week. We might not have as much research on this team as we have on other teams, so let’s really focus on our execution of doing everything perfectly going into the game.” 

Are the moves that Malik [Davis] and [Nay'Quan] Wright showed the reason you want to get them the ball in space? 


“Always. But I think everybody saw that. I think Malik last year, and I don’t want to say not 100 percent, but it his total performance wasn’t. That was the guy I saw, both running and catching the ball on Saturday. I think a lot of times when you look at the rushing or the running back stats, if you combine our three runnings — if we had just played one — really a pretty good day for the backs, if that was one back. But I like to roll those guys through some. Like I say, this is going to be a unique year for us and to get guys experience. Those guys play a bunch on special teams, as well. To create depth within the team it was good to get all those guys in the game. I was pleased with how Malik played, I thought Pierce ran hard, and it was great to get Nay’Quan some real game reps out and did a really nice job catching the ball out of the backfield.” 

The cut Davis made, and his confidence 


“That’s what we weren’t seeing last year, some of that explosiveness and make-you-miss and foot-in-the-ground and change-in-direction. And I think you’re seeing that now again.” 

Coach Spurrier told Dooley if you win a SEC championship you get two bottles of wine—

 

“He said to me against this morning. I love it. As soon as he said it to me I was laughing. It was awesome.” 

Brian Johnson’s debut as coordinator 


“Obviously, he did a really good job, right? I was the OC here and we never had that many yards or touchdown pass, so I guess he did better than I did.” 

Do you remember first game as OC against Wyoming 


“Was it Wyoming? … I know we won. … Wyoming was pretty tough, though. It was our first game. We were learning a lot about ourselves back then; how to run the offense; how to adjust to what we’re doing; we were coming off the year at Utah, just all knew players. I remember this: You knew your team at Utah kind of inside and out and then you came here and got into games and during the course of the year we tweaked some things during the year with the offense as we got more familiar with everybody.” 

South Carolina’s defense and how they might try to take away Pitts 


“They have some length out there. They have some long corners and big safeties. They’re probably going to have some athletes that they can match up with him. They’re big men and play a lot of man coverage, so you’ll have some one-on-one matchups, so it’s about creating the best match-up we can. I think they have a very talented front. They have some veteran guys who are starters, and then really a bunch of five-star guys that they have recruited over the last few years. Very, very talented front, as well. It’ll be a big challenge. Every time, each of the last few years, this game, it’s kind of come down to the end. We have to be ready to go play for four quarters.” 

Why is Pitts so hard to cover, what strengths does he bring to the game? 


“I think, one, when you look that he is a tight end. But if you go look at that, it is about the mismatches. I mean, he’s got the size, so when DBs are on him, a lot of times, he can go over the top of DBs. He can run away from backers. He’s got tremendous athletic ability to go catch the ball, and as I think everybody saw, he’s really developed much better as a blocker this offseason. When you combine those things defensively, who do you put on him? You know what I mean. It’s like we talked, he’s kind of a unicorn, right? So unless you have a unicorn on defense to match the unicorn on offense – you’ve got to have a guy that, there’s not a lot of them out there, they’re kind of very, very rare to ever see one – do you have a 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebacker than can run with him? Or do you have a 6-3 1/2, 220 safety that’s physical as he is at the point of attack. So that’s really what makes him a mismatch. But you see it. It’s not anything that is new. You’re watching Kelce, and you’re watching Kittle, and you’re watching Gronkowski, you’re watching all these guys do this all throughout the NFL. It goes back to, whether it’s – who are some of the other guys? – I mean there’s a bunch of them that have been doing it for years in the NFL. They’re just mismatch problems, and I think one of the things coaches are doing in just trying to create those matchups. You know what, if I can put him in space and make the matchup better than putting him in tight, well then I’m going to put in space to create that little bit more room for him to work and make the matchup even better and even more in our advantage.” 

BOTH KYLE’S SEEMED TO BE A LOT MORE COMFORTABLE ADJUSTING, BEING ABLE TO MOVE AROUND AND SWITCH MIDFLIGHT “I think, I think, you know one thing Kyle does a good job, he's gonna put the ball where the defense isn’t. You know whether he's gonna go over the top or whether he's gonna put it on the back shoulder. Also it's just experienced; the sliding in the pocket, the scrambling, the moving. And then you look at the receivers you know when we do that, the ability for them to kind of find the windows, you know, as he's sliding to his right, 'hey I might break off my route, slide to the right with him and get in a window for him to throw it.' And I think that does, that comes from experience, not just from those two but all our guys that have played some played a bunch of football.” 

PRESSURE OF PUTTING TOGETHER ROSTER AT LAST MINUTE 


"Well, you know, what's what's tricky is it's, you know, it can be changing. You know what I mean. So you kind of have a, you have a Monday roster. You know, then you got kind of a Thursday roster that you expect to bring into the game and then you kind of have a Friday roster, you know if you got to go to the bullpen, um. And you know, you're trying to manage it throughout the week and balance to make sure however it plays out that we're ready to go play a game on Saturday. And so a lot that goes into it; you know our roster was honestly, was decided on on Friday morning. Really actually Thursday night at about 10 o'clock last week, you know we got somewhat set on the roster. But you know there, there's still changes all the way into Saturday for us that we had to make. So just a different year…unfortunately I don’t have free agency to get on the call, on the phone real quick and get somebody in here so you know we’re, we're managing with what we have and trying to balance it as best we can.” 

SCOUT TEAM HAVING TO LEARN THE GAME PLAN EACH WEEK IN CASE ROSTER NEEDS NUMBERS; WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE? 


"I think you know one of the things is that, that, you know you have guys that probably, you know are just taking reps on the offense or defense, having to go down and play scout team because your numbers are down right. So those guys that may be, you know, are limited rep guys on offense or defense are now on the scout team and they got to get those reps either in walkthrough or film session to get ready to play. So, that is a little bit different for us this year too and you know what, for us to have a successful year is going to take a lot of unselfish guys on this team. You know a lot of guys buying into doing 'hey I'm here to do whatever it takes to help the team win.' You know, and as long as we keep that attitude, we have a chance to be successful. As selfishness starts to creep in and guys are worried about themselves, it's going to be harder to manage because you know guys are like 'hey I don't want to do that. I don't want to do this. I don't, I don't want to do what it takes for the team to win,’ we’ll have a lot of problems.” 

WHAT ARE THE MAIN THREAS SOUTH CAROLINA POSES OFFENSIVELY? 


"Well I mean they got, they got some really good players. It's unique, the quarterback, you know he's come in and he's a veteran within this system even though it's just first start for them last week. He's played within the system I think. So he knows the system they're running, decision making, they do, they a couple good backs to get the ball to; they got you know they got some wide outs. They always do a good job of creating, having some wideouts and creating matchup issues with those wideouts to try to take advantage of the guys and you know try to get there. Same thing, similar thing to what we do is try, try to get their talented guys in the best advantageous one-on-one matchup they can that they can. And so even though it is, you know I mean you look at their quarterback position, I think is the big one, that they have a guy that's a veteran in the system and the guy on the bench that started for them last year so they have some experience there to come out and make plays and be comfortable within what they're doing.” 


Brett Heggie and the o-line


"I thought he played well. I thought the offensive line, as a whole, played well. A lot of times that almost ends up being a team award. I know it goes to the individual, and I give Brett a lot of credit. He was well deserving and had a great game, having to go in and jump in at center. He was a guy who was going to play either center or guard and had to do both — he was forced to play center — and did a great job of it. Obviously, very deserving of that. You look, there weren’t a lot of mistakes up front. As the game went on, I think we made some good adjustments to what they were doing to run the ball even more efficiently than we did early in the game, and a lot of that goes on the center. But overall, I thought the offensive line played well, and he is the center of that line and the focal and the apex of that line. I’m glad he was able to get the recognition for that.”

Stewart Reese’s first game as a Gator


Great. I think having missed the offseason hurt Stew a little bit. I expect him to continue to get better. I saw a couple ups and downs. One thing I think he knows having played for before is that I have pretty high standards and expectations. That’s not going to shock him. So overall, he graded a champion and I thought he payed pretty well. 

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