Florida began Dan Mullen’s second stint in Gainesville much more impressively than it began his first.
When Urban Meyer took the Gators’ head coaching job in 2005, he brought Mullen along from Utah as offensive coordinator. The spread system Meyer was attempting to install sputtered throughout the course of the season opening game against Wyoming. Florida slogged its way to a 32-14 win on the back of a strong late effort from Chris Leak, but Meyer was fuming. “That sucked,” he told reporters. “In case you were wondering what our offense looked like, that wasn’t it.”
On the contrary, the Gators’ offense looked better in Mullen’s head coaching debut, a 53-6 victory over Charleston Southern for the Gators than it has since the last time Mullen worked with the Florida offense. Yes, it came against a Bucs team that finished last year 6-5 in the FCS’s Big South conference. But this was the best impression the Gators could have possibly left us with given the opposition.
For starters, Feleipe Franks turned in by far his best performance as a college quarterback. He managed just eleven touchdown passes throughout the 2017 season; he had five before halftime against the Buccaneers, who actually got some sporadic penetration on the line for a little while before the Gators’ strength advantage took over. He also went 16/24 for 219 yards on the night before making way for Kyle Trask. To boot, the defense played extremely well, nearly pitching a shutout until CSU found the end zone a minute into the final stanza.
But that Charleston Southern touchdown was the lone Buccaneer highlight on a night that belonged to Florida.
Mullen’s squad wasted no time putting the game away. The game was barely two minutes old when Franks found Ohio State transfer Trevon Grimes for a 34 yard touchdown down the right sideline. Florida’s second drive stalled inside the CSU 5, forcing an Evan McPherson field goal, but then the fun really began as the Gators’ offense went flying down the field for touchdowns on each of its next four drives. Franks threw touchdown passes to Mississippi transfer Van Jefferson, Joshua Hammond, Tyrie Cleveland and then another to Jefferson in a dizzying blitzkrieg of a 28-0 second quarter that knocked the Bucs out on their feet.
Mullen, who also delivered a 49-0 beating of Charleston Southern last year at Mississippi State, replaced Franks with Trask in the second half. Other than a 12 yard touchdown run, Trask didn’t do too much. That was alright. Florida made its point. The Gators outgained CSU 354-92 in the first half, held a 38-0 advantage at the break and had gotten all they wanted out of their $450,000 payday game. Even Charleston Southern’s touchdown worked out well for the Gators. Jeremiah Moon blocked the extra point, and Austin Perry collected the bouncing ball and took it coast to coast through the Swamp for the final 53-6 margin.
About the only thing that went wrong for the Gators was the suspension of seven players, including starting defensive end Cece Jefferson and slot receiver Kadarius Toney. Mullen said the suspensions were for “not living up to the Gator standard.” But as Florida quickly turned the game into a party, fans didn’t seem to care or even remember about the suspensions- particularly not the one who caught Mullen’s triumphant visor launch into the stands as he left the field.
Perspective is key, of course. That win cost Florida nearly half a million dollars, and the Gators entered the game a 45 point favorite. Charleston Southern is, after all, an FCS opponent. So what we saw tonight is not necessarily an indication of anything.
But given the horror show we witnessed last year, it was a step in the right direction.