FLORIDA SEASON RECAP
Few figured the Gators would be in a New Year’s Six bowl game this season.
Coming off a 4-7 season, just the second losing campaign since 1980, and
an offense that remained stagnant for the better part of a decade, appearing
in almost any bowl game would have been a positive in Florida’s first year
under Head Coach Dan Mullen.
Two games into the season, Florida found itself bounding down a different
Following a 53-6 rout of overmatched Charleston Southern in the season
opener, a game in which starting quarterback Feleipe Franks threw five firsthalf
touchdown passes, the Gators did something that last happened in
1986: they lost to Kentucky.
The loss snapped the fourth-longest winning streak in a recurring series
in college football history, and it made it seem as if the sky was falling in
Gainesville. Even in Florida’s worst years since the 1980s (what few there
were), it managed to beat Kentucky. This was something new for Gator
Nation, and something it struggled to come to grips with.
But what could have sent the Gators spiraling into a second consecutive
season of uninspired play, instead served as a turning point, starting with
Mullen’s postgame press conference. Mullen’s calm, matter-of-fact tone and
message was the same in front of the media as it was with his team in
the locker room. There was no infamous tirade, no long-winded rant, no
shouting about the team running extra gassers come practice time.
Mullen laid how the Gators had a decision to make. Would this loss
define the season, or would they use it to become a better football team?
“The streak had nothing to do with this game, and will have nothing
to do with next week’s game,” Mullen said. “We have to find a way to get
better and improve next week. Our response to this game is really defined by
how we show up Monday at practice.
“I don’t know if the loss will hurt or help moving forward. We’re going
to find out.”
Minutes later, veteran wideout Josh Hammond set the tone for the weeks
“We can’t let the season go to waste like we did last year,” Hammond
said. “It’s past us, and we need to move forward.”
Florida answered the following Saturday, scoring the first 27 points
against Colorado State in a 48-10 blowout powered by special teams and
The Gators kept their momentum rolling in Knoxville, Tenn., forcing six
turnovers and turning those miscues into 24 points in a 47-21 win over
Tennessee. That win marked UF’s 13th in its last 14 meetings with the
Volunteers, and its 47 points were the most it ever scored in Knoxville.
While the Gators showed improvement, their trip to 23rd-ranked
Mississippi State was supposed to be a snap back to reality. Florida had
other ideas, as it turned the road trip to Starkville into a rousing homecoming
celebration for Mullen, who coached the Bulldogs for nine seasons before
returning to Gainesville. Thanks to a well-timed trick play—a 20-yard
touchdown pass from all-purpose man Kadarius Toney—and impressive
halftime adjustments, Florida emerged from a defensive slugfest with a 13-6
win. The Gators held Mississippi State to 43 yards on 27 plays in the second
half, and they piled up a season-high six sacks, with the final one coming on
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