The Florida Gators know they have to confront their limitations this Saturday when they visit the LSU Tigers.
The question is: How?
How will Florida and Dan Mullen choose to face their weaknesses?
There is no “right” answer – not in a game in which Florida is a 12-point underdog. Florida is playing with house money in this game and is not expected by anyone across the country (outside of Gainesville, at least) to beat the Tigers.
It is true that Florida fans who are at least 30 years old will recall the 2003 game, in which a Ron Zook team stunned the eventual national champions from LSU, 19-7. That result came from nowhere, and if Florida wins this coming Saturday, the outcome will represent a similar ambush.
Maybe Florida can do the unthinkable… but it shouldn’t be expected.
Insisting that Mullen has to take one particular path against LSU seems unreasonable.
This is a game in which Mullen could legitimately eat a blowout loss with a longer-term goal in mind. Mullen could sacrifice this game in service of the more important Georgia game a few weeks later.
If Mullen did that, would it be a wrongheaded approach? I don’t think so… but let’s briefly explain what it means for Mullen to give up this game in pursuit of the Georgia game or other goals in the second half of the 2019 season.
Last weekend against Auburn, Florida and Mullen used a lot of slow-developing pass plays in which quarterback Kyle Trask held the ball for a long time. These plays led to turnovers and other highly negative outcomes.
These plays were frustrating for Gator fans because UF’s defense was smothering Auburn’s offense. It was clear that Florida’s path to victory was rooted in relying on its defense and not making big mistakes on offense. Therefore, any offensive play which took a risk or put Trask in a bad position was a bad call.
Fortunately, Mullen got away with those plays. He also got away with not preparing Trask for the task at hand.
Against LSU, though, the calculus is different.
LSU’s offense is not Auburn’s. LSU has an elite offense which presents a completely different challenge for Florida’s defense and will probably force the Gators to take more chances on offense.
Florida would love to contain LSU’s offense if it can, but the task is not nearly as realistic as it was against Auburn. Chances are the Gators will have to be a lot more explosive on offense to win.
This means that in order to hit big pass plays, Trask will have to hold onto the ball for longer periods of time. You will certainly see a lot of short passes from the Gators, but they will have to hit several downfield strikes if they want a realistic chance of winning.
So: Does Mullen force Trask to make low-margin plays in which he holds the ball too long? It is not a plan LIKELY to deliver a good result, but it might be the path Florida has to take if it wants any shot at winning.
This touches on a familiar tension point football coaches face in their line of work: “Do I want to keep the score close and respectable, but almost surely lose, or do I want to go for the victory, knowing that failure could result in a blowout loss?”
Mullen needs to answer that question one way or the other.
If he puts Trask in difficult or inconvenient positions, in pursuit of the big pass play, he is risking big with the hope of winning… but in ways which will probably lead to a struggle-bus performance and a decisive loss.
The sting of a blowout loss might be considerable in the short run, but by forcing Trask to do things he might not be ready to do at this stage in his evolution (and in his current physical condition), Mullen could absorb short-term pain in exchange for the possibility that Trask might be a much more prepared signal-caller by the time the Georgia game arrives.
This is how Mullen can trade the present moment for the future.
This is, however, not a path Mullen must follow.
This is the other path: Mullen could try to slow the game down and do his best to shield Trask from a high-workload, high-responsibility challenge.
Mullen could try to eschew long passes or adventurous plays of any kind. He could keep his offense very simple, emphasizing the run and draining the play clock to one on every running-clock snap to shorten the game and control the ball.
This approach would not empower Trask as a quarterback. It would make him work within a more contained structure which would sacrifice not the present moment, but future development. It would be the path which tries to defeat LSU in particular by keeping the ball from the Tigers.
Does Florida want to lose 24-7, or does it want to pursue victory knowing that the attempt could blow up in UF’s face and lead to a 49-10 drubbing?
Does Florida want to go into a protective shell against a superpowered LSU offense it has to keep off the field, or do the Gators want to let it ride in a context which suggests that they probably won’t be able to implement a daring game plan… but will likely have to if they want to win?
There is no right answer, but Mullen faces a choice between those two fundamental paths heading into Saturday.
Gators announced home and home series with Cal Friday
The Florida Gators continued their philosophy of striking “home-and-home” deals with Power 5 opposition, when they announced on Friday that they will be doing so with the Cal-Berkley Bears out of the Pac-12 coming later in this decade.
The Gators made the announcement through their website and social media mid-day Friday that they will play Cal at home first and then travel to Berkeley the following year:
Coast to coast❗
🐻 at 🐊 2026
🐊 at 🐻 2027#GoGators
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) February 7, 2020
A.D. Scott Stricklin has broken up the long tradition that Florida would only play two home out of conference games in September and usually, against much lesser competition before entering SEC play. Stricklin has been very outspoken that in the age of the College Football Playoff, strength of schedule is emphasized and the selection committee holds schools responsible for not playing top-notch out of conference opponents, at least some of the time.
With that in mind, the Gators opened the 2019 season in Orlando against the Miami Hurricanes and won a sloppy game. And, they already have other Power 5 schools laid out to play home and away.
As we previously wrote, Florida will be playing the Texas Longhorns first in Gainesville in 2030 and then. return the game the following year in Austin.
Florida had previously announced last year that they will also play the Colorado Buffaloes out of the Pac-12, again with the first game in Gainesville in 2028 and then, returning it to Boulder the following season.
It’s interesting with Friday’s announcement that Stricklin and the football program are working backwards with the schedule. And, they will now play Cal before Colorado in September of 2026, and then will be opening on the Berkeley campus the following season.
Florida and Cal have only met two times, having played first in Gainesville in 1974 as the Gators wo 21 – 17 and then, they also met in Tampa to open the 1980 season with a Florida 41-13 blowout victory.
Second National Signing Day recap for top state schools
National Signing Day 2020 has come and gone, and several in state schools were able to improve their classes heading into spring ball. The University of Florida watched rival Georgia secure the number one overall class, but the Gators were still able to land the best class in the state with the number eight class overall.
The Gators officially signed former five-star receiver Justin Shorter from Penn State, and Florida stayed in the family today as well, Xzavier Henderson officially joined the Gators. He’s the ounger brother of former DB C.J. Henderson.
Dan Mullen also able to dip into the state of Texas inking four-star DE Princely Umanmielen. It wasn’t all great news for the Gators, as they missed out on a few key guys, including losing out on arguably top state safety Avantae Williams to in state rival Miami. Overall it was a good cycle for the Gators both recruiting and in the transfer portal.
The Miami Hurricanes continued an impressive offseason on National Signing Day. The Canes made arguably the biggest move in the state by landing Williams and keeping him Florida. Williams became the highest rated Hurricane in the class and propelled the U to the number 13 spot.
Miami has the second-best class in the ACC behind Clemson. With an impressive offseason in the books, once again excitement will be in the air in Coral Gables. The question is: will they live up to it in year two for Manny Diaz?
Florida State and new coach Mike Norvell have been working hard to get this class rolling last minute. After a good early National Signing Day Norvell looked to keep the momentum going. The Noles took a big hit Wednesday though, with the loss of Venice four star WR, Malachi Wideman, who flipped to Tennessee.
The Noles came back from that by landing a handful of other recruits. They got the number six Juco running back La’Damian Webb, ass well as, Robert Scott, an offensive lineman and Corey Wren, an athlete/running back.
Replacing Cam Akers will be tough for Norvell and building the offensive line is a top priority. The former Memphis coach came in late like he did, yet he finishes with a decent class sitting at 22 on 24/7.
Now the work begins turning around the former powerhouse.