Florida's Dan Mullen made plenty of waves last season. Now he's eyeing a playoff spot.
HOOVER, Ala. — Dan Mullen
is off his surfboard and diving into the SEC waters again.
Well, on Monday he batted leadoff among the 14 coaches for the league’s Media Days a couple of weeks after the Florida coach posted a video of him doing a 360 degree spin move on the water with a Don Henley song blaring.
There were certainly some waves the Gators rode last season during an 8-4 season.
It won the SEC East during a year when it dumped three-time defending division champion Georgia 44-28.
But it faded to the finish line with three straight losses to LSU, Alabama in the SEC championship game and Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl after it was hit hard by opt-outs.
“We’ve been to three straight New Year’s Six bowl games,” Mullen said at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel. “Hopefully, we can get that one step further into a New Year's Six playoff game this year.”
Mullen dressed like Darth Vader in a postgame presser after a game when there was a brawl at the half against Missouri. He called for fans to pack the swamp during a pandemic season. He received a show-cause penalty for NCAA violations.
Mullen’s roster had major turnover in talent this season with the departures of quarterback Kyle Trask and Falcons first round tight end Kyle Pitts gone along with playmaker Kadarius Toney.
Georgia is the overwhelming favorite to win the East this year.
‘Didn’t they say that last year?,” Mullen told Florida reporters before his time at the podium, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Florida gave Mullen a raise to $7.6 million a year this offseason and awarded him a three-year contract extension and Todd Grantham is back for his fourth season as defensive coordinator.
That’s despite the Gators giving up 35 or more points in six games including 52 and 55 in the final two.
Mullen called the defense “erratic,” last season.
Defensive end Zachary Carter said there were communication issues but the team has bonded after the pandemic wreaked havoc on spring practices all over the SEC in 2020.
“We became more of a unit and good teams have to have bond,” Carter said. “Guys are getting closer together and guys are working harder than ever. I’m excited to see what we’re going to do.”
Mullen said the staff “spent a lot of time with Todd and the defensive staff and make sure we're creating positive matchups.”
The offense returns just 41 percent of its production, which ranks 125th in the nation according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly.
Mullen referenced losing talent the year before when three Florida wide receivers were drafted.
“The next guys are going to have an opportunity to get the ball in their hands and make things happen,” he said.
Junior Jacob Copeland (23 catches, 435 yards, three TDs) leads the receiving corps.
“We lost some key pieces last year and guys are ready to fill in those roles,” Carter said.
Redshirt junior Emory Jones from LaGrange is in position to take over as the starting quarterback but Mullen mentioned redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson is also competing for the job.
“Emory is a lot like those quarterbacks he had at Mississippi State,” former Florida coach Steve Spurrier told former UGA quarterback Buck Belue on his 680 AM show Monday morning. “He can run and throw. …It will be a little different.”
Jones has a better understanding of the game and has matured learning from Heisman Trophy finalist Trask, Mullen said.
“We’ll build around the strengths of our quarterbacks,” Mullen said.
Linebacker Ventrell Miller said he expected Florida’s offense will look different and take advantage of Jones’ running ability. Jones has rushed for 514 yards and six touchdowns in college.
“I have high expectations for him this year.” Miller said.
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