Thursday, September 20, 2018
Florida Gators

Fennelly: Good step on a long trek for Dan Mullen

GAINESVILLE — There's a new visor in town.

Saturday night, Dan Mullen raced into the Swamp with his Florida Gators.

And they just kept racing.

A smashing 53-6 debut win for the new head coach.

A new beginning for Florida.

You know, again.

Mullen, back on the Gators' sideline for the first time in 10 years (since the 2008 national title season), didn't blink on UF's opening drive when going for it on fourth and 1. He didn't blink all night. No huddle, no time to waste.

It began with a touchdown pass on the first drive, led by Mullen "project" Feleipe Franks. It began with redshirt sophomore Franks projecting so much more, with five touchdown passes in the first half. That hadn't been done around here in forever. Florida threw 10 touchdown passes all last season.

And it began with a Franks jump-ball TD pass, straight from the Tim Tebow/Dan Mullen catalog. It began with a 38-0 halftime lead.

Yes, it began.

How will it end?

Don't start thinking up nicknames for Mullen's offense ("Fun and Redone") or ask Franks to strike a Heisman pose. We can't tell much by UF's opening opponent, Charleston Southern, which couldn't have been more tempting if its players had worn pork chops around their necks. I bet the Charleston Northern fans ate it up.

But finally there was fun in Gainesville, not a McTrace of the recent ugly past.

Speaking of visors, it's probably asking too much to get back to the Spurrier years, when the Spur Dog ruled the SEC. Or even the Urban Meyer years, when at least Florida's offense wasn't a lie.

Mullen, who has worked for Meyer, is halfway home on the Urban-o-meter. I mean, seven Gators were suspended for the opener for various reasons.

Tell us when we get the quarterback whisperer part.

Um, we got the quarterback whisperer part.

Franks looked like the man in the first half, and Mullen looked like the man behind him. Way to coach young Felipe up last season, Coach Mac!

That Florida needs to get back in the national conversation is a given. Having an offense and a quarterback to get it there is supposed to be the challenge, even for Mullen, who helped mold Tebow's Heisman greatness. The Franks project will require Mullen to raise the bar back up high in Gainesville, and to find another level in his coaching.

So far, so very good. Florida averaged 345 yards per game last season. It put up 354 yards in the first half Saturday. For one night, Florida football was fun again, like it was before the boiler went out when Tebow departed after the 2009 season.

Mullen's mission is twofold. First, he needs to make the Nation care again. By the looks of season-ticket sales, reportedly down 9,000 from last season, that is not a cinch.

And that's the easy part.

Florida was once second in the nation in scoring when Mullen and Tebow formed a 1-2 punch. Last season the Gators finished outside the top 100 teams in the nation in total offense, passing offense and scoring offense. By the end, Jim McElwain was too busy squishing sour grapes to bother scoring points.

By the way, former Florida quarterback and PED screwball Will Grier threw for 429 yards and five touchdowns Saturday as West Virginia pummeled Tennessee. Way to coach young Will up back then, Coach Mac!

No, we don't want Grier back, but the Nation yearns for that sort of offense. The kind of offense Franks delivered Saturday.

What's a good first year of the Mullen Era? Don't go 4-7. Don't miss a bowl game. Above all, make it fun again. That has been missing for far too long. Win eight or nine games and make things buzz. Beat someone you're not supposed to beat. Or just beat Willie Taggart and FSU in Tallahassee. Again: Make it fun. Find yourself a quarterback you can teach to play fearlessly — you know, like Franks played Saturday.

It's time for the rebirth of a Nation.

The visor is a good start.

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