Dan Mullen era begins with Florida Gators’ rout of Charleston Southern

MONICA HERNDON   |   TimesFlorida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) celebrates with wide receiver Josh Hammond (10) after a six yard touchdown pass during the second quarter of the game against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers on September 1, 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
MONICA HERNDON | TimesFlorida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) celebrates with wide receiver Josh Hammond (10) after a six yard touchdown pass during the second quarter of the game against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers on September 1, 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Published September 1 2018
Updated September 1 2018

GAINESVILLE — Florida opened the Dan Mullen era Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium by doing exactly what it was supposed to do.

Destroy a completely overmatched Division I-AA team.

So ignore the final score against Charleston Southern (53-6). Here are five worthwhile things we learned that will matter when the schedule starts getting tougher, beginning next week against Kentucky:

This offense could be entertaining.

As promised, Mullen used Feleipe Franks' mobility through designed runs and impromptu scrambles. The redshirt sophomore rushed five times for 34 yards in the first half; he rushed for more yards only once last season, and almost all of that was from his 79-yard scramble against Texas A&M.

Franks' arm fit the system, too, with some downfield shots mixed with quick hits to his playmakers in a 16-of-24, 219-yard performance. Franks became the first UF quarterback since Rex Grossman in 2000 to throw five touchdowns in the first half. The Gators went the entire Jim McElwain era without recording five passing touchdowns in a game.

"We put up that many points tonight," Franks said. "What's to not like about it?"

Mullen probably left a lot of plays uncalled, but the announced crowd of 81,164 still saw some ingenuity. Franks dumped a shovel pass to tight end Kemore Gamble out of an option play. At the end of the first half, Franks hit Tyrie Cleveland on a jump pass – an obvious wink from Mullen to his history with Tim Tebow (even though Franks said he has never seen that clip).

If this is a Mullen offense in a blowout, how will it look when he needs to get creative against Mississippi State or LSU?

Two transfers are going to be among the Gators’ top players.

This isn't a surprise, given how Trevon Grimes (Ohio State) and Van Jefferson (Ole Miss) looked in spring practice and fall camp. But they made immediate impacts.

Grimes, a former four-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale, took a screen pass from Franks and raced 34 yards untouched for the Gators' first touchdown (and the first of his college career), less than three minutes into the game. Jefferson scored twice in the second quarter, both on short passes in the red zone where he could use his 6-foot-2, 197-pound frame.

Expect more big plays from both once the schedule heats up.

Tight ends will be involved.

After catching only 26 passes last season, tight ends had four receptions in the first half Saturday and couldn't reel in two other catchable balls in Franks' first three throws. R.J. Raymond had one of those misses but atoned for it on the next play with a key block that helped spring Grimes' score.

"They're going to be a big part of our offense moving forward," Mullen said.

Discipline remains a point of emphasis.

Seven players were suspended, including defensive lineman Cece Jefferson (academics) and receiver Kadarius Toney (who was involved in several off-field incidents, including being stopped by police with a loaded AR-15 in his backseat). Running back Adarius Lemons (a Clearwater native) was out, too, and three other starters were benched for the first series.

Then again, McElwain preached discipline, too. He infamously erupted at running back Kelvin Taylor in Week 2 of his first season and talked a lot about how freedom of choice didn't mean freedom from consequence. We'll see whether Mullen's message resonates.

Special teams matter more.

After blocking only three kicks or punts under McElwain, the Gators blocked two Saturday night — the first time they've done so since the Sugar Bowl in January 2013. Hillsborough High alumnus Zachary Carter swatted a field goal to end the first half, and Jeremiah Moon blocked an extra point in the fourth quarter (which Austin Perry returned for two points). UF also narrowly missed blocking a punt in the first half.

It's too early to know whether those moments were because of UF's improvement or an overwhelmed opponent, but Mullen's emphasis on the third phase of the game is undeniable.

"This year, Coach Mullen made it really prominent that special teams is very important," Carter said. "So the guys take a lot of pride on special teams. Any big plays we make on special teams are just as important as we make on offense or defense."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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