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Dan Mullen earned his gift from Steve Spurrier. But his Gators have bigger goals than a $2 bottle of wine

The SEC’s first weekend of college football reinforced the idea that the Florida Gators are championship contenders.
Kyle Trask and the Florida Gators had a lot to celebrate over the weekend. But there should be much bigger goals ahead.
Kyle Trask and the Florida Gators had a lot to celebrate over the weekend. But there should be much bigger goals ahead. [ THOMAS GRANING | AP ]
Published Sep. 28, 2020
Updated Sep. 28, 2020

After No. 3 Florida put up 642 total yards at Ole Miss on Saturday, Gators coach Dan Mullen said he expected a bottle of wine from Steve Spurrier to celebrate the program’s biggest offensive output ever in an SEC game.

Spurrier delivered Monday morning — a mini bottle of a Sutter Home white. Retail value at Target: $6.99 for a four-pack.

Then came a vintage Spurrier punchline. Win an SEC title, Spurrier told Mullen, and I’ll buy you two more.

“As soon as he said it to me, I was laughing,” Mullen said.

But like most Spurrier jokes, there was an element of seriousness beneath the humor. These Gators deserved to celebrate their performance over their weekend, just not too much. If anything, Saturday’s 51-35 triumph over the Rebels combined with what happened elsewhere reinforce the idea that UF is a championship contender.

Related: Why it’s championship or bust for the Florida Gators

Big 12 favorite Oklahoma choked at home against a Kansas State team that previously lost to Arkansas State. The reigning SEC East champion, Georgia, struggled for a half against Feleipe Franks' Razorbacks. Defending national champion LSU lost at home to first-year Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, and Jimbo Fisher’s nationally ranked Aggies were nearly upset in College Station by lowly Vanderbilt.

With that backdrop, UF’s showing was even more impressive. The Gators had a record-setting offensive day against a new coaching staff that left UF unsure what to expect defensively.

Kyle Trask threw more touchdown passes (six) than any other Mullen quarterback ever, according to the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson. With four scores, tight end Kyle Pitts looks like the game-wrecker the Gators have been hyping for months. A run game that struggled last season averaged 6.8 yards per rush (third in the country).

Related: Why Kyle Trask is drawing Joe Burrow comparisons from one SEC Network analyst

UF, of course, remains an unfinished product. The secondary was exposed. The Gators rank last nationally in opponents' yards per pass attempt (13.4) and passing efficiency (209.43).

“I’m not going to make any excuses,” defensive back Kaiir Elam said. “We didn’t play up to par.”

Elam might not want to call them excuses, but UF’s potential fatal flaw does require key caveats. The Gators were down two top safeties (Brad Stewart was unavailable for the game and Shawn Davis was ejected for targeting on the first series).

Given what we’ve seen from the rest of the SEC through one weekend, Lane Kiffin’s Rebels look like the best offense the Gators will face during the regular season. And Mullen thinks defenses across the country are behind offenses because abbreviated spring practice time limited teams to only a few live tackling sessions since bowl season.

“I expect us to make a really big jump from Week 1 to Week 2 defensively with tackling, the effort, with running to the football, with communication and making sure we are fitting everything properly,” Mullen said.

Related: Florida Gators picked to win SEC East in media preseason poll

If those jumps happen and the offense continues to develop? Spurrier might end up owing Mullen a few bottles of bubbly by January.

Quick hits

Florida State coach Mike Norvell remained in quarantine Monday after testing positive for coronavirus around Sept. 18. He said he still feels fine and expects to return to practice Tuesday.

No. 8 Miami continues to be a primetime fixture. The ACC announced Monday that the Hurricanes' next game (Oct. 10 at No. 1 Clemson) will be the marquee 7:30 p.m. game on ABC.

Audible

“Every person that’s a part of this team, every coach, staff, every player, we understand that there’s great strides that need to be made, and they need to be made quickly.” —Florida State coach Mike Norvell