As Florida coach Dan Mullen reexamined the No. 20 Gators’ shocking 20-13 loss Saturday at Kentucky, one part remains inexplicable: his smile.
A screenshot made the rounds on social media over the weekend of Mullen flashing a quick grin as he went to shake Kentucky coach Mark Stoops’ hand after the game. When asked about it Monday during his weekly Zoom news conference, Mullen had no explanation.
“I don’t know,” Mullen said. “If you keep a camera on me the entire game, you’ll probably catch me doing all kinds of things that probably would be like, ‘Boy, I wonder why he’s doing that at this very second.’”
UF fans have indeed been wondering that in the aftermath of the Gators’ first loss in Lexington, Ky., in 35 years. Mullen provided some answers Monday.
The biggest issue was the 15 penalties — a number that Mullen still couldn’t comprehend. In 12 and a half years as a head coach, Mullen’s teams had only committed 10 or more penalties nine times before Saturday. The previous high was 12 against Jackson State in Mullen’s 2009 Mississippi State debut.
“The penalties are on me,” Mullen said.
He did not, however, offer immediate, concrete solutions on how he’ll fix them, including the eight false-start penalties UF committed on its first big road challenge since 2019.
Mullen said the snap count the Gators used last week was the same one they always use and the same one employed by most other teams. But he’ll evaluate it.
As the pre-snap penalties mounted, Mullen could have changed the cadence — an in-game adjustment that’s possible but easier said than done. He’ll evaluate it.
Quarterback Emory Jones said he could have been louder before the snap. Mullen said he’ll evaluate that, too.
The Gators’ inability to correct the problem Saturday was fatal. On the second-to-last drive, a false start negated a potential fourth-down conversion and forced UF to settle for a field goal. On the final drive, UF doomed itself with two more false starts inside the 10. Mullen pinned the red-zone failures on those mistakes rather than the play calls or execution.
“I’d love to say it’s more than that,” Mullen said, “but you go watch the film, and it’s pretty obvious.”
Reviewing the film didn’t cause Mullen to change his stance on his most questionable choice: Playing conservatively at the end of the first half instead of trying to steal a score.
Mullen considers the last four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half as critical and often uses that time to attack offensively. Not Saturday.
UF chose not to call a timeout after a third-down sack forced Kentucky to punt with about two minutes left in the second quarter. When the Gators took over at their 13, Jones threw two short passes instead of firing downfield. UF rushed on the last two plays to end the half.
Here’s how Mullen defended the sequence: UF looked to take deep shots on the first two plays, but nothing was open. After two check-down passes, the Gators’ odds of getting into field-goal range were slim.
If UF had been too aggressive, Mullen said, the decision could have backfired as it did for Kentucky last year. In that November meeting, UF got a defensive stop in the final minute of the second quarter, forcing Kentucky to punt deep in its own territory. Kadarius Toney returned it for a touchdown that gave UF a 14-10 halftime lead in an eventual 24-point win.
The Gators chose not to take that risk Saturday, especially with how well their defense had played. Instead, they ended up being on the other end of the final score — and leaving Kroger Field with nothing to smile about.
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