GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Dan Mullen is not interested in the external opinions surrounding his team after the Gators’ 70-52 win over Samford. He has his own view of what happened Saturday and where his program sits heading into this week’s SEC finale at Missouri.
“The narrative is we won,” Mullen said Monday during his weekly news conference. “We won on Saturday. We scored 70 points.”
All of those things are true. There’s more to it than that, of course, which is why Mullen might be coaching for his job this weekend and next week against Florida State.
The Gators needed a second-half comeback at home to beat a mediocre Football Championship Subdivision team that lost 55-13 last month to Chattanooga. The defense’s first-half performance was, statistically, the worst in school history. A team that has appeared in three consecutive New Year’s Six bowl games is in danger of missing the postseason this year. And a proud program with three national titles jubilantly jumped around the locker room to celebrate a victory over the type of team that championship-level teams usually trounce.
Mullen rejected the idea of a disappointing win Saturday, and he doubled down on his optimism Monday.
“I’ve never won a game that wasn’t worth celebrating,” Mullen said, “and I’ve never celebrated a loss.”
Through that binary prism, last week was worth a victory dance. After three consecutive losses, his players needed it.
Coaches can be harsh after defeats. His predecessor, Jim McElwain, called a seven-point win over East Carolina “embarrassing,” “horrible” and “inexcusable” in 2015. But that was the second game of his tenure. He was trying to send a message to his team and set the standard early.
Mullen didn’t say so Monday, but that approach would not work with his team now. He has talked repeatedly during the recent struggles about building up players’ confidence. Criticizing them after a win would hurt, not help.
Instead, Mullen offered his own spin on a program that has spent the last month — or 11 months, depending on your view — spinning out of control. Given the Gators’ losing streak, coaching turnover and defensive breakdowns against a lower-level opponent, UF could have cratered last week when it fell behind 42-28.
“We had every right to pack it in,” Mullen said. “We’re losing, and then came back and dominated the second half of the game.”
He’s right. The Gators outscored Samford 42-10 after falling in a two-score hole.
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Mullen also gushed about quarterback Emory Jones. Since the Georgia loss, Mullen has stressed the importance of having players step up and deliver big plays during rough patches. As the defense struggled, Jones broke the school’s single-game record with 550 total yards of offense.
“That’s a pretty big thing,” Mullen said.
Bigger than the glaring defensive problems that have extended beyond now-fired coordinator Todd Grantham? Not to Mullen. At least not after a win.
“The guys are fired up,” Mullen said. “We celebrated, had a great time in the locker room. We got a great week of practice ahead of us, and guys are excited to play football again. That’s my narrative.”
Whether you agree with it is up to you.
⋅ Jones remains UF’s starter, Mullen said. Anthony Richardson is at full strength and might be included in the game plan.
⋅ Mullen said he does not expect any carryover from last year’s brawl with Missouri. After Kyle Trask took a late hit in the final play of the second quarter, a fight ensued with shoving and punches. Five players were suspended, and Mullen was fined $25,000 for violating the SEC’s sportsmanship bylaws.
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