It wasn’t long into the game before Dan Mullen threw caution to the wind.
The Florida Gators’ defense allowed Miami to march down the field but held the Canes to a field goal. Florida’s offensive drive gained seven yards on three plays before the punting unit came out on the field but Mullen didn’t have any intention of punting the ball back to Manny Diaz and the Hurricanes.
“It’s pretty much set,” punter Tommy Townsend said when asked about the play call.”
Basically Mullen calls for the fake punt and when the Gators punt team comes out to the field they have a player, one of the two shields, look at how the opponent is lined up. He’s looking for a certain lineup or formation and if the Gators are in a favorable matchup they run the fake. If the numbers don’t add up they check out of it and punt.
What made this call bold was the Gators’ field position. Florida was backed up on its 28 and Townsend took the snap on his own 15. That’s 16-yards the punter needs to cover to pick up the first down or Miami takes over deep in Florida’s territory ith a defense that had just been on the field for more than five minutes with just a short breather during what would have been a quick turnover on downs.
“I took about three steps and the adrenaline kicked in,” Townsend said. “I looked up and saw one of the defenders coming at me and I was like, ‘ok, I’ve gotta turn on the burners here and just fall for the first down.’”
It wasn’t even a spur of the moment decision, according to Van Jefferson. Mullen and Greg Knox told the team all week that they were going to run a fake punt. It was something Mullen and Knox saw on film and thought they’d be able to catch Miami off guard. It worked and just one play later Kadarius Toney was scampering 66-yards for a touchdown.
“That’s what makes Coach Mullen so great,” Jefferson said. “You never can, you can’t predict him so when that happened, I knew Tommy’s gonna get the first down.”
Mullen wasn’t done. In true Les Miles form Mullen would go for it on fourth down three more times in the game with the Gators converting on all four of their fourth down gambles.
He doesn’t see it as a gamble, however. Mullen has a veteran team that is in year two of his program. He trusts his players. That’s something that wasn’t there, at least not to this degree last year. It’s a testament to the guys in the locker room. They’ve earned the trust and respect of their coach and he’s rewarding it by putting them in situations like this.
“I didn’t mind putting the ball in their hands to let them go make those plays and they were able to do it. I didn’t think any of them — I mean, they kind of seem high risk but, for us, we felt pretty good with those calls and there wasn’t any question or doubt in what we were going to do.”
Maybe that’s the bigger story than going for it on fourth down or calling trick plays. The bigger story here is Mullen’s growing trust with his team. Saturday was ugly and the Gators needed to go for it and roll the dice in those situations. Every week won’t necessitate that kind of play calling but Saturday showed that Mullen is comfortable and confident in his team and that’s a good sign moving forward.