ORLANDO — Dan Mullen’s visor was somewhere in the stands with a lucky Gator fan. His white Jordan brand polo soaked with sweat as he sat down at the podium for the post game press conference. The head coach almost collapsed into his chair and took a deep breath, exhaling pure relief.
That’s what the winning coach looked like Saturday night when the Gators and Miami Hurricanes kicked off the 150th college football season.
It wasn’t pretty. There were 23 combined penalties for 225 yards, many of Florida’s coming at the most inopportune times extending Miami drives. Mullen admitted he didn’t call a good game, including going to the air with a lead and 4:30 on the clock instead of just trying to run the game out with your senior running back. Neither team was efficient on third down. It looked like a week 0 game but it was fun. Five lead changes and a last minute Miami drive that ultimately fell short as the Gators won 24-20.
You know what I love? We made some mistakes. I mean, we made a couple of mistakes. We missed some tackles. But we played, you know, just kept going, just kept going, just kept playing, just kept straining, just kept going as hard as they could every single snap,” Mullen said. “They kept battling. They kept going and we kept finding a way to win and in the end, That’s what you’ve got to do.”
Every football coach will come up with a gameplan to win. You watch film and study your opponent. You look at what weaknesses they have and try to scheme how you can exploit those. You draw it up, present it to your team and then you drill it all week long. Mullen and his coaching staff did that this week for Miami and then the lights came on and the Gators’ got stage fright. They either forgot the plan or were unable to execute it but they found a way to win.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
We take a lot of pride in our plan to win. We didn’t follow that tonight. Usually we can put that up and say this is why we won or this is why we lost,” said Mullen. “I’m gonna put that up there and say this is our plan to win and say hey we probably shouldn’t have won that game. We had the heart to find the way to make plays to find a way to win the game.”
So Mullen and Franks and the Gators were able to celebrate on the field. They hoisted their helmets high and shouted the words to the alma mater in front of the band in victory but tonight’s performance won’t be good enough.
Saturday Florida looked like a team that spent the offseason getting their ego stroked. They came in confident, borderline cocky. They got the win because they’ve bought in and they’ve trained to never quit and to keep scratching and clawing until there’s no time left but they need to be better. Saturday should serve as a wake up call. The Gators need to play better than they did because, while playing hard and wanting to win is good and necessary, it’s not going to guarantee that you reach that outcome.
“Obviously it was a sloppy game. We’re at the beginning of the season. We got a lot of things to fix and correct, but that doesn’t take away from the time on this team and the drive that we have on this team. We’re going to do some really good things. You know, things didn’t go our way at times and we had to just put the fire out when the time was needed. But we’re just going to move on from here,” Jon Greenard said after the game. “If teams to want to take us lightly and take this game and think we’re going to apply this the rest of the year, then they’re going to find out real soon that was a mistake.”
It’s odd to play the first game of the season and go immediately into a bye week but the Gators need it.
There’s a lot of work to be done.