Florida head coach Dan Mullen, left, talks with wide receivers Kadarius Toney (1) and Jacob Copeland (15) during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, Pool)

Mullen talks returning to practice, Mizzou

After what feels like months, Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators returning to practice signals Gator gameday on the horizon. This week, the No.10 Gators (2-1) host Missouri (2-2) in a prime time matchup in the Swamp.

Florida head coach Dan Mullen reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. Mullen was given several more chances Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, to walk back bizarre comments about wanting to pack 90,000 screaming fans inside Florida Field during the coronavirus pandemic. He declined each of them, brushing aside criticism and insisting he’s focused on defending national champion LSU. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

Returning to the norm

It is not an understatement to call the last two weeks in Gainesville calamitous regarding the Florida Gators football team. Two weeks ago, a total of 21 players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19. Per the SEC guidelines, reactivation periods for players and coaches suspended the game against LSU and pushed the game against Missouri back a week.

For Dan Mullen, the coaching staff and the players, practices for almost two weeks were canceled. The only viable method of team-building and development came through Zoom meetings. The main issue now is getting back into a rhythm.

Typically, players mold into a steady flow of game-recovery-practice-study-game. That is now out the window. During his press conference on Monday, Dan Mullen talked about how his team is trying to get back into the feel of a ‘standard’ game week.

It is hard to believe that the Gator team returning to the field this upcoming Saturday night is coming off a loss. While for fans it may seem like it is practically the start of a new season, Dan Mullen disagrees. He considers himself fortunate to have played those three games to gauge where the team is at.

However, those games are now well in the past. Dan Mullen now faces a Missouri team riding the highs of two wins after starting the season 0-2.

Scouting the Tigers

Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey (33) celebrates with teammates following an NCAA college football game against Kentucky Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 20-10. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

If there was ever a team that seems frustrate Florida, it would probably be the Missouri Tigers. Since joining the SEC in 2012, Mizzou and Florida have split their series 4-4. Interestingly, the average margin of victory in these games is almost 21, hardly a close game. Much like the 2-1 start for the Gators, those games are in the past. This Missouri team brings something different to the table than high-scoring affairs.

Instead, Dan Mullen says his biggest concern with Missouri is their defense. Looking at their most recent game, a 20-10 win over Kentucky, it is clear to see why. Missouri conceded 98 rush yards and an eye-popping 47 pass yards. To be fair, this is a Kentucky team averaging 123 pass yards per game and 184 rush yards per game, but it is still an impressive achievement to hold a team to 145 total yards.

For Florida, this means adjusting the game plan to keep the offense out on the field. In his press conferences, Mullen talks about putting his team in a position to win the game, and this week that is looking to be to win the possession battle. Missouri has possession of the ball for 33 minutes per game, while Florida averages just over 27 minutes of possession per game.

Making the necessary preparations

If you ask any Gator fan what Florida’s biggest weakness is, they would probably say the defense. That’s fair, Florida has given up almost 500 yards of total offense per game this season through three games. Dan Mullen said his biggest defensive change is not necessarily through coaching staff and personnel, but just making sure his defense develops consistency. Mullen wants to put his defensive players in a position that allows them to succeed.

Despite what Mullen says about how this is just an extension after a bye week, there are concerns that Florida could come out flat against an underdog with nothing to lose. Flashy new uniforms, a night game, a Halloween crowd, time off and other outside distractions like COVID-19 spell a lack of focus that is almost too obvious. Dan Mullen plans to use this fresh week of practice and meetings to ensure his players are in the right state of mind for Saturday.

The Gators open the game as two-touchdown favorites (-13) according to Oddshark.com. Saturday’s game is set to kickoff at 7:30, barring any COVID-19 cases out of either team. Regardless, press conferences and practice signal the returning of Florida football.

About Kyle Fansler

Originally from Seminole in the Tampa Bay area, Kyle is a contributor for ESPN Gainesville as well as local NPR and PBS affiliate WUFT. Kyle wants to get into sports with a lofty dream of being a sports broadcaster. He was raised playing soccer and baseball while watching hockey and football, so the knowledge about various sports is fairly extensive.

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