Dan Mullen coaching on sidelines
Florida head coach Dan Mullen looks on during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. (Randy Sartin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Mullen, Gators looking ahead ‘one game at a time’

Gator Football Head Coach Dan Mullen says he is always looking for his team to improve each week. After a 31-19 victory over Tennessee this weekend, some Gators fans celebrated and some criticized. For Mullen, that is the past. The SEC Championship against Alabama seems to be in the distant future. A primetime regular season finale against LSU is getting all his attention.

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) passes the ball while being pressured by Tennessee defensive lineman Omari Thomas (58) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Knoxville, Tenn. (Randy Sartin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

Still improvements to be made

For the majority of the season, Todd Grantham’s defense acted as the scapegoat for all of Florida’s issues. Now that his unit has righted the ship, the new target is actually on the offensive side of the ball: the run game.

Against Tennessee, the Gators amassed 19 rush yards on 17 carries. For many, the brutal 1.1 yards per carry will not be enough to compete with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. However, Mullen will take what the opposing defense gives him. In fact, quarterback Kyle Trask thrived against the Volunteers. His 433 pass yards and four touchdowns earned him the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week Award.

Mullen says his team has the ability to run the ball, but much of that does not align with the current strength’s of his team. Nineteen rushing yards in a game does not crack his “concern area” currently.

However, Gator fans should not praise the passing offense after the win over Tennessee, either. The Gators put up their worst offensive game of the season with only 31 points.

Mullen says his offense left points on the field and errors on offense kept the game closer than desired.

Still, Mullen will play to the strengths of his team. A 31-7 lead with ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter is, generally speaking, a safe lead. Yet, Florida’s upcoming opponent could be looking to play spoiler on the comfort the Gators may be feeling.

Looking ahead, but not too far

Florida’s victory over Tennessee confirmed a date with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. For the first time under Mullen’s reign, the Gators will be playing for a championship. However, this team’s bigger goals can come to an abrupt stop against a rival this weekend if the Gators get caught looking ahead.

Three Florida Gators upend LSU tight end Stephen Sullivan (10) on a reception in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

In 2018, Florida’s win over LSU brought the program back to relevancy. Last year, LSU’s victory over Florida propelled the Tigers to an historic undefeated season. This year, Florida is seeking revenge.

The 2020 LSU team is far different from last year. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron lost a number of his best players this offseason to the NFL or opting out of this season, which provides some insight into their struggles.

Mullen says the Tigers (3-5) still pose a threat.

If anything, this game provides a final tune up for Alabama, but that does not mean special treatment. Mullen repeatedly states he wants his team to improve one game at a time. Testing his players’ focus with Alabama on the horizon allows his team to, yet again, improve from week to week.

Saturday night’s game will be the final game in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for at least 12 Gators, including Kyle Trask, but there is certainly more to play for this season. Florida opens up as a massive favorite (-24.5) against an LSU team that got demolished by Alabama before this game.

Kickoff will be on ESPN at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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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