FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Post summer look at Sunshine State prospect rankings
- Former Florida Football Player 2019 Pre-Season Survey III
- Former Florida Football Player 2019 Pre-Season Survey II
- Former Florida Football Player 2019 Pre-Season Survey I
- Fall Camp Recap: Five who helped/hurt their standing
- WCC: The latest on Arjei Henderson
- At Florida, it’s more than football, it’s family
- ITG Must See Newsfeed
- Mullen: Florida will apply for immediate eligibility for Cox
- Dexter’s improbable path to high school football
- Impact Analysis: Huggins dismissed
- Breaking down the two-deep depth chart on offense
- Breaking down the two-deep depth chart on defense
- ITG Mock Signing Class 6.0
While Saturday’s Camping World Kickoff in Orlando between No. 8 Florida and Miami will be just the seventh meeting between the two schools in the past 32 years, the coaching staffs couldn’t be much more familiar with each other.
In 2009, first-year Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen played at Middle Tennessee State, where Manny Diaz was the defensive coordinator. Mullen was impressed by Diaz’s energy, scheme and willingness to think outside the box to create problems for offenses. He filed Diaz’s name away in a folder, just in case he ever had an opening.
After the 2009 season, Bulldogs defensive coordinator Carl Torbush left for the same job at Kansas. Mississippi State had historically been a tough place to win, so Mullen hired Diaz to run the defense because of his willingness to do things differently.
“We got along pretty well when I met him, so it was a great fit for us at Mississippi State, and I thought we worked really well together,” Mullen said. “There are schools, like at Mississippi State, you had to think outside the box for a lot of different things, and we were able to do that.”
Diaz left after the 2010 season for a three-year stint at Texas and one season at Louisiana Tech. Mullen rehired him in 2015. Diaz spent the previous three seasons at Miami before getting the head job.
“Great coach, great motivator,” Mullen said. “Very, very intelligent, knows his defense. They have one of the top defenses in the country last year with a lot of guys that came back. They have probably several players that could have declared for the draft that decided to stay in school and come back.”
Mullen said that his familiarity with Diaz’s tendencies and schemes is beneficial when putting together a game plan, but it goes both ways. Diaz also knows a lot about Mullen’s offense.
Mullen also said that Diaz had changed as a coach between his two stints at Mississippi State, so he’s likely done the same between 2015 and now. Likewise, Mullen has tweaked some things as a coach since then, so the advantages of knowing each other might not be as great as one might think.
“It's not like, OK, he's running the exact defense he was running 10 years ago, and I'm running the exact same offense I was running nine years ago in the 2009 season,” Mullen said. “I think that part of it's changed, but there is still that personality that's going to be out there. He'll understand a little bit about my style and personality of how we call plays, and we'll view him the same way.”
Quarterback Feleipe Franks said despite the prior connections between Mullen and Diaz, they’ve primarily just watched film from Diaz’s three years at Miami and haven’t dug up a lot of old film.
“We know in the quarterback room and in the offensive room, we know he’s a good coach and he does things well on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “That’s something we’ve got to prepare for, and we’ve got to get it ready for Saturday, especially if we see variables of something we haven’t seen on film. If we see variables, we’ve got to be ready to adjust on the fly and make in-game adjustments.”
Meanwhile, the defense is primarily watching film from Miami offensive coordinator Dan Enos’ time at Arkansas, safety Donovan Stiner said. Enos and UF safeties coach Ron English were MAC rivals when they were head coaches at Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, respectively.
Franks More Confident, In Control
Nearly a year ago, Feleipe Franks was named the Gators’ starting quarterback on the Monday before the season opener against Charleston Southern. He spent most of the 2018 season trying to learn the offense and experienced numerous ups and downs.
Fast forward a year, and Franks is a guy the Gators think they can rely on to win games for them and not just stay out of the way and let the defense and running game carry them.
“I think he’s already improved more during the offseason than he did throughout last season on the field in his performance and understanding the system and decision-making and making plays,” Mullen said. “It is the big picture of the quarterback. It’s every intangible that comes with that. How do you manage the game? Your decision making, your leadership, your mental and physical toughness. All of those are aspects of things at the quarterback position that I think he’s taking huge strides at more than he’s completing a higher percentage of his passes.”
Running back Lamical Perine said players look to Franks for leadership because he has experience playing in big-time games and he’s produced.
“Just a guy that we just always look to when we’re in a moment where we’re down or something like that,” he said. “He’s just a guy [that] always is going to make sure everybody’s up. He’s a high-intensity guy. [He] gives it his all all the time.”
Receiver Josh Hammond said the adversity Franks went through the past two seasons toughened him and brought out some of his leadership qualities.
“He’s always been a competitor since day one, but I think it helps to be more of a leader and being that guy that we can fall back on as an offense to look back to when things aren’t going our way,” he said. “He’s been through so much. He’s always kept his poise and kept pushing, kept pushing and kept pushing. He found his way back on top.”
On the field, the biggest difference with Franks is his knowledge of the offense. Mullen gives his quarterbacks the freedom to switch plays or flip runs from one side to the other, as long as they have a good reason for doing so. He doesn’t just want them to switch plays for the heck of it.
In 2018, Franks didn’t take advantage of that freedom very much because he wasn’t comfortable enough in the offense. He didn’t know when the appropriate situations were to switch things at the line. This year, he’s doing it with a lot more regularity. Franks said that comfort within the offense comes from preparation in the film room.
“When we go in and we’re in the film room, [Mullen] says, ‘You see this look, you want to do this. When you see this look, you want to do that.’ I think it just starts with preparation and then going back to me and him and everybody else being on the same page within the preparation for that game. I think it’s important, and I think comes with the audibles and all the other stuff that comes with it week in and week out.”
Mullen said one of the big keys in practice this week is going to be switching the younger guys’ mentality from training camp mode to game mode.
In training camp, the ones went against the ones, the twos against the twos, etc., and they just worked on their own plays. In game week practices, the ones go against the scout team, who mimics the opponent’s schemes.
There’s a greater sense of urgency needed for game week practices, Mullen said. In training camp, if you get something wrong, you can just watch the film and try to do it better the next day. During the season, a slip-up or two in practice could be the difference between winning and losing. It’s up to the older players to instill that into the younger guys.
“We've got to incorporate [that] we're no longer going against our defense in practice,” he said. “You're going to have different checks. You're going to have different reads on offense. They're going to run different route combinations and different running schemes for the defense to fit. It's not ones, twos, threes running. There's scout-team work. It's just a very, very different mindset.”
Outside of David Reese and C.J. McWilliams, who are both out for the year, Mullen doesn’t anticipate anybody missing the game due to injury.
Right tackle Jean Delance reportedly injured his leg and was on crutches last week, but it appears that the Gators are confident he’ll be good to go for Saturday.
Mullen said any suspensions will be announced on game day, as they were last season.