Florida coach Dan Mullen has enjoyed tremendous success with various types of quarterbacks throughout his career. Some were dynamic runners, such as Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott, and Nick Fitzgerald. Others have been prototypical pocket-passers, such as Alex Smith, Chris Leak, and Kyle Trask. Still others, such as Feleipe Franks, fell somewhere in between. Some were highly coveted recruits, such as Tebow and Franks. Meanwhile, Prescott, Fitzgerald and Trask were barely recruited at all.
Mullen believes the reason he’s been able to be successful with such a diverse cast of characters is because of the time he spends teaching the intricacies of the entire offense.
Some coaches teach their quarterbacks what to do and how to do it. “If you get this coverage against this play, throw to this guy. If the defense brings pressure from here, slide your protection that way.” However, Mullen thinks that style of coaching has its limitations. All a defense has to do is change their play before the snap or do a good job of disguising their coverages, and the quarterback might not make the correct decision in time.
Instead, Mullen and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson spend countless hours doing what they call “teaching the why.” They want their quarterbacks to understand why a certain play works against a certain coverage and why they should adjust the protection a certain way. That way, they can diagnose what the defense is trying to do, make the correct adjustments, and make quick and accurate decisions after the ball is snapped.
Mullen views the quarterback position as much more than just a guy who throws the football. He wants his signal-caller to effectively be an offensive coordinator on the field, a field general.
“The first thing we always teach all the quarterbacks is you better understand protection,” Mullen said. “That’s self-preservation right there. You better know every protection, how we’re going to protect you, where are your hots, where are your sites, how to check protections. And then you’re getting into and understanding how to read every type of defense. What are the defensive indicators that are out there, and then, how do you want to attack every defense?”
Trask said he understands why the coaches call certain plays at certain times better this year than he did last year. He thinks that increased understanding comes from having nearly a full season of experience under his belt and having an offseason to prepare as the starter.
“When I came in last year, I kind of stepped into a role that I needed to fill big shoes and just know the play, know my read and get the ball to the right person's hands,” Trask said. “This year, having that whole year of experience, I know exactly what the play is, and now I can tell what the coaches are thinking by the play call as far as where we want to go with the ball versus what defense and what to do.”
That better grasp of the offense has allowed him to take advantage of the freedom afforded him by his coaches more frequently. Sometimes, Mullen and Johnson will call multiple plays and allow Trask to select the best one based on what he sees. Trask also has the freedom to kill a play altogether and run something completely different. They have complete trust in him to get them into the right plays.
“I guess he can change the play to whatever he wanted to change it to at any time in the course of the game,” Mullen said. “All I’m going to ask him is why he did it. If he doesn’t have a good reason, I’ll tell him ‘Don’t do it again.’ If he has a good reason, then I’ll tell him ‘Good idea.’”
Johnson said Trask works extremely hard to master the offense and the game plan each week, and his confidence permeates to the rest of the offense.
“He's very diligent,” Johnson said. “He prepares his tail off. He understands the game. That's just really our teaching progression. We want to teach you what to do, how to do it. And then you see people start to really excel when they understand why we're doing what we're doing as an offense and you can anticipate what's coming next.
“When you can basically understand what's happening before it happens and you can play with that type of confidence, it really carries over to the entire team, and you have a chance to play really, really well if that happens.”
Maybe even good enough to earn a statue outside of the Swamp in the coming months.
Gators not overlooking Commodores
On paper, the No. 6 Gators (5-1) might as well be on another bye week this week. Vanderbilt is 0-6, and they’ve lost their three home games by an average margin of 33.7 points. Florida opened as a 31-point favorite in the betting odds.
The Gators know that they cannot afford to be complacent, however. They’ve gotten off to slow starts in each of the last two meetings against the Commodores, trailing 21-3 in the second quarter in 2018 and only leading 14-0 at halftime in 2019.
They’ll look to buck that trend this time around, but doing so could be challenging. In addition to the 11 a.m. local kickoff time that frequently lulls top-ranked teams to sleep, Vanderbilt is only allowing a small number of parents and graduate students to attend the game due to virus concerns. The atmosphere will be non-existent.
“If you want to be great, we have to play at an extremely high level,” Mullen said. “If we want to have a great season, you can’t come out and start slow. No matter what the atmosphere, what is going on, you got to come out and play at a certain level and play to our standard of what we’re doing. You can’t come out and start slow like we did two years ago up there. We addressed that today, and we’ll see.”
Mullen said that while they obviously still have to prepare for Vanderbilt from a schematic standpoint, the bigger challenge this week is to continue getting better as a team. Championship-level teams don’t take a step back throughout the course of the season.
“That’s how you get better,” Mullen said. “Last week’s game, it was a lot, ‘We came off an emotional win; let’s make sure we continue that motivation. We haven’t arrived yet.’ This week’s game is kind of, ‘OK, we showed we can get over an emotional game and come back and respond good, but are we focused enough on our personal improvement from one week to the next?’”
As Trask explained, winning the game is not the goal each week. Winning the game is merely a byproduct of accomplishing their goal of self-improvement.
“We’ve just got to treat it like any other week,” Trask said. “We came off the huge Georgia win, a lot of people didn't really like us against Arkansas. Some people even said it was a trap game. But we did a great job of ignoring all the outside noise and focusing on our job and what we can do and just practicing to our full potential every single day, and I just think we have to do a great job of continuing to do that this week. We're not playing to win every game; we're playing to play to our full potential every game, which obviously hopefully includes winning.”
Backup tight ends picking up slack
With Kyle Pitts out versus Arkansas and out again this week following a concussion and nose surgery, Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer have had to carry the load at the tight end position.
So far, so good.
Zipperer caught three passes for 47 yards and his first two touchdowns of the season against Arkansas.
“[Trask] threw a perfect ball,” Zipperer said. “How the defender was playing me, I had made a stutter step. So, he put a lot of air on it so I could run up under the ball.
“It felt great. It's always going to feel great getting into the end zone, but you got to look past that and keep doing what you're doing.”
Gamble, meanwhile, failed to catch a pass but still made a large impact in the game with his stellar blocking.
Mullen said Gamble’s effort in the running game is a testament to the selfless culture the coaches have instilled and the players have bought into.
“It shows his maturity, his development and our guys’ understanding of the offense,” he said. “‘Hey, I’m in there to do my role, do my job to the best of my ability.’ And if that’s making touchdown catches, make touchdown catches. If it’s to block, block because, at the end of the year, you’ll roll around and see everybody had the opportunity to have success and have stats.”
Mullen thinks the way the duo was prepared and played at a high level from the moment Pitts left the Georgia game shows you what a great job coach Tim Brewster has done at that position.
“I think he’s done a really good job with those guys,” Mullen said. “I think you see it with Gamble and Zipperer coming into the game and those guys and how they’ve performed. It’s one thing in helping Kyle. Kyle’s a special athlete, and some of the stuff Kyle does, you’re like, ‘Wow.’ I’m not going to bash Brew, but he didn’t really coach him to leap over two guys and make this ridiculous catch. That’s God-given ability right there. When you watch the other guys come in and how they perform, you [see] what a good job he’s done in preparing the depth and the quality of depth of everybody in that room.”
- Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said left tackle Stone Forsythe has done a great job of studying what opponents are trying to do to him and refining his technique accordingly. He's having a fantastic year. When you have a guy like that protecting the blindside, that helps you as a play-caller.
- Keon Zipperer said that when he was being recruited Florida was a no-brainer decision for him; he just wanted to take his visits and show his mom a good time.
- Justin Shorter says he's caught over 100 balls every day since he was a kid except for maybe some Sundays. All that work has made him comfortable making big plays in games. His mom moved to Gainesville with him and throws him 100 balls every day. She picks him up from practice every day.
- Everything that was said during today’s press-conferences is posted in the We Chomp Chat