Gainesville, FL –The Gators held their weekly press conference on Monday and head coach Dan Mullen spent the majority of the time speaking of preparations for SEC rival Tennessee. While the mood was a little lighter following a blowout win, Mullen still displayed his extremely high expectations for the way his team practices and performs.
The conference began with an injury update that revealed that Malik Davis sustained a broken foot against Colorado State and will miss significant time. On the more positive side, LB David Reese and DB C.J. McWilliams are both likely to return to action this week. Defensive back Shawn Davis remains questionable heading into the weekend.
Many teams will use gimmicks throughout the week leading up to facing a rival. Urban Meyer actually placed urinal cakes with the Tennessee logo on them, in the restrooms of the football facilities. When asked if he does anything special to prepare for a rival, Mullen spoke on the unique situation that Florida is in.
“Yeah, I do all kinds of different things,” Mullen said. “Yet, I wanna see how our guys react to it. You know, one of the things here, I think sometimes, if you have the one set rivalry sometimes you can do a little more with it. Like, you don’t call the school by their name or one of those things. That kind of sparks people.
You can do too much if you have more than one rival or you can separate and make one more important than the other.”
“We need that mind set of if we’ve got the lead, finish it off.”
-Dan Mullen, speaking about last season’s contest with Tennessee
With Davis now out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, Mullen was asked what his thoughts were on freshman running back, Dameon Pierce.
“Yeah, I think he’s done a, he’s doing a good job and the big thing that I look for, he’s doing the things that we ask him to do. He’s doing a pretty good job on special teams. Playing hard on special teams. He’s a good player with the ball in his hands. It’s doing the other little things that he’s learning. You know, they have to learn them. You’ve gotta know what rout to run, how to run routes, how to catch the ball, how to protect within pass protection. All of those little things, I think are steps that he’s going to continue to grow.”
The Gators will be in a hostile environment for the first time this season on Saturday. Not only will they be playing in front of a raucous crowd at Neyland Stadium, they will do it at prime time. Mullen and company are already taking steps to prepare his team for a loud and unfriendly venue.
“We’ll mix Rocky Top into our crowd noise. We usually have music playing at practice a lot now for our guys and when we’re at home we put the speakers on the defensive end of the field. Because when you’re at home, the Swamp’s loud when you’re on defense. It’s just the opposite now so we’ll move all the speakers over to the offensive field.”
Mullen has been clear on several occasions that he hasn’t watched last year’s games but when asked about the final play of the Tennessee game, he admitted to having seen it several times. He followed by stating that the game had been replayed recently and he saw some of it. His thoughts on the way it played are indicative of a coach who is eager to change the culture.
“Weren’t we winning? By like, two scores?” said Mullen. “So that stuck out to me. Why did we need a hail Mary? Like, with four minutes left in the game we’re up two scores. Let’s finish the game off. Why didn’t we finish the game off on offense? Why didn’t we get first downs and put it away? We need that mind set of if we’ve got the lead, finish it off.”
It was suggested that the pass rush would be vital to succeed this week. While Mullen agreed, he added to this by saying, “We’ve gotta be balanced on defense too. I think one of the things, the biggest thing we gotta do better of defensively, is we gotta get off the field on third down. I think we were a lot more physical against the run this past week.”
Finally, the topic of whether or not the offensive line has improved was approached. Mullen was hesitant to heap praise on the group.
“Mmyeh, a little bit,” he waffled. “I mean, I’m not jumping up and down yet but I think they’re improving.
Florida takes on SEC rival Tennessee Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. in Knoxville. Look for the ChompTalk.com preview later this week.