We have reached the mid-point of the season and the Gators are staring down the barrel of a top ten matchup with the Auburn Tigers, they are being featured on the first episode of an HBO television series that just finished filming, oh, and it’s homecoming week, as well. With so much riding on this week, Florida will need to be dialed in.
None the less, Dan Mullen met with the media on Monday afternoon because… business as usual.
The Gators have been wracked with injuries thus far this season, but they will have five key players back in the fray, and just in time for Auburn. With several of those players having missed multiple weeks, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that there might be some rust built-up.
“The guys that are veteran players, I don’t worry about as much,” Mullen said. “The key is just getting them back in the flow of practice and getting them the practice reps they need. You know, some of them… you know, I’m not going to say everybody’s a hundred percent, coming back into it but they’re going to be ready to play and [it’s up to] us getting them prepared throughout the week to be ready to be as close to a hundred percent, on Saturday, as possible.”
The five players that are coming back are definitely guys that the Gators will be thankful to have at their disposal Saturday afternoon. Freddie Swain, Jawaan Taylor, Jabari Zuniga, CJ Henderson, and Ventrell Miller are each expected to contribute in Florida’s first top ten Gameday appearance since 2012. It goes without saying that having Henderson and Zuniga back in the defense could be a potential game changer for the Gators.
Auburn will have one of the most talented defenses the Gators have faced all year. Dan Mullen has faced the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele a few times during his career, lending some familiarity to what his schemes and his players bring to the table.
“They’re always very very sound,” stated Mullen. “They’re going to be very aggressive. When you look at this defense, he’ll play to his strengths. You know, he’s a good enough coach to be able to play to his strengths and put guys in positions to be successful. They’ve probably got three guys that could have been high draft picks last year that came back. You know? That shows a lot about their program and where they’re at. We had guys leave… They had guys that came back that probably would’ve been drafted ahead of where our guys got drafted, that left early. So they have some talent. Especially up front on the defensive front. They can cause problems and They’re disruptive that way.”
The Tigers are led by true freshman quarterback, Bo Nix, who was named the SEC Freshman of the Week this week. Although he has been a mixed bag so far this season – as you would expect from a true freshman – he performed quite well in Auburn’s dismantling of Miss State this past weekend. Mullen has spent some time evaluating the young signal caller’s skill set.
“I think he’s come along. I remember watching all the high school film last year, I thought he was one of the better, if not the best, certainly one of the best high school quarterbacks coming out of the country last year, where we ranked him very close to the top,” said Mullen. “I think he’s handled it very well. He’s got talent and you just see, he’s already had to play in some big games, in big moments, and he’s handled that pretty well as a freshman.”
Florida will be donning the throwback uniforms of the 60’s this weekend. Interestingly enough, the last time these particular uniforms were worn regularly, the Gators had another quarterback who wore the number 11. Kyle Trask will be harkening back to the days when Steve Spurrier was slinging the ball downfield for Florida. Mullen fielded a question about the logistics of getting a special uniform just for one game.
“Yeah, I just saw it. It looks pretty cool,” Mullen retorted. “You know what? I’ll be honest with you. That’s probably something that, administratively, gets brought to my attention in the spring and at that time, I’m like, ‘Yeah, sounds like a great idea!’ and I haven’t thought one lick about it until someone told me we’re wearing throwback jerseys. I’m like, ‘Oh, we are? Ok, cool!’ So I probably signed off on it, said ‘that’s great,’ and have no recollection of doing so.”
Other topics of discussion included the 2006 meeting with Auburn (Florida’s only loss), Mullen’s 2007 appendectomy on the night before facing Auburn in the Swamp, and the comments he made about the offensive line following last weekend’s blowout of Towson.
“We’ve got to push buttons. I mean, I push plenty of buttons. Hevesy pushes lots of buttons,” Mullen said of his remarks. “I mean, we get after the guys. They’ve gotta know the sense of urgency. I think that’s the biggest one. You know what I mean? They’re not bad guys. They work hard. They’re good guys. They try to put in the time, but what they’ve gotta understand is what putting in the time means. I mean we’ve got to practice but, you guys, what are you doing when you leave here? What extra things are you doing to make sure that you’re improving? And making sure they know they need to do that because what they’re currently doing is not enough.”