Florida coach Dan Mullen excited but uncertain about Gators’ reload on offense

Florida coach Dan Mullen expressed guarded optimism at SEC Media Days on July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala.
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HOOVER, Ala. — Florida coach Dan Mullen kicked off SEC Media Days on Monday saying he doesn’t plan to fit a square peg into a round hole, as far as the type of offense the Gators’ will run this season.

“We’ll be a little bit different offensively,” Mullen told the room full of reporters in the ballroom of the Wynfrey Hotel, easing into the reality that the Gators’ passing game will take a step back this season.

“But that’s part of the fun of coaching, is being able to adapt and change and build around the players that we have.”

What the Gators do not have is Heisman Trophy finalist and second-round NFL Draft pick Kyle Trask coming back at quarterback, nor No. 4 overall NFL draft pick Kyle Pitts and first-round receiver Kadarius Toney returning to catch passes.

Florida led the nation with 378;6 yards passing per game during an 8-4 season that Mullen classified as “great.”

This, even though the Gators lost their last three games of the season and their SEC Championship drought was extended to 13 years.

“After coming off a great year, obviously,” Mullen said, " a little bit of challenge.”

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To be clear, Mullen has confidence in fourth-year quarterback Emory Jones, a LaGrange, Ga., product who has appeared in 24 games over the course of his career.

“If you get into statistics and go look at Emory Jones’ statistics, he’s a guy that’s played a bunch of football,” Mullen said, referencing Jones’ relatively modest numbers, 55-of-86 passing for 613yards with 7 touchdowns and 1 interception.

“He’s not coming in as a guy that’s never played before. So I’m really excited about that.”

But, Mullen added, Florida has not settled on a personality for its offense.

“Thirteen years here (in the SEC), I don’t know what my bread and butter is because we’ve been all over the place with every different style of quarterback,” Mullen said. “If you go back, even being a coordinator, you go back to the Alex Smiths and the Chris Leaks, through the Tebows, to Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott. There’s been so many different variations.

“I think the key to it is, and one of the reasons we’ve been successful is, never try to take a square peg and put it into a round hole. It’s identifying what our guys do really well and build around the strengths of not just the quarterback, but the offense as a whole.”

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Jones’ career-high passing game was as a redshirt freshman three seasons ago in a 63-10 win over Idaho, when he was 12-of-16 passing for 125 yards with 2 touchdowns.

It’s a different Gators’ offense around Jones now, however.

Florida loses more than 60 percent of its receiver production from last season — in addition to Trask — and figures to have its hands full with a difficult schedule.

The Gators play SEC West foe LSU as their annual crossover opponent, and this season Alabama rotates on to Florida’s regular-season schedule for the first time since 2014.

And, Mullen said, Florida would love to see a return trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to play in the SEC Championship Game.

“We’ve been to three straight New Year’s Six bowl games,” Mullen said. “Hopefully, we can get that one step further into a New Year’s Six playoff game this year. I’d love the opportunity to get back to Atlanta to compete for another SEC Championship this year like we did last year. It was really exciting.”

Florida has not made back-to-back SEC Championship Game appearances since 2015 and 2016, losing to Alabama by scores of 29-15 and 54-16.

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