Everything Dan Mullen said after Florida’s 55-20 loss to Oklahoma
Florida football had a roller-coaster season like few others, and it ended on a decidedly down note in the Cotton Bowl.
The Gators captured the SEC East Division for the first time in four years, defeating an injury-depleted Georgia team, only to fall out of CFP contention with a loss to 3-touchdown underdog LSU that involved a bizarre shoe-throwing penalty.
Florida recovered to give No. 1-ranked Alabama its closest game of the season, the 52-46 defeat serving as a moral victory of sorts, only for the general public to learn soon after the Gators have been dealing with NCAA violations and sanctions.
Finally, there was Wednesday night’s embarrassing 55-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask threw three interceptions in the first quarter, including his fourth Pick-6 of the season, and then Coach Dan Mullen created some controversy with his postgame comments.
“That wasn’t the 2020 football team that you saw,” Mullen said, pointing out that a number of players had opted-out of the bowl game.
“I view the last game the last team, the 2020 team, played was 11 days ago.”
Here’s the entirety of Mullen’s press conference after the Cotton Bowl:
COACH MULLEN: Yeah, tough game for us. Appreciate we had a lot of young guys. A lot of opportunities for guys to go out there and play in the course of the game. Give Oklahoma credit, did a great job, made a bunch of explosive plays, ran the ball well, made some plays in the pass game, played disciplined football. They really weren’t penalized; we had a lot more penalties than they did as well. We turned the ball over a couple too many times, which you can’t do playing good teams. But a lot of guys got some really good experience for us out there tonight.
Q. What’s a fair takeaway for people from this game, I mean, for your team, Kyle Trask, the future of the program after a performance like this?
COACH MULLEN: Yeah, I think the future’s really bright. You look, we had guys get an opportunity to get experience on the field tonight, go play. We were down a Kyle Trask, you know, I couldn’t be prouder of him and the season that he had with our team this year. A special, special year for him. Coming out of what he was able to accomplish during the course of this year, I thought was special. I’m really happy for him. I mean, you’re talking about a young guy that came in, I think only played a couple plays in his career before he even graduated college. Didn’t play much in high school. And now he’s a Heisman Trophy finalist, and he’s going to be an NFL draft pick. So that says a lot about him.
For the program, I’m excited. You look at the experience we were able to get out there on the field tonight, all the different young guys. A lot of the guys that were out there playing tonight were on the scout team most of the year for us, so very few guys that were playing had even really we kept things simple. Some simple things for them, because they just haven’t really had the chance to even play within the normal game plan week. Some really good experience for those guys, and a lot that we can teach off of with that group.
Q. Just building off of that, you knew coming into this game it was going to be young guys and a lot of young guys. Can you see now maybe where there are some depth issues in certain positions and where other you might have to recruit a little bit differently this next cycle?
COACH MULLEN: Well, I think, yeah. It’s hard to say. That really with the number of people that were out for the game, we were under numbers, actually. To be honest, we could have said I give our guys credit. We had the numbers to not play the game. You see a lot of games have been canceled and not played.
But our young guys, I was really excited. They wanted to go play in that game. They wanted to get the experience. They wanted to be on that stage. So I think you’re able to see us, by playing so many players tonight, guys have experienced their stuff now that they know they can go build off of and learn from. They know now, hey, when I step on the field in a big game against a great football team, there are certain things that you know, when I was recruited when I was playing other high school football, you know, the last time I was really on the field, it wasn’t like this, and it’s a very different game. So I think there’s a lot of those little things that our guys had the opportunity to learn, and they’ll be able to take that experience with them as we get going into spring football.
Q. This season had such high expectations, and you guys really accomplished some great things along the way. Obviously, this is a sour note. And there were some really glaring mistakes in some other games too. So how should this team be remembered?
COACH MULLEN: Well, you know what? I would have loved to have played the season we were supposed to play with the team we were supposed to have this year; but, unfortunately for COVID, we weren’t able to do that. I think it’s a pretty special team right now you know what I mean? When you look back at what we do. I mean, the I don’t know. I look at the games that we played with the team that we had we were supposed to have, which we there were a few this year. SEC championship game, we were close to having our team. The Georgia game, we kind of had our team. There were some games in the season where we had our team playing, and then there were a bunch that we didn’t, just for all the extenuating circumstances that happened. But, to me, during the course of the year, you know, I kind of viewed maybe this is wrong. I viewed this game that wasn’t the 2020 football team that you saw. I mean, there were about 25 guys missing off the 2020 football team out there tonight. That was kind of like a kickstart for us for the future and the opportunity for young guys to go play and, you know, even with me, all the coaches, I wanted to make sure. I think you saw all a lot of different guys on the field, us rotate a lot of different players in different situations, and a lot of that was for me to get to evaluate guys and for us to be able to teach those guys moving forward
That’s how I kind of view this game. Not really; I view the last game the last team the 2020 team played was 11 days ago.
Biggest problem I have with the crowd that blames performances like this on lack of motivation or purpose is that BOTH teams have the option to mail it in, or they can prepare with a sense of pride to take the field and play hard for their teammates
One team decided to play hard
— Joel Klatt (@joelklatt) December 31, 2020
Q. Do we need to start looking at bowl games differently with all of the optouts, and does that take some of the luster of a bowl game from the team itself?
COACH MULLEN: Well, I think that’s an interesting question. And I don’t have the answer for you to that right now, because I think this is such a unique year. You’re talking about a bowl game that we played on 11 days’ rest. We didn’t really get to have, you know, the full bowl experience, which I think is one of the things that make the bowl games so special is the bowl games are a reward for the end of your season, the opportunity for young guys to come to somewhere, big places. I know there’s so many stories about it, but it’s simple. One year, we were playing in the Orange Bowl not last year, earlier in my career. And the guys you have a day they bring you to the beach, they treat you to the beach. And guys are like, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen the ocean.” There’s a learning experience in that for college students.
I thank the Goodyear Cotton Bowl people. The very short time we were here, the hospitality was unbelievable. The people took care of us. Everything we needed, they bent over backwards to try to help and make this game happen. And I think it is so special that we’re able to make these games happen. But I think your question is a much bigger question, which is the future of college football and the direction college football is heading. Now, I think you see a lot of optouts, but you saw whole teams opt out, whole teams not play this year. It’s a very different year. In our past two bowl games that we’ve played before this year, in those two combined, we had one player opt out and not play. So I don’t know if this year is kind of a unique anomaly for what it is. I don’t know if that’s going to be the future. But I think college football really needs to do a lot of evaluating.
And I’m a traditionalist. I think everybody that knows me knows I’m a traditionalist. I love college football. I love college football history, I love the game, I love the passion, I love that everybody has the fans, the people. I love bowl games. I love all of the history and tradition involved in college football. But things are changing, and I think one thing that we have to do is sit there and say, okay, if we can’t hold on to the past, how do we forge into the future, reevaluate and rethink the games? And ask me in a couple of weeks, because I have a couple thoughts on that, but this isn’t the time or the place to go into that
Q. If you said this was kind of a kickstart for the future, what did you see for the future of your defense tonight?
COACH MULLEN: I think I’m really excited that some guys got some experience out there to go play. A bunch of those guys have been on the scout team all year, like I said. I’m looking out there at Kamar Wilkinson should be finishing up his senior year in high school, and he’s playing corner in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. And so I think there’s a lot of things that we can grow off of. and those guys now, guys that have played very played minimum snaps throughout a season, guys that were at best in backup roles, a majority of who were on the scout team for most of the year, so they didn’t even get to run our defense, got opportunities to go play in a bigtime atmosphere in a big game on the defensive side of the ball. And I think there’s a lot of those things that guys can learn from, and we can build off and take that into the future for this team. And I think we have a very young defense that I’m very excited about.
Q. We’ve been asking you about evaluating your coaching staff. Given your comments about this game and how young you were and the optouts, do you evaluate them off of this game and this performance or what you guys have done in the previous 11?
COACH MULLEN: I evaluate everything in our program. This season is now over officially, so I evaluate every aspects of our program as we move forward.
Q. With Emory Jones and even Anthony Richardson entering the game, you mentioned Kyle Trask is going to become a draft pick, so with that, what did you see from them and how you can build upon their performance moving forward?
COACH MULLEN: I think this: Emory obviously has gotten a lot of experience. I think Emory has learned an awful lot. Sitting there with Kyle Trask, he has learned to prepare, to develop, to be ready. And I’m really excited to see what he’s going to bring to the table here moving forward within the offense.
And the same with Anthony. Anthony is just a young guy. You know, I’m really excited about us getting going in the spring and seeing a lot of these guys out here on the field, especially at the quarterback position. We have a couple of young quarterbacks coming in that will be enrolling in school in a couple weeks. I think today you saw the excitement. Both Emory and Anthony are very different style quarterbacks than Kyle, which I think, as everybody knows, we always play to the strengths of our players. So we’ll run. There will be a lot of similarities and a lot of differences in our offense next year, but we’re going to build around the strengths of those guys. And then you know what? You look at this right now, Anthony Richardson is throwing a touchdown pass in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. Emory Jones has played in a lot of big games and a lot of big moments, so he has the experience and he’s really learned how to prepare to get ready to take over that main role.
And, you know, I’m excited. Hopefully I hope. I hope we get back a little bit back to normal and we’re able to have a spring practice and an offseason to go develop. I was talking to a bunch of the guys, and you look at this. You look at Kaiir Elam is really the leader of our secondary moving forward. He has never had a spring practice, not one spring practice day in his life, and he is our veteran leader in the secondary. He’s never had a spring practice, not one, not one. So I think I am really excited about all of these guys and life hopefully getting a little bit back to normal as these guys continue to grow and develop to see what type of team we’re going to have next year.
Q. How many guys, because you said you might have been under, and also do you think this was fair to Kyle Trask, this situation, I mean, that he was put in?
COACH MULLEN: Yeah, I fair. Situations are what they are. I don’t know that there’s anything that’s fair or unfair. I don’t know that anybody in the world is going to say this past year has been fair to them, to be perfectly honest with you. That’s not just football; that’s everything in the world. And that’s life. There’s a lot of people that have gone through a lot tougher things. I’m really proud of all our guys and how they’ve handled this year, but there’s a lot of people that have gone through a lot tougher things than that.
Kyle is a competitor. He wanted to go out there and play. I think a little bit different, but he’s going to be playing with a whole bunch of new receivers next year. He’s always learning, he’s always trying to improve, he’s always trying to get better. That’s just the character and who he is. That’s what’s going to make him successful in the National Football League next year. So I don’t know if fair has anything to do with anything.
Q. Going back to Emory [Jones], he led I think he had 11 plays on that long 16play drive, and then we didn’t really see him. Did that have anything to do with him being sick?
COACH MULLEN: No. He has to get in shape or something like that. You know what I mean? You’ve got to play those long drives right now. He’s used to going in for a couple plays here and there and getting a breather and some water. Like I said, we were going to play a lot of people. He was in. He had a couple plays. We just let him in to go finish the drive. To be honest with you, I talked to Kyle [Trask] at halftime. I said, I’m going to let you play the first series and make a decision in the second half. To share you with Kyle, he wanted to play. It says a lot to him. After the first series, I just said, hey, I want to give these other guys an opportunity. We’re building right here within this course of this game. That’s what we were looking to do coming into it.
And so the but, I mean, I don’t want to underplay what an amazing year. You know what? And to be honest with you, what an amazing career he has had. You know? And I think a lot of people look at a career, you’ve had an unbelievable career. This guy, I was here with with Tim Tebow, unbelievable career. But Tim Tebow played, won a national championship as a freshman, Heisman as a sophomore, played a lot right from day one. Kyle Trask had an unbelievable career because of the adversities he overcame, the character he had to get to where he is. Boy, that is special. You know what? That is something that is special. And I think everybody’s pretty confident in Kyle Trask. Whether it’s in the National Football League or it’s in any aspect of life, he’s going to be extremely successful.
Q. You mentioned all the players that were missing that you could have not played the game if you wanted to. I wonder if you could just kind of fill us in on what the makeup of that was? You know, we knew about the receivers opting out, but …
COACH MULLEN: The Dline, we didn’t have enough Dline to play. Dante Lang ended up playing. We had to scramble to get him medically cleared. We would have been under the Dline number, interior Dlinemen that they have. They never put a number on secondary players, but if they ever did, we would have been under that of, I guess. You know what I mean? So there’s a lot of breakdown of different things. You know what I mean? You look. As you guys saw, there’s a lot of guys that hadn’t played before playing tonight. But, I mean, part of the deal was us talking to the team, and those guys wanting the opportunity to go out there and play. And wanted those opportunities to go out there and grow. And wanted the opportunity to go out there and compete. And now you know what? There’s an awful lot we can learn from those guys in this game.
Q. A lot of fans were disappointed with the way the season ended. What would you tell them? Obviously, losing three games wasn’t the way you wanted to end the season. What would you just tell the fan base in terms of this season and the future of the program?
COACH MULLEN: We just went to our third straight New Year’s Six bowl game. We played for the SEC championship this year. I think we’re headed in the right direction. Can’t wait to see the Gator Nation pack the Swamp. Hopefully, we’re healthy enough to pack the Swamp. I know all the Gator fans are going to be fired up for the future of this program.