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Friday, December 04, 2020

Cocktail party over for Mullen, Gators after beating Georgia. Now it’s back to work

<p>Defensive back Kaiir Elam (5) at the Gators game versus UGA Nov. 7.</p>

Defensive back Kaiir Elam (5) at the Gators game versus UGA Nov. 7.

What’s worse than an unreachable itch that no contortionist can scratch? Like a parasite digging into a reptile’s nooks and crannies to satisfy its bloodlust? 

Is it losing to an embittered rival year after year? 

It took three years, but No. 6 Florida finally found relief after beating No. 14 Georgia 44-28 Saturday. The Gators, alleviated of the pricks in their sides, can now bask in ease. In UF coach Dan Mullen’s case, he relished the glory of toppling UGA in the TIAA Bank Field stands with whatever Gators stayed. 

“We’re allowed to have fun sometimes,” Mullen said. “It’s like we’ve become a no fun year.” 

But Mullen, a coach who’s not against expressing himself, kept a reserved perspective on what the win means overall. There’s no time for pomp and circumstance if it derails the future.

“I think our guys wanted to be in a position to compete for a championship,” Mullen said. “We’re still in that position, but there’s a lot of work to do if we want to make that happen.”

But for the first time since taking the reins at Florida, Mullen got to call his favorite high school recruits, bouncing his excitement off theirs. 

“It’s always better than going the other way,” Mullen said. “There is sure something positive around the program.”

Redshirt-junior linebacker James Houston IV, however, can’t help but savor the moment. 

“It's been a long four years,” Houston said.

The win, though, just meant more for redshirt-junior defensive lineman Zachary Carter. Carter was among two Gators suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game after he was ejected the previous week for his involvement in the now-infamous fracas against Missouri. 

Carter recorded zero tackles or sacks in the third and fourth quarters against the Bulldogs, but that doesn’t matter. 

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“I’m really a team guy,” Carter said. “It wasn’t about me the second half. I was just happy I was able to be out there with my team.”

So, how long can Florida enjoy its spotlight? Not very, where Mullen is concerned. 

“By the time I got home, it was probably closer to a celebration of eight hours,” Mullen said. 

“We didn’t come into the season, and our goal on the season was to just beat Georgia.”

The pressure is on Florida to avoid looking past its remaining five games — all against unranked opponents. 

“If you want to be a great team, great teams get better every single week,” Mullen said. “Great teams don’t peak at the midway point of the season. Great teams peak in early, mid-December, and early, mid-January.”

The sentiment is apparently highly contagious within the locker room. 

“You not getting better, that means you're getting worse,” Houston said. “You run the risk of ruining your season off a fluke.”

Whatever capacity Mullen and the team are still holding on to the high of beating Georgia this weekend wasn’t disclosed to the public. Now it’s on to planning against Arkansas (3-3) and its quarterback, who’s fairly familiar.

Contact Christian Ortega at cortega@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @unofficialchris.

Defensive back Kaiir Elam (5) at the Gators game versus UGA Nov. 7.

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