So far, Dan Mullen cleared his biggest hurdle.
His Florida Gators (finally) defeated the Georgia Bulldogs under his tenure as head coach. That opens up his second hurdle: Barring any particularly unforeseen circumstances, UF will find itself in the SEC Championship Game for the first time under Mullen.
But if the Gators play like they did against Kentucky on Saturday, they won’t celebrate the feat for long.
Florida has started slow the last two games. It ended the first half leading 17-10 against a winless Vanderbilt team, and at the end of the half on Saturday, it led Kentucky by only four points, 14-10. Both games saw adjustments from the Gators: UF only allowed seven points in the second half of the Vanderbilt game and gave up none in the second half of Saturday’s game against the Wildcats, and the offense scored 21 and 20 points in the second half of both games, respectively.
“I think (the team was) probably a little disappointed with how they played in that first half,” coach Mullen said after the Kentucky game.
When the Gators get to the SEC Championship, though, they’ll likely be met by college football’s tyrannical empire in the Alabama Crimson Tide. And the Crimson Tide don’t start slow.
In fact, Alabama has yet to have a first half of football this year without scoring at least 20 points. They score 26 points on average in the first half compared to Florida’s 24.6, and across the last two games, the Tide have outscored the Gators in the first half 49-27.
Quite frankly, managing only seven offensive points against the Wildcats in the first half — the other seven came on special teams due to a punt return from wideout Kadarius Toney — won’t cut it against quite a few teams in the SEC, much less its fiercest combatant.
The defense hasn’t been giving up many points to these types of teams. However, allowing Vanderbilt to march down the field and score on its first drive and letting Kentucky tie the game early in the second quarter are the types of plays that prompt Mullen to start screaming at defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on the sideline. Florida managed to make the necessary adjustments at the half when facing both unranked teams, but the Crimson Tide will be harder to adjust to when the two squads’ fated clash in Atlanta’s steel arena arrives.
Not only has Alabama let up just 10 second-half points in its last two games, it has let up just 13 points total over the last three and is allowing just 8.8 points per second half all year. The Tide haven’t let anyone adjust to their scheme, and Florida shouldn’t count on doing the same come the SEC Championship.
If Florida wants to beat Alabama, it cannot start slow like it has the past two weeks. The Gators need to come out fast and bolt down on the defensive side of the ball when the game in Atlanta rolls around. If they don’t, they’ll find themselves in the same exact spot they were in the past two years of Mullen’s tenure.
Contact River Wells at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells.
Tre’Vez Johnson (16), Jesiah Pierre (40) and Rashad Torrence II (22) celebrate in the Gators game against Kentucky in The Swamp on Nov. 28.