Florida coach Dan Mullen stood in front of Florida boosters, alumni and fans shortly after his first National Signing Day as the Gators’ head coach. He took a jab at rival Georgia when asked how he planned to keep pace with the Bulldogs, who won the SEC Championship and appeared in the National Championship game the previous year.
“Listen, making it to one SEC Championship game doesn’t make you a dominant program, you know what I’m saying,” he said. “I mean, two out of the last three years we’ve still been to the SEC Championship Game. So even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.”
Entering his fourth season as head coach, Mullen sits 1-2 versus the red and black. Florida grabbed the 44-28 victory in 2020 on the back of a mammoth performance from quarterback Kyle Trask. Despite a win last season, the 2021 rendition of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is still a must win for the Gators and Mullen.
Any Florida-Georgia game is considered a must-win of course, and any victory over a significant rival is huge. Mullen must prove the victory was a precursor, not a fluke.
Last season’s win should stand in the Florida-Georgia record book with an asterisk because UF defeated a shorthanded Bulldogs team without a true signal-caller.
The Bulldogs scored Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman before the season began, but he opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also landed former USC quarterback J.T. Daniels, but the former five-star recruit sat out most of last season recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in the Trojans’ 2019 season opener.
They also saw a flurry of players depart for the NFL Draft, including the 2019 offensive line nicknamed the “Great Wall of Athens.”
UGA rolled out former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett in Jacksonville. The three-star signal caller went five-for-16 for 78 yards with a touchdown and interception against a mediocre Florida secondary. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart elected to replace Bennett with D’Wan Mathis in the third quarter, who didn’t fare much better. Both quarterbacks overthrew wide open receivers all evening as Florida salted away a double-digit lead.
The Bulldogs also played without several key pieces on defense like star safety Richard LeCounte, which made it more difficult for Georgia to halt the Kyle-to-Kyle connection and the humming Florida offense.
Daniels will most likely be their starter next year after a phenomenal close to the year, with 10 touchdowns and two picks in four games. He’s been labeled with the fourth best odds to win the Heisman and pegged to be the one of the top quarterbacks in next year’s NFL Draft.
The rich got richer again when UGA landed another top-five recruiting class headlined by four 5-stars and two highly recruited safety transfers from Alabama and West Virginia.
Florida needs to rebuild its offense more than a restaurant featured on Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Stars Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney all now wear different colors in the NFL. Redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones will take the reins from Trask with a loaded backfield which will help alleviate the pressure in the passing game, but there’s massive lost production to recover.
The Gators will assuredly improve on defense after an abysmal season. Younger players like junior cornerback Kaiir Elam return. He was named First-Team All-SEC last season and has been slated as a top 10 pick in next year’s draft.
The 2021 Florida-Georgia game is critical to Mullen’s success at Florida. He needs to prove he’s not the blind squirrel who just found a nut for the first time in a while.
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.