Only two Florida coaches — Will Muschamp and Charley Pell — lost their first three tries against Georgia.
On Saturday, Gators coach Dan Mullen faced the possibility of making that illustrious list, which was gaining on him faster than DK Metcalf hunting down a potential pick-six. Instead, he finally conquered his demons, beating UGA for the first time as a head coach, 44-28.
Was he worried about getting over the hump?
“Uh, I don't know about that,” Mullen said.
For three years, Georgia stood as the Southeastern Conference’s East division gatekeeper. Those bold enough to approach the Bulldogs ran the risk of getting bit. But for the first time coaching the Gators, Mullen bit back.
Now, UF stands on the precipice of its first conference championship appearance since 2016.
“I know it’s been a very tough, difficult year for everybody in every aspect of things,” Mullen said. “But when great things happen to you, like this win for us tonight, we still got to be able to put a smile on our face and enjoy it.”
Mullen doesn’t believe in the past affecting the future. In fact, his thoughts are not set on what games are played this winter.
“It’s put us in position to get ready to go beat Arkansas,” Mullen said of beating No. 5 Georgia.
But it’s not about the Razorbacks, is it? Not now, at least.
Florida is not a program that loses sleep because of Arkansas, and Mullen wasn’t hired to stop the Razorbacks’ dominance.
He was brought in to redirect a rudderless program that lost its way after Urban Meyer cited health concerns and left Florida, only to pick up the same job at Ohio State a year later.
A 44-28 victory with his Heisman-hopeful quarterback passing for 474 yards is a good direction to steer the ship, even if the course took two years longer than fans hoped.
Mullen’s win did everything to wipe the slate clean of doubts and reaffirm that the Gators can contend with the nation’s toughest teams.
The win provokes a convincing argument that the Gators’ offense, which put up more than 570 yards against a tough SEC defense, can do more than beat up middle-of-the-pack defenses.
Even though the game’s first play blew the Gators apart for a 75-yard touchdown run, Florida’s defense carried a second-straight standout performance against the 57th-best total offense in the country.
Athletes’ careers in college are finite. Some coaches are lucky to hold talent for four years, many more are grateful to see three seasons of quality play before thoughts of NFL stardom lure top athletes to the draft.
While two straight New Year Six Bowl wins can command attention from the type of talent that holds success year after year, two straight losses to bitter rivals can also repel them.
A passing comment along the lines of, “remember that win against Georgia,” grants Mullen new bragging rights and a means to load his roster with the talent needed to break even against the nation’s best competition.
But the coach who used spring game attendance to mock Georgia doesn’t want to get caught up in any hoopla over the win. Even if that win means a shot at a destination only three other SEC schools reached.
Contact Christian Ortega at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @unofficialchris.