STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State rudely welcomed Dan Mullen back—with a smattering of boos and some salty signs—but Mullen had something better in store.
Mullen and the Gators came into a rocking, rowdy, cowbell-clanging environment at Davis Wade Stadium, pulling out a trick play and going for it on fourth down in a key spot to stun the touchdown-favorite Bulldogs in a rousing 13–6 win for Florida and their head coach, who had spent the previous nine years at Mississippi State.
Our quick analysis points from a wild affair in Mississippi:
Welcome back, Coach
Mississippi State fans didn’t roll out the maroon carpet for their former coach. Boos serenaded Mullen and his new team as they emerged from the locker room before Saturday’s game, but the jeers were not overwhelming. It was pretty clear some Bulldogs fans resisted booing the man who led them to eight straight bowls and 69 wins in nine seasons in Starkville.
The first row of fans in Mississippi State’s student section had a message for Mullen spelled out on their chests, one letter or symbol at a time: #NewCoachWhoDis. Mullen’s team, at least early on, didn’t handle the atmosphere that the coach said earlier this week he helped create. Through the first quarter and a half, the Gators had five penalties, four of them false starts, before roaring back in the second half.
Third and Grantham comes through
Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is a journeyman of a coordinator in the southeast, with stops at Georgia, Louisville, Mississippi State and now the Gators. Fans often criticize his propensity to dial up bring-the-house blitzes on third down. “Third and Grantham,” they say. He did it again Saturday—and it often worked.
If the rush didn’t bring down Fitzgerald (who took six sacks on the night, including on the Bulldogs’ final offensive play of the game), it knocked off his concentration, resulting in wide throws or tipped passes. The Bulldogs started a dreadful 2-for-10 on third-down attempts, and Grantham’s defense forced at least four three-and-outs in the second half. State’s offense looked so grim at times that maroon-clad fans booed their own team at least twice in the second half.
A few weeks ago, BYU ran a trick play that duped Wisconsin during the Cougars’ 24–21 upset at Camp Randall Stadium. The man who called that play, BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, said the Cougars stole it from Boise State.
Well, it was passed down again. Dan Mullen dialed up a similar play—a receiver pass—and it resulted in a a 20-yard touchdown: Quarterback Feleipe Franks threw laterally to receiver Kadarius Toney, feigning a wideout screen on the edge. He then tossed downfield to open tight end Moral Stephens. The touchdown gave the Gators their first lead, 10–6, midway through the third quarter, and that proved to be all Florida’s defense needed.