GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida hired coach Dan Mullen from Mississippi State in an effort to boost what has been a stagnant offense for close to a decade.
The Gators will get a first glimpse of that offense when Mullen makes his UF head coaching debut on Saturday against FCS opponent Charleston Southern.
Mullen was brought in to fix an offense that has struggled since the departure of Heisman winning quarterback Tim Tebow. Florida has not finished in the top 100 in scoring offense since 2014 and higher than 96th in total offense since 2010.
“Nobody likes points more than me,” Mullen said at his introductory press conference.
Mullen is no stranger to the sidelines at The Swamp, having served as offensive coordinator at UF from 2005-08 under Urban Meyer before leaving for his first head coaching job at Mississippi State. But being a head coach for the Gators creates even greater expectations.
At Mississippi State, Mullen’s spread offense led the SEC in 2014, averaging 513.8 yards per game. Mullen also had a knack for developing quarterbacks, including former Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott, a former Heisman candidate and current starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
“My definition of the spread offense may be different than others,” Mullen said. “I want to spread the field sideline to sideline and make sure you defend the entire field.”
Mullen made his first significant offensive move on Monday in naming redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks as starting quarterback. Franks made eight starts and appeared in all 11 games for the Gators last season, passing for 1,438 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Mullen said that Franks won the job over sophomore Kyle Trask and freshman Emory Jones based on the arm strength and mobility he showed in fall camp.
“We felt Feleipe, the ability to extend plays, the athleticism, gives us the best chance to win now,” Mullen said.
Florida junior wide receiver Joshua Hammond said that Franks showed the kind of leadership in fall camp that Mullen is looking for in the quarterback position.
“When things got tough, when things got hard, just his leadership potential really pushed him over the top,” Hammond said. “Feleipe, I guess you could say, he put himself more in that position and showed that he really wanted to be a starting quarterback more than anybody else. I think that was the biggest thing.
“His confidence is really high. He’s been through the worst and he feels like it’s only up from now. He’s definitely really confident and just ready to get out there and compete.”
–RB Jordan Scarlett is looking for redemption after sitting out last season on suspension for his involvement in a credit card fraud scheme. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Scarlett is UF’s most complete running back in terms of speed and physicality. Scarlett took over the starting running back job at UF late in his sophomore year in 2016 and was impressive, rushing for a team-high 889 yards on 179 carries with 6 TDs. Mullen wants to establish the run and Scarlett will get his opportunities in week one to show that he’s up to the task.
–WR Van Jefferson was granted immediate eligibility to play for the Gators after transferring from Ole Miss during the offseason. Jefferson was UF’s most impressive receiver during spring drills, running crisp routes while catching nearly ball thrown his way. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Jefferson had 42 catches for 456 yards and 1 TD as a slot receiver at Ole Miss last season. His role could be expanded at UF this season in Mullen’s spread offense.
–ILB David Reese was UF’s top run stuffer last season, leading the Gators in tackles (102) while finishing second on the team in tackles for loss (10) in 2017. The 6-foot-1, 248-pound Reese also tallied 1.5 interceptions, 1 sack and 1 QB hurry in 2017. Given UF’s lack of depth at linebacker, it will be important for Reese to stay healthy and provide leadership to a young group.
–DE Cece Jefferson opted to return for his senior season rather than declare for the NFL draft. “I didn’t feel I was physically or mentally ready for the NFL,” Jefferson said. “If I’m going to the next level, I want to be 100 percent ready, no doubt in my mind.” A former five-star prospect from Baker County (Fla.), the 6-foot-1, 252-pound Jefferson has amassed just 9.5 sacks in his first three years at Florida but could get more opportunities to rush the passer as a hybrid DE-OLB in new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s various 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes. Jefferson suffered a shoulder injury during the spring but is back to full health for UF’s opener against Charleston Southern on Saturday.