Florida’s offense hasn’t been the same since Dan Mullen left to take the Mississippi State head coaching job following the Gators’ 2008 national championship season.
Purely a coincidence?
Probably not, especially when you look at what Mullen has done with this Mississippi State offense. The Bulldogs head to Florida on Saturday with the third-best running game in the SEC -- a year removed from losing top rusher Anthony Dixon.
On top of that, the improvement in junior quarterback Chris Relf from last season to this season is obvious, and the Bulldogs (4-2, 1-2 SEC) have won three in a row.
Clearly, Mullen and his staff are doing something right.
But as he jokes himself, they’re never going to be completely satisfied with the offensive playcaller at Florida.
And right now, Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio is hearing it from the fans after being booed at the Swamp last week during the 33-29 loss to LSU. The Gators, having lost two consecutive games for the first time since the 2007 season, are 11th in the SEC in total offense and having trouble in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
“Fans are always pretty tough there because they have high expectations of winning,” Mullen said. “It certainly wasn’t all happy [with me].
“Now that I’m gone, the Florida fans like me more than when I was there. That’s for sure.”
The Gators also had a guy named Percy Harvin scoring touchdowns at a dizzying rate when Mullen was there, not to mention a guy named Tim Tebow running the show.
The Gators don’t have either now, and the drop-off has been glaring.
Mullen sees it more in the red zone than anywhere.
“They’ve moved the ball well,” Mullen said. “The one thing is that their scoring in the red zone is down a little bit. They’re still a team that’s scoring a lot of points every game.”
But without Tebow, it’s changed things when those yards get tougher to come by near the goal line.
“Just getting used to not having him ... they’re adapting in their red zone offense,” Mullen said.
Addazio, though, is catching the heat, and it hasn’t helped that running back Jeff Demps has been slowed by a foot injury and quarterback John Brantley was nursing sore ribs and a shoulder injury last week.
In short, this is about as limited as the Gators have been on offense since Urban Meyer took the job in 2005, especially with no consistent threat in the running game and so many younger receivers still learning on the job.
What would Mullen’s advice be to his predecessor?
“You gotta do what you believe in. You can’t change,” Mullen said. “You’ve got to be steady and follow what you believe in and know that the plan is going to work in the end.
“Steve knows that. I worked with Steve for a lot of years. He’s a great football coach.”
Besides, Mullen has his own issues, like getting his team to break through in the fourth quarter and make the kind of plays it’s going to take to win a game like this.
The Bulldogs were right there against the Gators a year ago in Starkville, but couldn’t finish the job. It was a similar story earlier this season against Auburn at home.
Two weeks later, Mississippi State owned the fourth quarter against Georgia and hasn’t lost since.
Now, the Bulldogs get to test their fourth-quarter mettle on the road.
“I think our mentality is that our guys believe they can do that more than they did at that time last year [against Florida]. That’s half the step,” Mullen said. “Now whether we actually make those plays, we’re going to find out on Saturday night. But I think the belief and expectations for players that think they’re going to is much higher.”