Florida’s orange team beat Florida’s blue team, 35-30, on Saturday in the school’s annual spring game, but the score and the results don’t matter.
The game was riddled with questionable calls, questionable personnel groupings and questionable quarterback runs that probably should have been marked down long before they actually were. Statistics were skewed by a couple of touchdown passes to former Gators who appeared from the sidelines — uncovered, of course — just in time to make scoring grabs. And because of the game’s new format — a player draft that took place on Friday — UF’s first-team offense never faced its first-team defense.
All of that made it difficult to gauge much of anything beyond standout individual performances. That’s exactly how first-year UF head coach Dan Mullen wanted it.
“I’m gonna have fun,” he said. “Life’s too short. We’re gonna have fun.”
If there was one overarching observation to be made from Saturday’s spring game, it’s that one of Mullen’s main goals is to give a football-starved fan base something to cheer about. That means scoring points and playing hard-hitting defense, sure, but it also means allowing for more player expression.
Under former coach Jim McElwain, spring games and regular season games alike felt sterile. No touchdown celebrations, little excitement and small personality. Mullen reversed all of that.
Whether it was players wearing sleeves and sweatbands, 1990s UF standouts Lawrence Wright and Travis McGriff catching touchdown passes, Feleipe Franks punting a ball into the stadium’s second deck following a long touchdown run or players celebrating a score with a game of duck-duck-goose, the message was clear.
Mullen wants to make Florida football fun again, both by playing better and having a good time doing it. He lived that truth before an announced crowd of 53,015.
One celebration perhaps got a little carried away in light of the Parkland shooting — tight end Kemore Gamble, a Miami Southridge alum, caught a touchdown pass and pretended to “gun down” his teammates like a movie gangster. He apologized after the game on Twitter, writing “I hope everyone enjoyed themselves today in The Swamp. I didn’t mean to disrespect anyone.” That aside, the celebrations were pretty tame.
But endzone hijinks and flashy clothes won’t matter if the team starts losing, and Mullen knows that. But with the season still four months away, he has time to figure that part out. Saturday was about getting fans excited about the program’s new direction. Based on the turnout, Mullen thinks it was mission accomplished.
“He cares as much about the fans having an exciting team — a team to be proud of — as he does about those recruits,” said Gary Condron, a Florida booster who served as guest head coach of the Orange team.
Mullen also tried to have fun on the field, starting at quarterback.
Saturday furthered the narrative that UF’s starting quarterback in 2018 will be either Kyle Trask or Feleipe Franks. But neither one did much to really separate himself heading into the summer.
Franks showed some mobility with a 60-yard scramble for a touchdown and also finished with a higher QBR (176.1) than Trask (126.1). But Franks had a smaller sample size.
He went 8-of-12 for 117 yards and a touchdown to Trask’s 12-of-24 performance that resulted in 178 passing yards and a touchdown.
Freshman Emory Jones also showed some flashes in limited action. He finished 3-of-7 for 93 yards and two touchdowns.
“I wanna see a lot more out of them moving forward,” Mullen said of the group. “I saw some really good things, [and] I saw some missed simple things.
“They have got to work so they get comfortable and play at a consistent basis."