Ga­tors’ edge over FSU starts with the coaches

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - SPORTS SUNDAY - Mike Bianchi Sen­tinel Colum­nist

The Florida Ga­tors have found their Dan the Man whereas the Florida State Semi­noles ap­pear to have a bad case of the Wil­lies.

With one full reg­u­lar sea­son in the books, the ver­dict is in — at least for now. In Dan Mullen, the Ga­tors clearly found a bet­ter head coach than FSU did when it hired Wil­lie Tag­gart.

The in­dis­putable ev­i­dence came Satur­day when the Ga­tors de­stroyed Florida State 41-14 to end a five-game los­ing streak to the Semi­noles, ex­tend their record to 9-3 and all but clinch a spot in a ma­jor New Year’s Six bowl game while end­ing FSU’s own 36-year bowl streak.

Granted, this is only one sea­son and you can’t make a de­ter­mi­na­tion on coach­ing suc­cesses and fail­ures af­ter a sin­gle sea­son. Just be­cause you have a bad first year doesn’t mean you’re a bad coach (see Bobby Bow­den, who went 5-6 in his first year at Florida State). And just be­cause you had a good first year doesn’t mean you’re a great coach (see Larry Coker, who went 12-0 in his first year at Mi­ami).

Still, you can­not deny the eye test this sea­son, which has shown us Mullen’s team has played much bet­ter than the sum of its parts while Tag­gart’s has played much worse.

And it’s not like Mullen took over a team with more tal­ent and bet­ter play­ers. In fact, judg-

ing by re­cruit­ing classes over the last four years, Mullen in­her­ited a team with sig­nif­i­cantly less tal­ent. Tag­gart took over for Jimbo Fisher, who bolted for Texas A&M af­ter last year’s sub-par 7-6 cam­paign whereas Mullen took over af­ter Jim McEl­wain was fired amid an abysmal 4-7 sea­son.

Mullen has im­proved the Ga­tors in nearly ev­ery phase of the game while Tag­gart’s Semi­noles have di­gressed in nearly ev­ery phase. The most glar­ing ex­am­ple is on of­fense — the side of the ball in which both coaches spe­cial­ize. Mullen has taken a per­pet­u­ally ane­mic Florida of­fense that was ranked 109th in the coun­try last year and had it ranked a re­spectable 56th com­ing into Satur­day’s game. FSU’s of­fense was ranked 100th last year and is 100th this year as well.

Mullen’s Ga­tors have looked dis­ci­plined and fun­da­men­tally sound; Tag­gart’s Semi­noles have looked er­ratic and might be the most bone-headed team in col­lege foot­ball.

It’s no won­der FSU is dead last in the na­tion — 129th out of 129 teams — in penal­ties per game. On Satur­day, the Semi­noles had two penal­ties on their first two of­fen­sive plays. There was an­other se­ries late in the first quar­ter when the Semi­noles went from third-and-1 to third-and-11 thanks to two con­sec­u­tive false start penal­ties.

Even worse, the Semi­noles cost them­selves 14 points Satur­day be­cause of penal­ties. They had a 70-yard touch­down pass called back be­cause of an il­le­gal shift. And at the out­set of the sec­ond half, they had Florida stopped on 3rd-and-7 in the red zone, but Stan­ford Sa­muels was called for un­sports­man­like con­duct when he threw a punch at Florida run­ning back Jor­dan Scar­lett. The Ga­tors scored two plays later.

“We knew they were the most undis­ci­plined team in Amer­ica, so we took ad­van­tage of it,” UF de­fen­sive back Chauncey Gard­ner-John­son said.

At one point in the first half, af­ter FSU had to call a time­out for only hav­ing 10 men on the field dur­ing a punt, Gard­ner-John­son just shook his head as he be­gan ridi­cul­ing the Semi­noles’ side­line.

Ex­plained Gard­nerJohn­son: “I was just teas­ing them and telling them, ‘How do you all ex­pect to com­pete when you’re com­ing in un­pre­pared? You can’t be pre­pared with 10 men; you have to be pre­pared with all 11.’ ”

Sadly, not even FSU’s play­ers and coaches dis­agree with Gard­ner-John­son’s assess­ment. It’s hard to ar­gue when six of the Semi­noles’ seven losses have come by at least 19 points and Florida State (5-7) fin­ished with a los­ing record for the first time in 42 years.

“Dis­ap­point­ing game. Dis­ap­point­ing sea­son,” Tag­gart said. “This is un­ac­cept­able here at Florida State. … You look at some of the games we lost and why we lost and it’s be­cause we weren’t dis­ci­plined.”

Added tear­ful FSU quar­ter­back Deon­dre Fran­cois: “Mis­takes; we’re just mak­ing mis­takes. We have a big play and it gets called back on a stupid penalty. It just means we’re undis­ci­plined.”

Mean­while, Mullen has the Ga­tors play­ing smart, sound foot­ball and has turned much-ma­ligned Feleipe Franks into an im­prov­ing and ser­vice­able SEC quar­ter­back. The Ga­tors out­gained FSU 536-293 on Satur­day, with Franks com­plet­ing 16 of 26 passes for 254 yards and three touch­downs.

Franks, booed un­mer­ci­fully ear­lier this sea­son, was cheered rau­cously Satur­day as he left the field with UF fans ser­e­nad­ing him with chants of, “It’s great to be a Florida Ga­tor!” Mullen stood side-by-side with his quar­ter­back and led the cheers, wav­ing his vi­sor like an orches­tra con­duc­tor wav­ing his ba­ton.

“We’re head­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” Mullen said. “We want to build a pro­gram that com­petes for SEC and na­tional cham­pi­onships ev­ery year. This 9-3 sea­son is solid and gives us a lot to build on.”

Said ec­static UF ath­let­ics di­rec­tor Scott Strick­lin, who hired Mullen 363 days ago:

“From where we were a year ago to where we are now, this is pretty fulfilling. It would be hard to an­tic­i­pate this first year go­ing as well as it has. I couldn’t be hap­pier.”

With one reg­u­lar sea­son in the books, it’s clear Dan the Man has a plan.

The Semi­noles, mean­while, are in a trou­bling state of Wil­lie-nilly.

Email me at mbianchi @or­lan­dosen­tinel.com. Hit me up on Twit­ter @BianchiWrites and lis­ten to my Open Mike ra­dio show ev­ery week­day from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.

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