Ga­tors’ Mullen is play-call phe­nom

Florida coach’s de­cep­tion de­lights fans, but frus­trates foes.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Edgar Thomp­son | Or­lando Sen­tinel

GAINESVILLE — More than 90,000 peo­ple were watch­ing closely, but Dan Mullen did not care.

The Florida coach was confident no one was go­ing to no­tice, es­pe­cially the LSU Tigers Satur­day in the sold-out Swamp.

Trail­ing 19-14 and fac­ing first-and-10 in the red zone, Mullen slipped 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end Lu­cas Krull into the game for just his third snap of the day. No one caught on un­til it was too late.

Krull’s throw­back pass to quar­ter­back Feleipe Franks set up the game-win­ning touch­down and once again high­lighted Mullen’s play-call­ing prow­ess.

“I think he’s one of the gifted ones we have in col­lege foot­ball,” said CBS an­a­lyst Gary Daniel­son, who called the game. “He al­ways has been.”

Mullen’s ti­tle may be foot­ball coach, but when call­ing plays, no la­bel ap­plies. On game days, he turns into a show­man, a card shark and a ma­gi­cian.

“He al­ways has some­thing up his sleeve,” said Van­der­bilt coach Derek Ma­son, whose Com­modores will host Mullen’s No. 14 Ga­tors Satur­day in Nashville. Kick­off is set for noon and the game will air on ESPN.

Mullen’s tai­lor might have to stock up on ex­tra ma­te­rial for the 46-year-old coach with a wild imag­i­na­tion and end­less reser­voir of Xs and Os.

Give Mullen a pad, a pen and a de­fense to at­tack and he’ll turn into a vi­sor-wear­ing Van Gogh.

“There’s so many plays and so lit­tle time,” he said. “If you give me a pad, I prob­a­bly can draw up a thou­sand.”

The son of a dance in­struc­tor from Eng­land, Mullen de­vel­oped a sense of tim­ing and a cre­ative bent as a child. When it came to foot­ball, he had a sixth sense. It usu­ally leads to six points. A jump pass in the sea­son opener, a dou­ble-pass at Mis­sis­sippi State and a throw­back toss against LSU’s Tigers are re­cent ex­am­ples. What Mullen cooks up next is any­one’s guess — just the way he wants it.

“'We're go­ing to run a dou­ble-re­verse hand-off kneel-down flea-flicker, and we're go­ing to run it on the sev­enth play of the game,” Mullen joked when asked what was in store this week­end for the Com­modores.

Win­ners of four con­sec­u­tive games, the Ga­tors (5-1, 3-1 SEC) might not need any­thing spe­cial to beat strug­gling Van­der­bilt (3-3, 0-2). South Carolina and Ge­or­gia beat the Com­modores by a com­bined score of 78-27.

If Mullen does need to dig into his bag of tricks, UF’s play­ers will be ready. Mullen views trick plays sim­ply as part of the play­book and does not trot them out on a whim.

The Ga­tors be­gan prac­tic­ing Mullen’s art of de­cep­tion dur­ing the open­ing days of pre­sea­son camp and con­tinue to work on those plays ev­ery week.

“Ev­ery time we rep it, twice a week, three times a week, it might not be two or three weeks be­fore we use it,” said of­fen­sive line coach John Hevesy, the team’s co-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and a long­time Mullen lieu­tenant. “It’s just that they’re com­fort­able with it, so it’s like any other

play. So when you call the play it’s not like, ‘OK, this is this play …’

“It’s, ‘OK, here we go, let’s run it.’”

UF put four or five trick plays into each game plan but might not end up us­ing any of them.

But Mullen’s true gift goes beyond or­ches­trat­ing the plays ev­ery­one will be dis­cussing for days.

“Trick plays are cool and you get a lot of no­to­ri­ety and peo­ple love to talk about it af­ter the game, but it’s just ic­ing on the cake,” said Daniel­son, a for­mer NFL quar­ter­back for 13 sea­sons. “What sep­a­rates Dan is that he can find a thread on the sweater and pull at it and un­der­stand how it dis­torts the de­fense. He can take a de­fense that is sound and make it un­sound with one or two plays, or one or two for­ma­tions or one mo­tion that give de­fenses prob­lems.

“He seems to have a real gut in­stinct for find­ing it, and then utiliz­ing it to give him bet­ter odds the rest of the game.”

Against LSU, Mullen no­ticed the Tigers shift­ing their lineback­ers to the field side and be­gan to call op­tions runs to the bound­ary side with Franks. The Ga­tors had sev­eral nice gains off the play.

“That one play forced [LSU de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dave] Aranda to move around his guys,” Daniel­son said. “When­ever you plug a leak some­where, you have a leak some­where else. It forced Dave to make the next move, and it seemed like Dan was al­ways a step ahead of him at that point.”

Florida fans want their coach to re­main a step ahead at all times.

Mullen said his in­box is flooded with sug­ges­tions on what trick play he should dial up next.

“I get emails all the time for them,” he said. “Peo­ple send­ing me all kinds of plays for what we should and shouldn’t do.”

Mullen al­ways is open to ideas but has his lim­its.

“Some of them aren’t even le­gal in the game of foot­ball,” he joked. “But that’s OK.”

When it comes to call­ing plays, though, don’t put any­thing past Mullen. Ever the card shark, the Ga­tors’ coach just might give some fan and kin­dred spirit a rea­son to smile this sea­son by run­ning a sug­gested play. Noth­ing is off the ta­ble.

Fol­low our Ga­tors cov­er­age on Twit­ter at @os­ga­tors and on Face­book at www.face­book.com/os­ga­tors. Edgar can be reached at egth­omp­son@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com

WADE PAYNE/AP

UF coach Dan Mullen's prow­ess as a play caller has helped the Ga­tors to three straight SEC wins.

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