JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Dan Mullen leapt into the stands to celebrate after the Gators beat No. 5 Georgia on Saturday, the perfect encapsulation of how much both he and the program needed this win.
Going into the game, the pressure rested squarely with Mullen and his team, which had been eclipsed by their rival in the SEC East. But after the 44-28 victory, the tide shifted in the division back toward No. 8 Florida, which is now in the driver’s seat in the race to make the SEC championship game. College Football Playoff hopes remain alive, as well.
It was Mullen’s first win over Georgia, and though his excitement on the field after game was obvious for all to see, he tried to downplay its importance during his postgame comments. Especially when he was asked whether a win like this got the program over an important hump.
“It was a big win for us,” Mullen said. “Anytime you have a top-10 matchup, those are big games, so I don’t know the hump. Hopefully, if we can find a way to continue to improve, we might get more top-10 matchups as the year goes on, and we’ll see how that goes.”
Read between the lines, and it seems fairly obvious Mullen is alluding to a possible matchup in the SEC championship game against Alabama. But he did not go that far in his remarks, repeatedly saying all the win did was put them in position to focus on the next game, against Arkansas.
“We have Arkansas in seven days,” Mullen said. “That’s what it’s put us in position to do. We have to do that seven days from now.”
Still, the Gators lingered on the field after the game. Players went along the stands to high-five fans. That is when Mullen decided he wanted to get in with them, too.
“It seemed like there were a lot of students and they were juiced and they were trying to get me to jump into the stands right there,” Mullen said. “You have to enjoy it. I may be 48 years old, but I am still really young on the inside, so I got to enjoy some of that stuff. Some of our players were up there, and I decided to jump in there with them.”
Mullen added they were going to celebrate more on Saturday night. And once again, quarterback Kyle Trask led the way, throwing for a career-high 474 yards and four touchdowns — becoming the first SEC quarterback to throw for at least four touchdowns in five straight games.
He had the bulk of those yards in the first half, as Florida took advantage of a banged-up Georgia defense, particularly on wheel routes to the outside. It wasn’t just those shorter routes, though. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Trask was 7-for-9 for 199 yards and two touchdown passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield, tied for the most such completions Georgia has allowed in a game in the past 10 seasons.
His play was particularly important after Florida went down 14-0 early in the game, and it looked as if it would be a repeat of the most recent Florida-Georgia games that the Gators lost.
“This year, we have such an explosive offense, such a great team, top down,” Trask said. “We just had a lot of confidence, a lot of energy. We went down 14-0 early, and this team had no panic. That shows the character of this team. We’re never going to get down and panic in any situation, we’re always going to fight, and that’s what we did.”
Though Mullen was uncharacteristically muted about the significance of the win, his players were not.
“It means so much, having that losing streak that we had with them the past couple years, it just means the world to this team to finally get over that hump and get a win against this very good and well-coached Georgia team,” Trask said. “I just, I can’t be more proud of our guys right now.”
Or as defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. said, “The celebration was overdue.”