GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida coach Dan Mullen is finally settling into a somewhat normal routine.
He’s back to the game-week schedule he has used for more than a decade. Meetings, practice, treatment. Scouting, video study, game-planning. And now that the fifth-ranked Gators seem to have a grasp on COVID-19 testing as well as safety and social-distancing protocols, the drill seems to have become commonplace in a far-from-ordinary season.
Nonetheless, Mullen is still wary of what lies ahead as Florida prepares to open the season at Ole Miss on Saturday.
“Obviously, all the COVID stuff makes you anxious,” Mullen said. “You kind of have your whole game plan done, your depth chart done. Right now, as it’s set up, I could be getting ready to walk on the plane and they could say, ‘Hey, these 10 guys can’t get on the plane’ and you’ve got to do a whole new game plan Friday night. That makes me pretty anxious.
“That’ll keep you up at night just trying to … solve as many different issues and problems and deal with every one of these scenarios that could happen.”
Mullen's team had nine positive tests for the coronavirus in the last two weeks, including three new ones announced Tuesday. The Gators also had an assistant coach test positive, but it was ruled an errant result after three consecutive negative tests. The spike in infections coincided with the return of student to campus and the start of classes.
Mullen realizes it could get worse as players start to feel more comfortable — and possibly take more risks — amid the highly transmissible virus. He's essentially bracing for chaos.
The Gators had 21 positive COVID-19 cases once players returned to campus in late May, but they didn’t have a single positive in August. Then last week proved to be an eye-opener.
“It’s a crazy year,” linebacker Ventrell Miller said. “I try not to lose sleep about it. I just trust in my teammates that they’ll be ready, everybody will be ready. That’s something Coach Mullen emphasizes at practice: everybody being ready. You never know when your name will get called.”
Mullen already is down one projected starter after guard/center Ethan White had knee surgery. There also could be a few suspensions for the opener and potentially even players opting out at the last minute.
“To be honest, I’m excited and I’m proud of my teammates,” running back Malik Davis said. “I think we handled the situation very well compared to other places and just everything going on. I think we took control of the situation and made it work.”
Getting a victory Saturday is the next step, and there’s plenty of uncertainty about the opponent under new coach Lane Kiffin.
The Rebels have a new offense, a new defense and maybe even two quarterbacks. Kiffin declined to announce his starter Monday, saying it’s possible that Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee will both get playing time.
“Yeah, that’s a challenge,” cornerback Marco Wilson said. “We had the same challenge against Miami last year: new offense and everything so you’ve got to watch another team for their scheme and stuff like that. But you’ve just got to trust what you’re watching on film, and if it turns out that that’s not what we see, you’ve just got to adjust during the game.”
Adjustments could be key to getting through the season, especially with contact tracing and mandatory quarantines.
For now, though, the Gators are just happy to be getting ready to play.
“We’re pretty relieved,” Wilson said. “I mean, it’s been a long time and a lot of uncertainty. “I don’t feel anxious. I’d rather not be anxious because that might throw my mind out of whack. But ready, just stay calm, get prepared and focus on what I need to do.”
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