Closing time: No. 4 Florida looking to finish games better

Florida head coach Dan Mullen looks at the scoreboard during the second half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux,Pool) (John Raoux, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Coach Dan Mullen wants his unbeaten Florida Gators to be unrelenting.

The fourth-ranked Gators (2-0) have failed to force a punt or a turnover in the fourth quarter this season, allowing Ole Miss and South Carolina to stick around in games that could have been closed out.

Florida’s defense shouldered much of the blame for the late-game malaise. The unit has given up a combined 311 yards and three touchdowns in two fourth quarters. It would have been four scores had Gamecocks quarterback Collin Hill been able to throw on target to Shi Smith on a fourth-and-goal play in the waning seconds Saturday. Smith was unable to get both hands on the ball behind him, essentially ending South Carolina’s slim chances of shocking the Gators.

The unit was even more porous in the season opener at Ole Miss, allowing two touchdowns in the final frame and 613 yards total.

But Mullen insisted Monday that his offense should be equally accountable for the team’s inability to deliver a knockout punch.

“You’re a stop or a score away really from the game being completely out of reach and a lot of backups even playing,” Mullen said. “Instead of, ‘Let’s finish the game,’ we just kind of cruised to the finish line. We got to get that that changed.”

It begins Saturday at No. 21 Texas A&M (1-1), where the Gators play at Kyle Field for the first time since 2012.

Florida’s offense has looked unstoppable at times, rolling up yards and points against two of the Southeastern Conference’s worst defenses in 2019. Kyle Trask has 10 touchdowns passes, with six of them going to dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts.

But Mullen wants more. He wants a foot-on-the-throat mentality late in games, which is something conference and national championship contenders usually have in common.

South Carolina converted four of five fourth downs to keep its final two drives alive. Ole Miss moved the chains on a third-and-19 play.

“You’ve just got to learn from it and come smarter and harder,” cornerback Kaiir Elam said.

So defensive lapses abound for the Gators, who have struggled to get consistent pressure on quarterbacks.

“I think we have a long ways to go,” Elam said. “There’s a lot to improve on.”

Mullen found plenty of other problems — on the other side of the ball.

The Gators settled for field goals on consecutive trips inside the red zone in the second half against the Rebels and then really stymied themselves against the Gamecocks by throwing an interception and then following that with a three-and-out.

Mullen would prefer less letup late in games.

“Guys looking at the scoreboard and saying, ‘OK, 38-14, we got this one kind of in the bag. I know we’ve got to keep playing, but let’s go through the motions,’” Mullen said. “You can’t do that. … It’s something that we talked about this morning as a team.

“It comes from practice. It’s got to be addressed at practice. It’s got to be addressed with every aspect and every member of the team, start to finish the effort we give and the looks we give, whether I’m on the scout team, whether I’m a backup or I’m a starter.”


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