The first time Kirby Smart and Dan Mullen were matched up against each other was in the 2008 SEC Championship game while both were coordinators at their respective schools.
The Florida Gators edged the Alabama Crimson Tide 31-20 on their way to claim a national title that year. In that game, Mullen’s offense had 358 yards and a turnover-free game against Smart’s defense.
At that time, Dan Mullen was 36 and the offensive coordinator for the Gators under Urban Meyer, and he was about to leave for the head coaching position at Mississippi State. Kirby Smart was 32 and was Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at Alabama.
Even though round one went to Mullen, Smart would face off against him seven more times as the defensive coordinator at Alabama before leaving for Georgia at the end of the 2015 season. Throughout that span, Alabama won every matchup and beat the Bulldogs by a combined score of 190-66. In six of those seven games, Smart’s defense held Mullen’s offense to 10 or fewer points.
But from 2009-2015, Mullen’s offense proved they could move the ball against Smart’s defenses despite not being able to score many points. During that span, Mullen’s offense was one of four programs (Auburn LSU, Texas A&M) to put up over 345 total yards against a Smart defense multiple times. In 2014, Mississippi State’s offense put 428 yards of total offense in a 25-20 Alabama win.
As head coaches, Smart has won both head-to-head matchups over the last two years by a combined score of 67-20. Mullen’s last year at Mississippi State was in 2017, and Smart’s No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs edged the Bulldogs from Starkville 31-3. In 2018 Mullen became the head coach at Florida, and Smart’s Bulldogs beat the Gators 36-17.
“It’s a chess match every time you go against somebody, but it boils down a lot more to players than it does Xs and Os,” Smart said Monday when referring to facing Mullen. “He always has a very physical football team. They believe, and they have a commitment to the run game. They always seem like they have downhill, low-center-of-gravity backs. Very similar to what he has now he had at Mississippi State.”
At Mullen’s most recent press conference he praised Smart’s coaching ability.
“I think it’s always interesting,” Mullen said. “We’ve gone against each other at different times and you have different teams. They had some really talented teams when he was over at Alabama for all that time. Every year it’s a little bit different. I think he does a good job of trying to put his players in position to be successful. That’s what we try to do. Within the scheme, I think a lot of it depends on your personnel from year to year.”
This upcoming Saturday the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs face off against the No 6. Florida Gators in a game that could potentially decide the SEC East.
Now that Smart and Mullen are competing at rival schools, they both are recruiting the same players. In 2018, Georgia had the No. 1 recruiting class while Florida had the No. 14 class per 247Sports.
In 2017, dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields committed to Georgia. Florida was one of the many schools that offered him, but after the 2018 season Fields elected to transfer to Ohio State.
During the offseason, Mullen took a few jabs at Georgia and made a comment that many think referred to Fields’ transfer to the Buckeyes.
“I’d think we did a poor job recruiting if guys were coming in and then immediately walking out the door because it was something different than what they thought it would be and we lied to them during recruiting, or we sold them on a dream that wasn’t true,” Mullen said this past March.
At Florida’s spring game, the attendance was reported to have been 39,476. Mullen made a comment that it had been 39 years and 476 games since Georgia had won a national title.
“Maybe Georgia fans were really so uptight they haven’t won in 39 years they got all uptight and tried to figure it out,” Mullen said at a Gator Club event, according to Swamp247. “But it was pretty random actually, it was pretty funny.”
Smart has refrained publicly from making negative comments about Mullen’s coaching style or the way he runs his program. The past two seasons Smart has out-recruited Mullen’s program and has out-coached him while been victorious in both of their meetings as head coaches.
Monday, Smart actually praised Mullen’s coaching ability to develop quarterbacks.
“He always has a quarterback that can run the ball, whether it’s short yardages or packages with Emory Jones coming in for ‘em,” Smart said. “And he’s got as good of a wideout group that he’s ever had that I can remember. And he’s using those guys’ skill sets. He highlights those wideouts he has because he has so many. I don’t know how to better say it than to say that he has a complete offensive package right now with what he has, so he has the ability to use all those guys. And he’s doing a good job.”
This year’s top 10 match-up will prove if Mullen can actually walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.
Georgia takes on Florida on Nov. 2nd, 2019 at 3:30 p.m. on CBS.
You can listen to Kirby Smart’s comments on Dan Mullen from UGA football’s Monday press conference by clicking on the below video: