Chad Bumphis was Dan Mullen’s first star receiver at Mississippi State and would be a focal point of the Bulldogs’ passing attack for four seasons. But he says his emergence as a freshman wasn’t just based on talent.
“I should have redshirted. There’s no reason I should have been on the field, but they were breaking this old offense they had and they were trying to learn [a new offense]. I didn’t have to do that,” he said. “That was the only offense I knew at the time, but yeah, it was difficult.”
Bumphis offered insight into what makes Mullen’s spread offense so effective and what adjustments the Florida players may face next year in adapting to their new coach and new scheme.
At its peak productivity and efficiency, Mullen’s offense depends on the quarterback and receivers making simultaneous reads and adjustments based on the defense while remaining in sync and knowing what each is thinking.
“There’s a lot of option routes. There’s a lot of lining up at the line of scrimmage not sure what you’re going to run,” Bumphis said. “… We didn’t do as many option routes [the first year], but there was some in and you’re forced to read these defenses that I don’t think they had to do with the previous staff. [Before], they call a play in the huddle and that’s what you’re running, no matter the coverage, no matter the leverage of the defender.
“It wasn’t like that with this offense. The quarterbacks had a lot of freedom at the line of scrimmage, and as wide receivers you had to be on the same page as the quarterback.”
Bumphis caught 32 passes for 375 yards and 4 touchdowns that first season and finished with 2,270 receiving yards and 25 total touchdowns over his four seasons at Mississippi State. He said as he grew and understood how to read coverages more, the offense evolved to more and more of those option or choice routes.
For example, he explained, the play call might be for a vertical route, but based on how the defense rolled its coverage after the snap he could end up running a dig, a bender, or keep it up the seam.
“So if it’s 2-high, cover-2, cover-4 completely changes the route from if it’s any kind of 1-high safety,” Bumphis said. “What you see pre-snap is not what you’re going to get post-snap. Anytime you see a coverage pre-snap you can be pretty sure they’re going to roll their coverage, so that’s where you and the quarterback have to be on the same page. So at the snap of the ball I’m thinking, ‘OK, I’m 100 percent running a post.’ Well, once the ball’s snapped they roll. Now I’ve either got to run a dig or a seam and it’s on you and the quarterback.
“And the older I got the more we incorporated true option routes. It would be an 8-yard route, I could break in, I could break out, I could hitch up, I could run a go. There’s just so many different variations of it and it’s all determined by the leverage of the DB.”
Tyson Lee, Mississippi State’s incumbent starting quarterback when Mullen arrived, said the Bulldogs went from more of a West Coast offense that didn’t require a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage to Mullen’s spread with all those reads and adjustments.
Florida will be moving away from a pro-style offense as it adjusts to Mullen’s scheme.
“When he came in it was a huge adjustment,” Lee said. “I spent hours, no exaggeration, not only [preparing for] what was going on that day but in the days ahead. For the team, it took a lot of taking it slow, trying to get an understanding of what these guys know and slowly implementing it.”
Make no mistake, Florida is launching its own rebuild after bottoming out with a 4-7 finish in 2017.
There isn’t a quarterback ideally suited for Mullen’s system on the roster yet, and whoever ends up taking the reins of the offense, there will be a learning curve.
Mullen’s first offense at Mississippi State in 2009 averaged 25.6 points and 371.9 yards per game. While modest, those numbers still reflected a significant improvement after the Bulldogs had averaged just 15.3 points and 274.9 yards per game the year before his arrival, ranking among the worst offenses in the FBS.
“Early on, most of my freshman year, it was a lot of getting on the same page,” Bumphis said. “… We had a lot of miscommunications, which again is why I think he didn’t call a lot of choice routes. By the time I was a junior, senior, that’s all we called.”
As the players got more comfortable in the offense, Mullen showed them more trust in calling audibles based on their reads at the line of scrimmage.
Bumphis remembers one play in particular against Tennessee his senior season. It was supposed to be a run, but quarterback Tyler Russell saw man-to-man coverage and changed the call to a choice route.
“We had the freedom to do so … as long as we converted it,” Bumphis said with a laugh.
The Bulldogs averaged between 25.3 and 29.5 points per game through Mullen’s first five seasons before he took over play-calling duties (and also benefited from star quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald). From there, the program averaged between 30.4 and 36.9 points these last four seasons.
“He’s so smart and he understands getting his athletes the ball in space. That’s his whole thing, creating mismatches,” Bumphis said. “Wherever you have to line up, he’ll move you around just to create the best opportunity.”
Bumphis went undrafted from Mississippi State, but he credits Mullen’s system and the knowledge he gained from learning and understanding coverages for helping him bounce around a few NFL organizations for a couple years.
As for the Gators, his advice is to make the most of the offseason and the player-led throwing sessions to find a rhythm and understanding with the route concepts of Mullen’s offense.
“It was all summer throwing. … We would run a lot of choice routes in the offseason, then we would go in and watch film. Without even telling him what I’m doing, [the QB would] be like, ‘OK, I expect you to break out right here.’ Over time you get that camaraderie and you’re almost sharing a brain, so to speak,” Bumphis said.
All of that said, he doesn’t think it will take the Florida players too long to find a comfort level in their new offense.
He speaks highly of new Gators assistant coach Billy Gonzales, who worked with the receivers and served as co-offensive coordinator at Mississippi State, and his ability to teach Mullen’s offense after so many years together.
From what he’s seen, Bumphis also thinks Mullen’s offense — while still requiring the receivers and quarterback to work in sync before and after the snap — has evolved from his playing days.
“I don’t think it will take too long just because there’s tremendous athletes down there,” he said of the Gators. “Over the years I’ve gone back and they’ve made the option routes a lot easier because there’s not as many options so I don’t think it will be too tough at all. … I definitely don’t think it will take as long as it took us to get it.”
Lee concurred, assuming the Florida players put in the necessary work on their own.
“I don’t think it will be tough. I say mental capacity; there are some guys who will pick it up quicker than others,” he said. “Dan does a good job of explaining why you do what you do. … If you can get the why, it makes sense as far as the scheme and concepts across the board as you implement things. It’s always for the purpose of moving the ball down the field and scoring points.
“I think if they’re willing to just trust him, he knows what he’s talking about. I think it’s a lot of off-the-field stuff early on that’s going to make the biggest difference.”