As we all know by now, the Florida Gators lost- in horrifying fashion, I might add- to the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night, ending a streak of victories in Lexington that dated back to 1986.
I like to write from the heart here at In All Kinds Of Weather. More analysis is coming later in the week. Believe me, there were a lot more than five things to take away from this disaster of a game, but here are the main five things that stood out from the loss.
And fair warning: if you’re a player on this team reading this, I’m still behind you 100% in terms of cheering for you the rest of the way (because that’s what In All Kinds Of Weather means), but there are things that are about to be said and some facts that are about to be laid out there that you aren’t going to like. You’ve been warned.
Here we go.
1: For all intents and purposes, Florida’s season is shot.
Sure, the Florida Gators can post another double-digit win season, make another New Year’s Six Bowl, and finish in the top ten. But while that’s all well and good for a rebuilding season, those are most decidedly not the ultimate goals at Florida. And worse yet, that makes four years of Dan Mullen being the head coach that will not result in an SEC Championship or a CFP berth.
Hypothetically? Yes, I’m saying there’s a chance Florida could still win the SEC East.
But that chance not only banks on Florida upsetting a Georgia team with an exponentially stingier defense than Kentucky has, it relies on Georgia losing another game on top of that… and then Kentucky losing three times. The Wildcats may not be very good, but they’re running out of games to lose; they’re already 3-0 in the SEC, with just LSU, Georgia, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee left to play.
As for the College Football Playoff? Same deal. Yes, there’s a chance.
But that chance banks on somewhere between 60-65 different games throughout the next two months all going certain ways- and that doesn’t even include the seven straight games Florida has to win to finish 10-2 and at least make a case for itself.
The Florida Gators may be the lone two-loss team in the AP Poll, but there’s no telling what the CFP Committee will do with them even if they beat Georgia. It’s true that some of those 60-65 games will take care of themselves; many of the undefeated and one-loss FBS teams will have to play each other, but with so many one-loss and unbeaten teams still out there, there’s still an unforeseen level of chaos that has to happen for Florida to even dream of the CFP at this point.
So as the title of this takeaway indicates: the Gators’ season isn’t quite over. It’s just as good as over.
2: Dan Mullen’s short-circuiting brain cost Florida another game.
This isn’t the first time Dan Mullen has done something stupid to cost his football team a game. There was Georgia in 2019, where, with ten minutes left and down 24-10 with the ball, he casually let his offense bleed seven minutes off the clock before finally scoring rather than running tempo. There was Alabama in last year’s SEC Championship Game, where he thoughtlessly burned a timeout before a two-point conversion rather than having that two-point play ready to go if and when his offense scored a touchdown- or even eschewing that plan and simply kicking a PAT. And there was Alabama this year, where Mullen demonstrated that he didn’t learn his lesson from the 2019 Georgia game and again allowed his offense to melt away most of the remaining game clock, so that when the Gators’ two point conversion failed, the game was essentially over.
But never before has Mullen done something so seismically brainless that it directly cost his Florida Gators the victory. That is, until Saturday night, where, with a 10-7 lead with two minutes left in the first half and all three timeouts, he sat back and watched as his offense garnered a first down and then ran the rest of the half out. Florida picked up zero points on that final drive of the half in a game that they eventually lost, 20-13.
I cannot believe I have to sit here and troubleshoot this for a man who makes $7.6 million a year. There are zero rational explanations for that. But here we are.
Dear Dan Mullen: if you don’t trust your handpicked QB signee to lead you down the field in a two minute drill, he shouldn’t be out there.
If you don’t trust any of your four handpicked QB signees on the roster (Emory Jones, Anthony Richardson, Carlos Del Rio-Wilson or Jalen Kitna) to lead you down the field in a two minute drill, you’re obviously not the QB guru we all thought you were and you fell bass-ackwards into the luckiest array of quarterbacks anyone on this earth could possibly dream of.
If you were afraid of turning the ball over and giving Kentucky a short field- when Emory Jones hadn’t turned it over in nine full quarters of game action- I look forward to watching you take a knee on every offensive snap from now until the end of time, because believe it or not, turnovers can happen in non-two minute drill situations.
And if you really thought your team didn’t need those extra three or seven points, then you obviously didn’t pay very good attention in 2018- the only other time since 1986 that Kentucky has beaten Florida- when the Wildcats overturned another 10-7 halftime deficit to win.
There’s an explanation going around that Florida and Emory Jones went out hunting for explosive plays, couldn’t find any, and had to settle for check downs which resulted in the clock suddenly melting away, and that explanation does make at least some sense. Too bad there’s no way to stop the clock built into the game of football that each team could utilize three separate times in each half. And too bad offenses don’t have any control over how quickly they get to the line of scrimmage after a play and get the next snap off.
Oh, and by the way: as a website, In All Kinds Of Weather allows itself one usage of the following word per year, and I can’t think of a better place to use it in 2021 than here: Dan, nobody gives a fraction of a fuck that you outgained Kentucky.
And if you’re wondering about why I chose this place and time to utilize it? Go re-read the first takeaway.
3: Florida’s running backs ran hard and angry.
How about just a little something positive from an otherwise abominable evening? The Florida Gators’ offensive line did not put together an impressive game film, to be blunt. Eight false starts, more missed assignments than the first four games combined, and even a few pancake blocks are in that game tape, if you dare to watch. On a night in which the offensive line did not come to play, it would have been disappointing, but ultimately not inconceivable, if the tailbacks chose to just take the handoff or the pitch, realize there was no room to move, and then fall down at first contact.
But no. Dameon Pierce, Nay’Quan Wright, and Malik Davis ran with every ounce of energy they had, oftentimes lowering their shoulders and delivering punishment to pick up an additional yard or two each time. Even Emory Jones, when tasked with running the ball, ran with a purpose. And in a cameo role, Anthony Richardson helped out with five carries, all resulting in some vicious contact to bring the play to an end. Together, the Gators amassed 171 yards on the ground, and again, they did so without the help of the offensive line.
And this isn’t me taking the offensive line to the woodshed, believe it or not. Bad games happen; the question is how often they happen. The Gators’ offensive line has had four above-average-to-good games and one bad one. That suggests this weak showing against Kentucky is an anomaly, and that even on those anomalous days where they look like the 2020 offensive line, Florida can at least manufacture something on the ground.
4: Special teams suffered a complete and utter meltdown at the worst possible time.
Though Urban Meyer was the special teams guru, not Dan Mullen, the latter was on staff and very cognizant of the former’s involvement with special teams during his run at Florida. That’s not to say that Meyer could have somehow transferred his emphasis on special teams to Mullen, but you would think that Mullen would at least remember the role that special teams played on those dynamite teams between 2006 and 2008. And that makes it all the more difficult to realize that, along with Mullen’s astonishing botching of the end-of-half sequence, special teams helped cost the Florida Gators the game.
Midway through the third quarter, Jace Christmann- replacing Chris Howard after he missed a critical extra point against Alabama- came on to attempt a field goal to extend the Gators’ lead to 13-7. Instead, it was Kentucky that put the 13 beside its name by blocking the kick and taking it all the way back for a touchdown.
Granted, blocked kick-sixes are extremely rare. The Florida Gators have only done it once, as in ever, in its history (in 2005 against FSU). But this isn’t the kind of thing that can just be written off as an anomaly and then not addressed. The entire middle of the field goal protect team was easily split, and two different Wildcats had the chance to reject Christmann’s kick. Josh Paschal happened to get there first, and after he batted it down, his teammate Trevin Wallace scooped it up and took it home.
In the NFL, that’s the kind of thing that usually results in someone on the staff losing his job within 24 hours. That’s not likely to happen here for a bevy of reasons (such as Mullen’s loyalty) but it does tack another bullet point onto Mullen’s ever-growing list of things that need to be addressed. Speaking of which…
5: Dan Mullen needs to make some changes to his operation, or it will eventually cost him his job.
No, Dan Mullen is not on the hot seat. No, Dan Mullen is not at the juncture where he needs to win X number of games or else. No, Dan Mullen is not in jeopardy of any sort as it related to his job with the Florida Gators. Let’s establish that immediately.
But Dan Mullen also doesn’t have an infinite amount of rope anymore. It’s true that AD Scott Stricklin (or if he gets fired because of the Cam Newbauer fiasco, his replacement) is the one who makes this decision and not the fans. That said: if the fan base as a whole runs out of tolerance for Mullen’s brand of bullshit- the post-loss presser arrogance, the in-game coaching blunders, the blind loyalty to personnel that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests should be replaced, overseeing a team that picks and chooses when it wants to play to its ability, and his overarching inability to recruit at an elite level, which could serve as white-out for at least some of these other deficiencies- it’s going to be very, very hard for the UAA to pack the Swamp with paying customers.
Unsold football tickets cost the school money. Conversely, a coach who acts in a way that causes those tickets to go unsold costs the school money. So in that sense, yes indeed: the fans do collectively have a say here.
Personally? I’m not at that point, and I really don’t want to use my platform to steer the fan base to that point. Dan Mullen was my co-first choice along with Chip Kelly to be Florida’s next head football coach, and I still do believe he’s capable of leading Florida to the heights it belongs at.
Furthermore, a program that fires its coach every three or four years eventually regresses into a shipwreck. Tennessee, Nebraska, Miami and Texas have all taught us that in the last two decades.
But now I also believe, with just as much fervor as I believe the above two sentences, that Mullen will ultimately fail to bring the Florida Gators to those heights if he doesn’t have a real epiphany, and soon. The arrogance (10-7 at halftime is good enough for me, and hey, we outgained Kentucky by 150 yards!), the loyalty to a fault (bringing Todd Grantham back after one of the worst statistical years in school history, continuing to trot out Feleipe Franks over Kyle Trask until he broke his ankle) and the annual tradition of losing at least one game to a team it has no business losing to are slowly choking the life out of the program’s top-tier prestige.
That doesn’t mean Mullen isn’t the guy; it means he might not be the guy, but if he addresses his deficiencies and grows as a coach, he can thrive.
Now, though, he has no choice. LSU (Les Miles), Auburn (Gus Malzahn), and Georgia (Mark Richt) have all recently set the precedent for top-tier schools in the SEC that “good” isn’t good enough. And if Mullen refuses to make some adjustments to the way he does things, one day soon, you’ll be able to add “Florida” to that list.