In one of the most shocking results in recent memory, Florida lost to LSU 37-34 on Senior Night thanks in part to Marco Wilson committing the dumbest penalty you’ll ever see. Let’s start the process of unpacking it with five takeaways.
This was the most devastating loss in modern Florida history.
Georgia Southern wasn’t this devastating because that 2013 Florida team was already dead, and it was like kicking a corpse. Embarrassing? Sure. But this was more devastating. Tennessee in 2001 wasn’t this devastating because at least the Volunteers were a top five opponent playing for their own national title hopes. Last night, Florida lost to a 3-5 LSU team that barely had enough scholarship players to even field a team, a few days after the last major piece of their 2019 championship team, wide receiver Terrace Marshall, opted out. The Tigers started a true freshman quarterback. They had nothing to play for. It was this supposedly brain dead LSU team that came into Florida’s home, at night, on Senior Night and won. And that result, unless the CFP Committee is so enamored with a potential Florida win over Alabama in next week’s SEC Championship Game (yikes), is going to directly cost Florida a national championship. To reiterate, this loss came to a team with nothing to play for, at home, at night, on Senior Night. And it wasted a 474 yard performance from Kyle Trask- that’s the second highest passing yardage total in a game in Gator history– and probably cost him the Heisman Trophy as well.
Marco Wilson should never play another snap at Florida.
I had to sleep on this, and rack my mind to try to recall a play as brainless, careless, mentally unstable and as costly as what Marco Wilson did on LSU’s final drive last night. Twelve hours and a surprisingly good night’s sleep later and I’ve got nothing. For Marco Wilson to pick up an opponent’s shoe and hurl it as far as he could- which drew one of the easiest unsportsmanlike conduct penalties any ref will ever throw- in such a critical situation, as a senior leader of this team displays such a colossal lack of mental fortitude that it should, if Dan Mullen has any semblance of a desire to build for the future, cost him the remainder of his career. And it’s not even a judgment call, or an emotional overreaction to one play. The truth is that he never should have been on the field in the first place, not with his laundry list of game tape that features him doing things he’s not supposed to be doing. Florida has recruited scores of young and hungry defensive backs like Chester Kimbrough and Jaydon Hill who were told that if they were good enough to play, they’d play. After Wilson’s father posted on Instagram saying that this would be his last game in the Swamp (meaning he would not take advantage of the NCAA’s blanket eligibility waiver), which confirmed that he would not be back next year, it became time to start building for the future. If Mullen doesn’t do that? Well, see the next two takeaways…
Todd Grantham must be given notice to look for employment elsewhere.
I’m not sure it’s wise to outright “fire” Grantham- the optics of a public guillotine drop on a defensive coordinator who finished with a top ten defense in 2019 would be less than ideal on the recruiting trail- but last night should be the last time he coaches on the home sideline of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It’s not even because Florida was gutted for 418 yards by an LSU team that had no reason to care about this game. It’s because the same issues that we’ve seen all year defensively all came to a head in this game. It was the tipping point, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the point of no return. Guys still couldn’t get lined up right in the tenth game of the third year of this scheme. Soft zones were called on obvious running plays. Players still couldn’t wrap up and make tackles and yet were not replaced by younger and more talented players who, in the short amount of playing time they’ve seen, proved that they could. The slant route was never even remotely defended. Sure, Grantham can’t execute for his players, but if the players he puts out there continue messing up and he refuses to give somebody else a shot, whose fault is that? Because all of these things have been on display throughout the season, even while Florida was winning. But now without a win to mask these problems, it’s time they cost the man responsible his job. I don’t care what form it takes; maybe Mullen suggests he follow his dream and go to the NFL, where maybe his over-complicated scheme can be executed by professionals, or maybe he just tells him “this isn’t working out” and bills the parting as a “mutual decision.” But in some form or another, Grantham needs to be pink-slipped. And if he’s not? We’ve got a whole different type of problem on our hands regarding the leadership of this program.
I don’t know about Dan Mullen anymore.
People love to overreact to things and discern hidden meanings that aren’t there, so I will ask everybody to read this carefully. “I don’t know about Dan Mullen anymore.” That’s not praising him or calling him to be fired. It’s literally, “I do not know what to think one way or another.” When I went to bed the night he was hired, I was ecstatic; my head hit the pillow one hundred percent sure that he would one day lead Florida to a national championship. When I went to bed last night, my head hit the pillow still believing it’s very possible, but no longer convinced of it as a certainty. Now. With that said. Do I want him fired? No. I just want him to do his job. There’s no debating what he’s done for this program has been better than his predecessors Jim McElwain and Will Muschamp. As rage-inducing as last night was, it was rage-inducing because Florida was in a position to win a national championship, something those last two guys never did. Mullen got them to that position in the first place, and so of course you prefer that to 4-8 and getting Georgia Southerned. But championship level teams don’t lose games against teams they’re favored to beat by three touchdowns, and nor do they have to scrap and claw for a half week after week against teams that do not recruit from the same pools of talent like Vanderbilt, Kentucky and to a lesser degree, Tennessee. And so there’s a very, very real debate right now about whether Dan Mullen- again, no question an upgrade over Muschamp and McElwain- is ultimately the man best suited to have Florida competing for national championships. Because this was supposed to be the year they did it.
The verdict: this offseason will ultimately tell how Mullen will fare at Florida.
I have no real qualms with painting Marco Wilson as the guy responsible for that loss last night. But let’s not act like that was the only thing wrong with the Gators last night, and really all season. This year is essentially shot, so now- yes, we have a championship game to play next week, and of course you have to prepare for that- but in the back of his mind, Mullen should already be thinking about 2021 and beyond. The few free moments of time he has should be spent brainstorming who his new defensive coordinator will be. (My personal pick would be Andy Avalos of Oregon, but I digress.) And after the SEC Championship Game and the bowl game- likely a low-level New Year’s Six Bowl- Mullen has some real soul searching to do. He has to answer why it takes ineffective starters like Feleipe Franks or Marco Wilson to get sick or hurt in order for backups who turn out to be better (like, I dunno, Kyle Trask for one?) to even see the field. He has to answer why he’s so loyal to coaches and players alike who simply don’t get the job done, repeatedly and consistently. And he has to answer why Florida was not ready to play against a bad LSU team when his Gators sat four wins away from a national championship. He can bounce back from this, and he can make subsequent results become what eventually define his career at Florida if he makes the right moves between now and next summer. But he longer gets to sit back amidst a fire and go, “this is fine.” Losing to a bad LSU team at home was the beginning of the end for Florida’s last coaching problem, and it should be the end of the end for this one. Mullen has to address what happened last night, and he has to address it in the correct way. And if he doesn’t, then we’ll know he wasn’t really serious about implementing the Gator Standard.