So much for the Gator Standard.
For the second year in a row, LSU came into the rivalry game with Florida limping. More than a third of its starting roster in the season opener was missing. But this time, even the guys who stepped up as backups last year against Florida- namely Kayshon Boutte and Eli Ricks- were missing. As a result, LSU fans dismissed their team out of hand and failed to show up in full, leaving thousands of empty seats in Tiger Stadium for an 11am kickoff. Ed Orgeron was said to be a lame duck. And as a result of all of that, Florida was again the heavy favorite.
You would think Dan Mullen, with the brains that all his supporters (a number that, just eleven months after his Gators were ranked #6 in the CFP Rankings, is beginning to dwindle) claim he allegedly possesses, would have learned his lesson about taking LSU seriously from the last time this situation unfolded. That game resulted in a 37-34 loss featuring an all-time moronic penalty from Marco Wilson. He didn’t and it happened again, this time in Death Valley.
And this time, there’s no scapegoat like Marco Wilson to shield Mullen from the metaphorical bullets of criticism. There’s no, “if only Marco Wilson didn’t commit the single stupidest penalty of all time, we would’ve won” type of narrative circling the fanbase to try to rationalize the defeat. This time, the fact that Dan Mullen did not have his team ready to play against a seriously depleted LSU team that wound up firing its coach less than 24 hours later has nowhere to hide. This is on him.
Florida, against all odds, forced six punts in this game on defense despite its overall ineptitude on that side of the ball, and even blocked one of them. But the offense took a full half- and the installation of Anthony Richardson as the quarterback- to do anything of value.
And by then it was too late; Florida was engaged in a shootout with an LSU team that figured out it could score at will by running a single play, a counter to the right with two pulling blockers to create a matchup of Tyrion Davis-Price vs. a single high safety in a footrace to the end zone. Because Todd Grantham is incompetent at his job, LSU ran the same play, over and over again, all the way to multiple school records.
Think about that. LSU has produced literally dozens of elite running backs in its 129 year history- want to list them? Joseph Addai, Leonard Fournette, Billy Cannon, Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard, Kevin Faulk, Steve Van Buren, Alfred Blue, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Charles Alexander, Domanick Davis, LaBrandon Toefield, Derrius Guice, Charles Scott, Dalton Hilliard, and many, many more- and not one of them has ever rushed for as many yards in a single game as Davis-Price did on Saturday against Florida with 287.
That’s also the most rushing yards Florida has allowed to a single player in a single game- almost 50 yards more than the previous record, set by Herschel Walker of Georgia.
If that’s all not bad enough, remember that Davis-Price isn’t even LSU’s starting running back. John Emery is. Or at least he was before joining more than a dozen key contributors on the injured list.
Meanwhile, the Gators’ offense was inefficient with Emory Jones in the first half, and efficient with Richardson in the second half. But with a defense that played like a revolving door, anybody could have predicted that Florida would break first. And on a second and ten, with Richardson under pressure, he lofted a ball high into air for an easy interception, and that’s exactly what happened. Ed Orgeron’s tenure was done before the game ever kicked off, but because Mullen refused to prepare for this game with any modicum of respect for the opponent, Orgeron was allowed to drag down Florida’s New Year’s Six hopes along with him.
So let the adjectives fly. This was embarrassing. This was unacceptable. This was humiliating. And you know what? Given all of Mullen’s talk about the “Gator Standard,” which has now been uncloaked as nothing more than a slick marketing ploy, this was downright disgraceful. If Dan Mullen is going to stand up there at the podium and lecture us all about how he’s going to give relentless effort in everything he does to restore Florida to a championship level, this performance against LSU’s B team is a thumb into the eyeball of every last fan who endured the carnage.
And it’s with that in mind that I say that Mullen now sits at a fork in the road. Mullen has an infuriating penchant- almost a fetish, really- for preferring to lose his way than win some other way. But he can no longer afford to keep playing it out. The blind trust he has in personnel that he likes for no logical reason other than familiarity with them is either going to end- he’s either going to learn his lesson and start Anthony Richardson and fire Todd Grantham- or it won’t, and he’ll ride that personnel straight into an iceberg and all the way down into the cold, black, unforgiving waters with his middle fingers up as he sinks beneath the waves.
The ideal time fire Todd Grantham is now. Not after the bowl game, not after FSU. Now.
The thinking behind that is that you can at least give someone like David Turner or Wesley McGriff a trial run as the defensive coordinator position. And on the off chance that he surprises you and turns out to be really good at the job, you can seriously entertain keeping him on as the DC long term. But you won’t know if you don’t know try. We do know what the result of continuing to employ Todd Grantham is, and it’s not good. The unknown is exponentially more appealing than the known results of Todd Grantham.
On the same note: the time to elevate Richardson to the QB1 role for good is now. Not for the bowl game, not for the last two games of the regular season. Now.
Florida at least has a puncher’s chance to beat Georgia if Richardson plays, but that’s not even why you make that move now. The duration of 2021 should be about preparing for 2022, a season that hasn’t kicked off yet and still has everything on the table. The more reps Richardson gets in live game action, the better prepared he will be for that 2022 season- which by the way, the more Florida struggles in 2021, the bigger it will become for Mullen.
But though I and most Gator fans would prefer these changes come now, I say with nothing short of 100% certainty: if both of these changes are not made by the time Florida reports for its 2022 spring practices, Mullen will have signed his own death certificate as Florida’s head coach. If either Grantham or Jones return to their current roles in 2022, fan interest will plummet, tickets will go unsold, Florida will start losing money and Scott Stricklin- or whoever the AD is- won’t have much of a choice.
Oh, yes- in all kinds of weather, we’ll all stick together, for F-L-O-R-I-D-A. True fans will not shrug and say, “Well, this team sucks. Time to go root for Alabama.” But the downpour of human waste that Mullen seems to enjoy raining down on our program as mere collateral damage for the right to do things his way (my way of calling this season a shitstorm) should not be something we as fans accept, not if we actually want to see our program succeed- which is the whole point of cheering for a team. Translation: fans aren’t going to keep paying to watch this program if Mullen doesn’t do something, anything, to prove that he’s serious about ever reaching the heights that he himself said this program belongs at. You know. The Gator Standard.
So the ball is in your court, Dan Mullen. You’re approaching the point of no return. No longer do you have the option to flip double middle fingers up to the fan base and act like you know better than all of us. We tried that. It didn’t work.
This is your last chance to prove to Gator fans that you actually intend to live up to that Gator Standard, and that you aren’t merely here to collect a paycheck and have a good time with your buddies. Because if you don’t disprove that notion that a growing number of fans seem to have, which means kicking Grantham to the curb and promoting Richardson to the starting QB role- and soon- the fan base will grow tired of that dreary weather you seem so indifferent to, stay inside, and opt to do their “sticking together for F-L-O-R-I-D-A” from the comfort of their couches as opposed to with tickets that help fund the program. And that means you’ll be out of a job.
What will it be, Dan?