UF defense has taken step down from elite level

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Missouri running back Larry Rountree III runs through the Florida defense Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/ The Gainesville Sun]

When Kyle Trask finally entered the game Saturday, the cheers started slowly and built. They were more cheers of relief than enthusiasm, fans tired of errant throws, poor decisions and ready for something, anything, else.

The problem was that Dan Mullen could replace his quarterback.

He couldn’t replace his defense.

A defense that was borderline elite through the first half of the season is now borderline awful. The Gators of four weeks ago when they were stunning LSU seem like a distant memory.

Instead, they played with a defense that was as easy to carve through as the pumpkin you left too long on the doorstep.

“How many sacks did we have?” Mullen asked.

Florida had one. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock ran out of bounds on one scramble two yards shy of the line of scrimmage.

“So, none,” Mullen said. “That’s not real good.”

No, it is not.

And while much of the talk Saturday night was about Feleipe’s Flop of a game and Kyle Trask replacing him and where Florida goes from here, the “harsh reality” that Mullen talked about and these players are facing is a team-wide epidemic.

The defense that was putting up typical SEC numbers earlier this season has allowed 19 third-down conversions in the last two games and 33.7 points a game in the last three.

It’s been gashed, gutted and embarrassed.

I’m not letting the offense off the hook or the coaches. But the defense has played like it’s auditioning for the Big 12.

“A lot of people thought they were better than they were,” said cornerback CJ Henderson.

That seemed to be the locker room theme and Mullen reiterated it when he talked to the media.

This team played at a high level to get to 6-1. The Gators forgot how they got there.

“If we come out and play really well as a team in all three phases we’re good, we can play with anybody,” Mullen said. “We maybe have an inflated opinion of ourselves.

“We had some success. We won some tough games. All of a sudden you start patting yourselves on the back thinking we might have some answers. We don’t. When we played hard, desperate on every single play, we won because we played as a team.”

The key word there is “desperate”. Florida during its five-game winning streak played like rabid raccoons trying to protect their young.

On Saturday, they played like a team that thought Homecoming meant an automatic win. This isn’t the old days, fellas. West Texas State isn’t walking through that door.

“A lot of guys thought that Missouri was going to be an easy win,” said senior receiver Josh Hammond. “Guys were a little too casual. It definitely bit us.”

So you’re 11th in the College Football Playoff poll and Missouri has no SEC wins and had no first downs in the second half last week. You know what that means?

Didley.

Squat.

This team is nowhere talented enough to mail it in, even FedEx. It has to be as sharp and efficient as possible just to have a chance.

Instead, Saturday was a disaster for a team we thought had been immunized against lack of effort.

“We started out flat in the warm-ups,” Hammond said.

Maybe it was the old axiom that you have to work not to let one loss become two and Florida failed miserably. Maybe, as Mullen said, his secondary has been on the field so much it’s starting to wear on the defensive backs late in a long season.

Or maybe these guys just got too full of themselves on both sides of the ball.

“As bad as we’ve been on defense,” Mullen said, “we’re as bad on offense.”

That’s not an ideal combination.

We’ll see what happens at quarterback where Franks was a mess, a combination of inaccuracy, poor decisions and a lack of protection that reared its ugly head again.

I get that it still amazing the drought of quality quarterback play that has been close to a decade. But usually, Florida can fall back on its defense.

Not on Saturday.

It was a team effort.

Or lack of one.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

38 COMMENTS

  1. My question is: have the university and the fans learned their lesson from the past and give Mullen time?? Or will they be calling for his head by the end of his second season like they were with McElwain? Or halfway through his third line they did Muschamp?

    • MAC and Chump deserved it. Chump neglected the offense and MAC was a fraud. Nuss was completely incompetent as an offensive coordinator and MAC couldn’t see it. MAC was impossible to listen to. “Wasn’t it neat watching Cook run all over us?” We have no better alternative than to give Mullen a full chance. But if the quality of his recruiting doesn’t improve – –

      • Gator Steve

        Mac got fired because people didn’t like him. Just like you just said, people couldn’t stand to hear him talk. But what other coaches won more games here their first two years than him? Who has won the East their first year? And followed it up the second year with another East title? And then got fired just a few games later? And Muschamp definitely didn’t deserve getting fired. He had one bad season but was rebounding and had a recruiting class coming in that would have been #1 in the country. Lamar Jackson, Byron Cowart, Jeff Holland and a slew of other top ranked players were poised to join that class. That was a huge mistake to fire him. Just my opinion.

        • I think I could write a book justifying Firing Mac. The East championships were smoke and mirrors. All teams in the East sucked. We were embarrassed by Bama twice. Death threats. Etc. Muschamp had the misfortune of being a Georgia alum and then losing to Georgia three in a row. The need to fire him felt so compelling at the time. It looked like our offense would never recover. The bigger problem with firing him was there was no clear replacement and we had no idea what we were getting with with Mac. It did appear that Champ could recruit but is did not appear that we would ever have an offense again. And after 4 years – that last season? Yes – you have a fair debate on Champ but none with Mac.

          • Gator Steve
            The smoke and mirrors claims just don’t hold up. Either you are winning games or you aren’t. Those type claims are what originally started the back and forth between myself and others. The facts are he won the games and the East both years. And yes he got embarrassed by Bama. We have t had a team since 09 who wouldn’t have gotten embarrassed by those Bama teams no matter who the coach was. Literally days ago people were on here saying that this team would t get embarrassed by Bama like Macs teams did. Where are those people now?? Statements like that are based on nothing. He won the games. Period. I’m sure a lot of people wish we could have beaten Georgia and Missouri with”smoke and mirrors” this year.

        • LT with all due respect, I will give you some leeway about Muschamp, but your assessment of McElwain being fired simply because he wasn’t liked is crap. He was an awful recruiter who benefitted his first two years from having other-worldly defensive players signed by Muschamp. This is the same guy who told Will Grier he could leave because he thought he could win with Treon Harris.. who built a team littered with 3-star recruits that wouldn’t start at USF or UCF..who basically sent the message to his team that conditioning was “optional”…and who hired an abysmal offensive coordinator who could not gameplan his way out of a wet paper sack. Mullen is struggling now because he has to play with McElwain’s AAC and Mountain West recruits. If McElwain was so good, why in the world was the best job he could get post-firing was as a wide receivers coach? You have to get these 3 years of mistake-filled recruiting out of the system and go after talent that can actually challenge. Say what you want, but Kirby Smart competed quickly at UGA because Mark Richt was a solid recruiter, in spite of his in-game deficiencies.

        • Ya know LT, you couldn’t be more wrong about mac! Mac was fired because he was brought in to fix the offense and he failed miserably. An offense that ranked 123 when he arrived, still ranked at 123 when he left. He was told to replace his S&C coach and refused and then he made up this huge lie about death threats that held no water at all. CDM has an offense ranked 79 atm which tells me it has improved and a possible 10-3 final record is theirs to be had. Had it not been for Geoff Collins defense, we dont make either SECCG or finish 10-4 plain and simple. Our offense was pathetic during his tenure and your trying to be like mac, lying to try and make it look like you have a clue, when really you don’t. CDM will be much better by the end os year 2. He took macs recruits and has made this offense play better than they have since they have been here. Next season, Franks and Trask will probably transfer because they wont have a shot at starting as Emory will have a better grip of the offense and will be starting.

        • LT, you asked “But what other coaches won more games here their first two years than him? Who has won the East their first year? And followed it up the second year with another East title?” Here is the answer Steve O. Spurrier and Urban Meyer. Spurrier began his coaching career with the Gators in 1990 and here is what he did compare to McElwain.

          1. 1990… 9-2 and 6-1 in the SEC. Tied for 1st in the SEC and AP #13
          2. 1991… 10-2 and 6-0 in the SEC. 1st in the SEC and AP #7
          3. 1992… 9-4 and 6-2 in the SEC. Tied for 1st in the SEC East and AP #10

          In his 12 years with the Gators his worse two finishes were in 1990 AP #13 and 1999 AP #12. The other 10 years the Gators finished ranked in the top 10.

          Jim McElwain

          1. 2015… 10-4 and 7-2 in the SEC. 1st in the SEC East and AP #25
          2. 2016… 9-4 and 6-3 in the SEC. 1st in the SEC East and AP #14
          3. 2017… 3-4 FIRED

          I do not want to waste my time with Meyer but his overall record the first two years was 22-4 and finished #12 (2005) and #1 (2006).

          Case close.

    • No Todd grantham must go tomorrow there is a reason he’s been known on college football fan blogs since 2005 as “3rd down and grantham” as awesome as his safety blitz package is it’s all he does and opponents figure out how to shift blocking schemes and he will no adjust teams are converting 3rd down at over 69 % that’s outragous also a general manager needs to be put in to tell Mullen franks is over u are not putting him back in

    • Florida fans and fans of big time football programs in general are impatient. I doubt any perceived lessons from treatment of previous coaches will not play a factor in their future actions. Thankfully, I believe our administration has shown much more patience than the fan base. Muschamp was given 4 years and although I really liked him (and still do) it just didn’t seem like he was going to turn the offense around. I always said I feared we hired him one head coaching job too soon and it would come back to bite us. Speaking of biting us, Shark boy alienated himself from the fan base, media and administration and doomed himself. I know you don’t agree with that and that’s fine, you don’t have to.

      CDM however, deserves patience to rebuild the program and even if the fans turn on him I think the admin will give him every opportunity to do so. If they do not, I fear that we may fall into a Nebraska type abyss.

      • I agree Dallas…..this is Year One and it ain’t over yet! I’m troubled by what I saw Saturday, mainly because it was a Pre-Mullen type of showing. It happens, but I don’t know why it happened to this team, so I can only speculate. I still believe in Dan Mullen — so does LT if you read him carefully. The worst thing we can do as fans is unravel right now.

        If we wind up going to the Independence Bowl, fine. At least its a bowl game, and besides, it’s in our back yard. I think we will get this straightened out way before then, however. The fat lady hasn’t even begun to sing yet!

      • DallasGator

        Actually I don’t disagree with that at all. Mac did alienate himself. But that just validated what I’ve been saying which is he was fired because he wasn’t liked. Not because of football. I didn’t think we should have fired him over a popularity contest. And definitely shouldn’t have fired him the way we did.

  2. Mullen is a good coach but it will take more than time. He needs to react sooner to a crisis like Spurrier did. I actually disagree a bit with Dooley. The last 3 games we have faced good QB’s who could throw and they ( starting with Vandy) exposed our pass defense as very suspect. Ga saw it from the Vandy game and capitalized on it. A good example of what I am saying is the LSU Bama game. Good passing QB’s from average teams have put 3 or 4 TD’s on bama this year yet LSU couldnt score. It is part of the same reason we beat LSU. Once we shut down their running game they had nothing, because they dont have a QB that can pass. So our defense has done better against teams that have QB’s that arent good passers. but we just faced 3 teams that did and only beat the one that was a very weak team, Vandy. Because of our weak pass defense we just dont match up well with teams that can pass. They get a lead and we give up on defense in all phases, pretty much. Now it appears , without the SEC east to play for the team just isnt putting the effort of intensity in when we get down in the score. I’ll have to look up what kind of passer SC has.

    • I was just about to defend Mullen about not wanting to pull Franks like Spurrier would have because of his supposed fragile psyche and blah blah blah. However, I remembered Spurrier pulling Danny so hard and fast out of some games that he probably reported to the trainer’s room with whiplash. If my memory serves me correctly, he turned out alright.

      Seems like trying to build a freshman QB’s confidence is one thing but worrying about the psyche of a 3rd year QB is another. If that’s truly a worry, he’s probably doesn’t have the mental stamina and strength needed to be a big time QB anyway.

      Long story short, I really like CDM but completely agree with you.

    • Great points. While the secondary did get torched, where was the pass rush? Poor effort everywhere. The upperclassmen have given up after the Georgia loss. They are worried about their draft status and not getting hurt. Time for the youth movement! Show the recruits there is early playing time available. The upperclassmen don’t need any more tape showing their weak effort.

  3. This was the first game this year that I didn’t see any positives. Even last week, we moved the ball fairly well most of the game. Were it not for poor play from Franks last week, we might have won the game. Franks was improving- not good, but improving, up to the LSU game. He was at least able to lead a come-back against Vandy. But then against UGA he was horrible, although the rest of the offense played well, and the defense ok. This wee Franks was bad but so was the rest of the team. And this is the first time that I think the coaching was bad.

    Still, bad games happen, and when you are a young team and we all knew has a long way to go, bad games are ugly. Lets see how we do next week. I do think Mizzou is better than their record indicates, and they were hungry to prove that this week. I predict they will win the rest of their games. I still think we can win the rest of our games, if the team regroups, and the coaches step it up.

  4. I think Mullen will get the offense fixed over time. May take another down year after this to get the qb, wrs, and linemen that can run his system effectively, but he will get it going. As for the defense, I believe it’s a combination of players and coaching. Not sure we have enough quality players to play a 3-4, and I’m not sold on that being the best defense to play. Time will tell. Go Gators

  5. Dan has got to find his Will Grier, that’s all the O is missing…sound, on the field leadership that you can believe in. The O line is capable, but appears to have lost heart in Franks, who seemly “can’t hit the broad side of a barn” when he sees open receivers. Trask did show some cool and DID hit open receivers. Hummmmm! He was surveying the whole field before throwing!

    This was an obvious locker room loss. From UK to LSU/UT/Mstate and back to total regression. DC had no plan! The same D line is out there! Where did their motivation go??? Something is wrong in the locker room before they hit the field. My theory is the whole team has lost confidence in Franks and with the no hope comes NO motivation.

  6. The entire team took a step back against Mizzou, but maybe that’s not too surprising since the Gators were probably still affected by the loss to UGA. On the other hand, they were playing a team that was obviously excited to be playing in the game. Also, this Gators team does not match up well with Mizzou. These are not reasons for a lackluster effort and poor coaching, however, which is what fans saw from the Gators yesterday. I believe that Mullen will probably turn things around, but he got out-coached in this game.

    Of course, no coach is going to look good when his team is led by someone who played the way Franks did. I have been hoping that FF would take a big step forward this year, but after a few weeks of incremental improvements he has regressed for two weeks. He was absolutely awful against the Tigers — one of the worst performances I have seen in a very long time.

    And the defense was as bad. It helped Lock look like a Heisman candidate. And the run defense couldn’t stop anything.

    The Gators need to get back to the desperation they had through the LSU game, though I’m concerned about their mentality going forward. If they don’t regain some intensity, they will win only one more game this season.

    • What many are saying is indeed similar to the post KY period. Fans tend to lose perspective and freak out with a loss (at least Gator fans do), and we need to remember that rebuilding the Gators is a process that still is in its earliest stage. At the same time, I am wondering what will motivate this team now that the possibility of reaching the SECCG is gone. That possibility clearly motivated them following the loss to KY. Can they find a new motivation now? Do they have the pride and competitive spirit to regain the intensity they have clearly lost? We are going to find out.

  7. It’s time for a change. Let’s hope Mullen doesn’t do the typical stubborn head coach thing and has an open competition at every position. It’s time to flush out the remains of the McElwain era and start playing with the future.

    Franks has improved since last year but that isn’t saying much given his play last year. His development this year has stalled. It appears he has reached his ceiling. You can’t teach accuracy. He is still slow on his progressions. It would be great to see more of Trask and Jones to begin preparing for next year.

    However as bad as Franks played, what the heck happened to the rest of the upperclassmen. Did Polite and Jefferson go into Witness Protection? I don’t recall a single mention of their names during the broadcast of Georgia or Mizzou. After a good Georgia game Zuniga was MIA. No pressure at all since LSU. I hope Zuniga and Polite don’t plan on leaving early based on their tape of Georgia, Vandy and Missouri. They look like 5th round at best.

    The senior laden O-Line played pathetic. Hevesy mentioned that the backups were pushing the starters. Well it’s time to play them.

    The usually reliable running game was inconsistent at best. Scarlett is gone for sure, maybe Perine too at the end of the season. Let’s see more of Pierce in lieu of Scarlett.

    I would live with the inevitable mistakes of youth in exchange for player development. At least the kids would give maximum effort in exchange for playing time.

  8. im in shock more at all this hatred for the coaches. i knew we would lose this one after by being mostly better than georgia (except qb and a suspended db and a freak injury) but losing that game. imo georgia will lose to auburn, lets not put them on a pedestal please. our qb has been benched 4 times for 4 different qbs, worse we had to run off a cheater that is now about to win the heisman. it sucks. but the defense lost the will when missouri left our receivers open with full confidence we couldnt connect and they were right.
    i hate yesterday but i still like everything about the program. phillippe i still contend can be a really good tight end, i like jones, and trask can be effective in the next couple of games.
    nothing would gall me more than losing to champ this week. nothing.

  9. Mullen has done a great job this year. To be ranked at one time in the Top 10, at 6-1, with a quality win over LSU is remarkable. My only critique of his coaching is sticking with Franks too long…hopefully Trask will see the field the rest of the year. It can’t be worse. As for yesterday, I think the players just let their coaches down. They did not show up to play, they act entitled, and they quit…they thought Missouri would roll over. I think we struggle for the rest of the season…maybe another win against Idaho. But losses to USC and FSU are looking very likely. Our players have lost their hunger to win. Give Mullen time to get HIS players into his system. Future is bright!!!

  10. I think I drank too much Kool-aid after the LSU win. Still, the defense seems to have gone south and Grantham’s schemes for Mizzou did not work. Luck lit up the secondary like a Christmas tree and the Gator offense, going against the 60-plus worst defense in college could only manage 17 points–again. That said, however, I think all Gator fans got too excited after the LSU win. Mullen is still playing with McElwain’s recruits, which include Felipe Franks. I hope for 9 wins this season. The experts predicted 7, maybe 8 wins for this team prior to the start of the season. Who is the future QB for Florida? Are the receivers good enough? Does the offensive line fail to execute? I don’t have answers but am still willing to see improvement for 2019-20. And still hoping for 9 wins, but South Carolina offense will score a lot against the same defense that the Gators had against Missouri. Don’t rag on Mullen too much. He had to play with what he had, not what he wants or will get.