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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.