Dooley Grades The 2019 Gators: Another step up for Mullen-led UF

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Florida coach Dan Mullen watches during the first half of the Orange Bowl against Virginia in Miami Gardens. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley grades the overall performance of the Florida football team in 2019.

OFFENSE B+

It’s difficult to give an “A” grade to a team that is 107th in rushing yards with a handful of games left in the college football season. And that’s after the Gators got a bump from the Orange Bowl.

It was no secret Florida struggled to run the ball and had to count on the passing game with Kyle Trask and four senior receivers. But here’s a stat for you — Florida gained 10 or more yards on 24.5 percent of it plays this year. Playoff team and formidable offensive power Ohio State did so on 24.7 percent of its plays.

The Gators are 29th in scoring (again, there won’t be much movement with so few games remaining) and 45th in total offense. Those wouldn’t be good numbers in the Steve Spurrier Era, but this was 108th in scoring and 110th in total offense.

Florida actually had a slight dip from a year ago in both statistics, in part because UF went from a plus-12 in turnover margin to a plus-5.

DEFENSE B-

In Florida’s three biggest games of the season — Auburn, LSU and Georgia — the Gators defense had one great game and two lousy ones.

Statistically, Florida had a great year. The Gators were seventh in scoring defense, which is the most important stat, and ninth in total defense. 

The stats were skewed a bit by shutouts against Towson, UT-Martin and Vanderbilt, but don’t forget the Tennessee team everyone is patting on the back now scored three points in The Swamp and Missouri scored six points at home.

This year was the return of the sack, as Florida jumped its total by 12 from a year ago. The Gators also had 16 more tackles for loss than they did in 2018.

But, oh, those third downs.

UF was 52nd in the nation in allowing third-down conversions despite being 15th in opponents long scrimmage plays.

This was not an elite defense. It was at times, but to be truly elite you have to play at a high level all the time, not just some of the time. 

We saw it again in the Orange Bowl. Virginia’s offense finished 82nd in the country and yet Florida allowed 28 points and 323 passing yards to Bryce Perkins.

SPECIAL TEAMS B

Florida didn’t generate a lot of big plays on special teams, but didn’t allow them either.

First, Evan McPherson had another strong year making 17 of his 19 field goal attempts. He also was asked to kick more balls deep on kickoffs and only had 51 touchbacks on 80 kickoffs.

(Also, no kickoffs out of bounds which may not seem like that big a deal, but there were 69 FBS kickers with at least two).

Tommy Townsend was solid as well averaging 44.0 yards per punt.

The Gators only returned eight kickoffs all season and only 15 punts. They had no punt returns of more than 20 yard and only three kickoff returns of more than 30. 

But they also did not allow any long punt returns and only two kickoff returns of more than 30 yards. For the season. Florida allowed only nine total yards in punt returns.  

OVERALL B+

For Dan Mullen to get this roster that was constantly dealing with injuries to 11 wins was remarkable. 

Florida started 19 different defensive players because of injuries and the Gators were down to the mid-60s in available scholarship players late in the season.

That Florida was even in the discussion for a College Football Playoff berth in late October was amazing.

Still, UF fell short of winning the division and will finish behind the two teams that beat the Gators — LSU and Georgia — when the final polls are released Jan. 14.

At the same time, it was certainly a successful season with a sweep in The Swamp and three more road wins giving Mullen a 7-1 record in true road games over two seasons.

It was hardly perfect and the most critical of fans will find fault even in the victories. But 2019 was another step in getting Florida to elite status as a program. 

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

18 COMMENTS

  1. Hard to quibble with that year-end assessment Pat. That’s about where I would grade the 2019 Gator season performance.

    You covered all the major pluses and minuses. All that’s left now is to wrap up a top 7 recruiting class and get ready for 2020.

    Hopefully, the additional talent and year of experience will improve the overall play of the OL and DBs, without losing ground in other areas. 2020 might be the year the Gators get over the Dawg hurdle.

    GO GATORS!!!

    • No, and I will not be among those to quibble either — it was indeed a surprisingly fair and accurate assessment and proof of that is that you, yourself, said that’s where you would +/- grade the overall performance from the perspective of year’s end. In fact, it’s where I would grade them too, the caveat only being that I lack your requisite knowledge and skills to render it meaningful.

      Maybe Pat, in his so called drive to be “objective” is softening his his corresponding drive to poke a finger in Gator fans eyes? Of course, I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest he likes either us or the Gators very much…..but this is perhaps a start.

      • You’re really hard on Pat 6! Poor guy just tries all season long to hold onto his objective image in the eyes of his peers on AP poll board. The overall grade he gave the Gators’ 2019 performance is spot on and here’s why.

        I base my overall season grade on end-in-mind, with an A+ ONLY going to a team that wins a NC. All other teams, have room for improvement.

        An A would go to ANY team that wins the SEC, or otherwise makes the CFP because that’s the Gator goal every season. I’ll give a B to ANY Gator team that wins 10 or more in the SEC, but fails to win the SECC AND also misses the CFP, which is where the 2019 Gators finished. The upgrade to B+ goes for landing in a NY-6 bowl game and winning it, which guarantees a top 10 finish.

        By that yardstick, the Gators have only had 3 A+ teams in their history, CDM has had two B+ teams so far. And his two predecessors’ teams this decade have done no better than a B, one season each.

        • While I would not suggest by any stretch of the imagination that Pat Dooley volunteer to take over head coaching duties vice CDM, did you ever think about writing a column? I’ll bet there’s a good level of consensus on that.

          • Thank you 6. Those were very kind words. However, I do this purely for fun. It takes the place of social media, which I have a serious generational problem with.

            Something tells me the pressure of a deadline would take a lot the fun out of this lark. That’s why I admire what Pat Dooley does. He’s kept producing entertaining and thought provoking columns for years under the relentless pressure of the dreaded deadline.

            I will miss him when he retires, even if he has a thing about Michigan I don’t comprehend. LOL!!!

          • I admire Dooley too — for his style and writing skills in particular and consider him to be in the mold of probably the best sports journalist I have ever read, the late Tom McEwen of the old Tampa Tribune. In fact, at times he rivals the late Andy Hardy for savvy, even approaching the likewise late Salty Sol and Dan Cook of San Antonio.

            I just find it annoying curious that he makes such a sport of insulting Gator fans so often, ostensibly to maintain either an image of neutrality or objectivity. Objectivity itself stands on its own merits by simply calling it as one sees it, which I’m sure everyone respects depending on how it’s put….but it is more easily lost in either direction by artificial methods of compensation. At least I hope he doesn’t hold us in the contempt he typically displays!

          • Pat’s a Florida native (I think) from St. Augustine, a Gator grad, and a fan since the 60’s. His ire is aimed at the group of fans he refers to as “Gidiots”, those fans who can find fault no matter what and seem to expect 12-0 every season. Nobody admits to being one, but I think the rest of us know one when we see him/her.

            Having seen the mediocre and down times in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, he knows how special the success that Spurrier started, Meyer expanded, and Mullen resurrected is. When the Gidiots, who either weren’t around for the early lean times or choose to ignore them, begin to believe that SEC titles are their birthright and act like entitled Bama fans, Pat begins to poke to put them in their place. Occasionally, innocent bystanders, such as you, get grazed and become collateral damage. This is where I should say, “He means well.” or “Bless his heart!”.

          • Joe, that is a sincere and heartfelt explanation. I however, simply reserve my geriatric, curmudgeonly cranky off-season right to find indignation and self righteous outrage in something related to Gator football. Good grief, man — it’s all I got from January to August! My hair is falling out, I’m starting to look like Mr Magoo, I seem to lose IQ points every time I sneeze, chicks under the age of 75 don’t appear to dig me anymore, and worst of all, beside the fact that there’s no college football to watch until the Spring game, Donna has to tie a pork chop around my neck just to get Willis to play with me these days.

            But for my spiritual gifts of sarcasm and carping, in that order, I would surely lose the will to get up in the morning.

            But I ask you, if 10% of Gator fans are “gidiots”, why would you want to insult the other 90% as well?

          • I don’t think he means to, 6, it just happens anyway. Then again, I don’t really know what he’s thinking when he writes. Gives us something to talk about, though!

            Speaking of January to August, you can fill some of that time if you’ll come on over to basketball. They’ve started the SEC schedule 2-0, with an improbable comeback win over Bama and an impressive offensive performance in a nice road victory over SC. It won’t help you look better naked or reduce the average age of the chicks that notice you, but it will fill your Gator sports void. While it’s must-watch stuff for me, you can look at it as the “nicotine gum” for football withdrawal.

            Go Gators!!!

  2. Great evaluation Pat! That’s pretty much how I would grade out the Gators’ 2019 performance.

    The focus for CDM will now turn to putting the finishing touches on what should end up being a top 7 recruiting class. After that comes the period of bolstering the top 4 2021 recruiting class with more commitments and getting ready for spring practice.

    For the Gators to improve on their 2019 performance in 2020, they must significantly improve OL, DB and special teams performance, while increasing team depth and not regressing in other personnel groupings. That is a huge undertaking for what will amount to “just” two more wins. It’s just that those two wins must come against UGA, then either LSU or Bama, because if they want to be the best, they have to beat the best!

    GO GATORS!!!

  3. It is starting to get exciting again to be a Florida Gator now that CDM has raised UF to where we can began to see a little light at the end of a ten year dark tunnel. We are getting very close, a couple key players, more depth and watch out. The Gators will be on the prowl for the East SEC Division. I am getting pumped about the 2020 season already! Go Gators!

    • Myself Dirtdoc, myself. And particularly about 2021, since I have a gut feeling that definitley is NOT just gas, that is the year that all this converges to produce a championship Florida team that goes far beyond winning the East. But I could be wrong and we do it a lot sooner than that, which would be good since I’m probably inching up on the damn check out line anyway.

      • We got a good shot 2020 with our schedule. Burrow gone to NFL and we got LSU in the Swamp, probably night game and maybe Game Day or SEC game of the week. I think the Coon Ass with the Burrow gone may be just a bunch of donkeys. If Fromm goes pro we should run the table until the SEC Championship playoff. But I am with you, 2020 maybe but 2021 should be an ass of bull gators playing hard nose ball.

  4. The Gators did improve overall in 2019 from 2018, though in some categories not as much. One of the most striking areas of improvement was at QB – consistency, checking off on the reads, finding open receivers, and delivering receptions. While Franks is the better runner, Trask is consistently more accurate with his throws and did a better job finding the most open receiver. Both have powerful arms, and I believe Franks will find just the right home for him and will perform very well (I saw much progress early this past season). Our defense was dominant at times but then seem not so formidable as lately as UVA. GO GATORS!!!