Mullen: Wilson's cleat toss 'a shame', but wasn't taunting Tigers

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
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An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Florida defensive back Marco Wilson, who threw LSU tight end Kole Taylor's size 14 shoe following a third-down stop. LSU would have punted. Instead, the Tigers got a first down and moved into a long-distance field goal.

Florida coach Dan Mullen claimed he didn’t see Marco Wilson’s shoe toss Saturday following his team's 37-34 upset loss to LSU, which dropped the Gators to No. 11 in the Coaches’ poll. 

By the night’s end, Mullen had watched the play and spoke with his redshirt junior cornerback, who was one of 27 seniors playing their last game in The Swamp. Wilson’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a third-down stop kept the Tigers’ game-winning drive alive, leading to Cade York’s 57-yard field goal. 

“I talked to him,” Mullen said of Wilson on the SEC Championship Game Coaches Teleconference on Sunday. “We spent some time with him last night after the game. I know he’s disappointed but, you know, it’s a shame.”

LSU tight end Kole Taylor tried to jump over Wilson’s diving tackle attempt, but he grabbed Taylor by his left foot to bring him down six yards short of the sticks. His cleat came off as Wilson wrapped him up, which is how it ended up in his hands. 

But instead of dropping the shoe or handing it back to Taylor, Wilson stood up, took two steps and hurled his left cleat about 25 yards from the Tigers 30-yard line.

As Wilson beat on his chest twice and then did a flex pose with both arms, LSU players extended theirs and pointed toward Taylor’s shoe at the Florida 45. Seconds later, the flags flew and the chains moved. 

Mullen offered his perspective on the play after rewatching it. 

“He made the tackle and (as) part of the football move, the kid’s shoe was in his hand and he kind of threw it and jumped and celebrated with his teammates. So it’s pretty unfortunate in that situation, you know,” Mullen said. “I don’t think there was any intent to taunt. It wasn’t like he was throwing it to their other sideline or doing any of that. 

“It was a huge play, he thought possibly a game-winning play, and he kind of threw a shoe and went to celebrate with his teammates. Unfortunately, it was a penalty. So I think that stuff really is an unfortunate situation and a mistake instead of somebody really trying to disrespect the game or taunt the opponent or anything of that nature, you know what I mean?”

Wilson finished the game with three total tackles and a season-high two pass deflections, but his Senior Night will be remembered for the cleat toss. Chad Wilson, a former Miami cornerback, took to Twitter afterward to address the "boneheaded play" by his son. 

“The kid feels sick man. He was hyped they got the stop and got caught up in the moment. It sucks that it cost the team. He’ll bounce back. He’s mentally tough,” tweeted Wilson, whose oldest son, Quincy Wilson, also played cornerback at Florida from 2014-16. 

Gators linebacker Amari Burney ran right in front of Wilson as he threw Taylor’s shoe, immediately turning and slapping him across the helmet with his right hand. In his post-game interview, Burney said Wilson made a mistake in the moment and you can’t kill him for it — just a good smack on the head, apparently. 

“Just really unfortunate that it happened,” Mullen said. “But I know for (Marco), I think he’ll look at things and realize ... that’s certainly not the reason that we lost the game. There’s many, many factors that went into that. And that’s just an unfortunate one in that situation because it was a key moment in a game.”

The last time a UF player made a blunder this bad was the personal foul in 2004 by former wideout Dallas Baker. Florida was up 28-27 at Rocky Top and trying to run out the clock with Tennessee out of timeouts. On a third-down run, Vols cornerback Jonathan Wade slapped Baker after the play and he retaliated — but only Baker was flagged. 

That stopped the clock with 55 seconds before Florida’s punt and gave Tennessee better field position, leading to James Wilhoit’s 50-yard field goal as time expired to win the game 30-28.

Baker, now the receivers coach at Marshall, reached out to Wilson on Sunday with some encouraging words. 

“I just wanted M3 to know I’ve been in his shoes,” Baker tweeted, “and to keep his head up and that he’s definitely not alone.”

In addition to Baker, his coaches and family members, Wilson has the support of his teammates as well. Tight end Kyle Pitts said they’ve already put the incident behind them. 

“I feel like he was hyped up, he was excited, but that was last week,” Pitts said Monday. “Everybody has been supporting him. It’s all right. That doesn’t define your whole career. So us, we’ve just been uplifting his spirits despite what the media says and all the fans say. We know how Marco is as a person, and to uplift him is what he needed.”


What: SEC Championship Game

Who: No. 1 Alabama (10-0) vs. No. 6 Florida (8-2)

When: 8 p.m. 

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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