Mullen, Gators on Wilson shoe toss: 'I didn't see that'
It was far from Florida’s only mistake Saturday night, but Marco Wilson’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter is poised to go down as one of the program’s most significant blunders considering the short-term and long-term circumstances.
The redshirt junior defensive back turned a stop by Florida’s defense on third down into a first down for LSU by tossing Tigers tight end Kole Taylor’s cleat downfield, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at a late and pivotal moment.
It was an undisciplined play, and a costly one at that as it extended LSU’s drive, which concluded with Cade York’s 57-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining in regulation to put LSU up 37-34.
The Gators would have a field-goal try of their own from 51 yards, but it would sail just slightly left of the goal posts, sealing UF’s defeat.
Florida coach Dan Mullen, asked after the game what he saw on Wilson’s penalty, claimed he didn’t see what happened.
“I didn’t see that. I don’t know. I mean, I guess that’s a penalty. I have no idea what happened. I didn’t see it. So, you guys probably, did you guys see it? I don’t know,” Mullen said. “They called a penalty on it, so.”
Oddly enough, Mullen wasn’t the only one who claims to have not seen the post-play infraction.
Florida linebacker Amari Burney, who was in on the stop, echoed his head coach’s comments, even though he was only several inches away from Wilson when the shoe was tossed.
“I really didn't even see it, all I seen was the flag and then I seen the shoe fly. So, it wasn't really anything I could do,” Burney said. “I didn't know who threw the shoe until we got to the sideline after the game.”
Regardless of who was behind the mistake, Burney said the Gators must move on rather than turn on a teammate. While it may not be what many in Florida’s fanbase wants to hear in the immediate aftermath of a letdown, Wilson, UF’s pregame captain Saturday, can still make amends with his contributions when the Gators meet Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
"It was just a mistake, everybody makes mistakes. You can't kill him for the mistake that he made,” Burney said. “It was in the moment, he’s just gotta learn from it and move on."
But Burney’s message couldn’t stop countless people from attacking Wilson online, and it wasn’t just fans singling out the UF defensive back. Former Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, now with the New Orleans Saints, had some pointed words for his former teammate. Gardner-Johnson initially called Wilson “dumb”, later clarifying he believed his former teammate lacked “discipline” rather than intelligence.
Other former Gators were far more sympathetic and understanding of Wilson’s situation, such as former UF running back Ciatrick Fason.
Unlike Wilson, Fason didn’t have to deal with the pressures of social media on top of the heavy expectations that already come with being an athlete at the University of Florida.
He reminded those willing to listen that the world is tough enough already — there’s no need to pile on further.
“Marco made a mistake, but no need to tear him apart,” Fason wrote. “Depression is so real right now, but even worse with COVID. He is beating himself up, he doesn’t need others to. Let’s build him up, life is bigger than the game. Facts.”