Whitley: Mullen needs to come with better answers

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson throws in the second half Saturday against LSU in Baton Rouge, La.

BATON ROUGE, La. — After Florida’s season unexpectedly crumbled, two questions were immediately asked of Dan Mullen.

Who’s the quarterback, and what the heck happened to your defense?

“Yeah,” Mullen said. “Those are two really good questions.”

In keeping with the theme of the 2021 season, he didn’t have any answers. The immediate result was a head-scratching 49-42 loss to LSU. The Ed Orgeron Preservation Society will be sending a gift basket to show its appreciation.

“When I walked into the building, I wouldn’t have anticipated that,” linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said. “But what happens, happens.”

Nobody anticipated what happened Saturday, though in retrospect we should have. About the only thing you can count on with this team is inconsistency.

Just when you thought the defense was cured, it reverted to 2020 form. Just when you thought the offense had established a run-first identity, it goes schizo.

Remember that quarterback controversy that had gone away? It’s back, though it really shouldn’t be. It’s apparent Emory Jones is what he is.

He’s a good kid, dedicated to the cause, and capable of winning a lot of games. But he’s got a ceiling, and he keeps hitting it.

When he threw a pick-six on the first possession of the second half to make it 28-13, it was desperation time. This was a game Florida could not afford to lose, not if it wanted to have anything left to play for besides a nice trip to the Outback Bowl.

For better or worse, it was time to let things rip with Anthony Richardson. He’s been largely shelved the past month with a bad hamstring. When he did get in, he mostly handed off or looked confused.

But Saturday, he was the AR-15 that wowed the world in early September. Richardson directed three lightning-strike TD drives before the third quarter ended.

Yeah, he threw a terrible interception in the first half. And he threw another one at the end of the game. It was a freshman-like mistake, trying to make a big pass as he was getting hit.

Like every QB, you take the good with the bad. But with Richardson, the good is so good and so promising of potentially greater things to come.

The answer to ‘Who’s the quarterback?” should be obvious. But Mullen went into a “We’ll have to evaluate, look at film, yadda, yadda, yadda” coach speak. He thinks people labeling AR as a budding superstar needs to chill.

“I love everybody labeling people,” Mullen said. “He’s a young quarterback that’s learning and developing. That’s a good label for him.”

Since the season’s big goals are hopelessly lost, why not turn the reins over to Richardson? What is there to lose?

Another concern is what UF might lose if doesn’t start giving Richardson a lot more reps. Ever heard of the transfer portal?

Richardson didn’t exactly slam the door on it when it came up after the game.

“Umm, I can’t really speak on that. Time is the only thing that will tell,” he said. “But right now, I’m a Gator. That’s the only thing that matters.”

Right now, so is Todd Grantham. Which brings us back to that second question.

How the heck did LSU score 49 points?

Four turnovers by Florida were partially to blame. What’s inexplicable was how LSU, the 127th-ranked rushing offense in America, steamrolled to 321 yards.

Tyrion Davis-Price had 287 of them, breaking the all-time record for yards against the Gators set by Herschel Walker in 1980.

Davis-Price is a nice back, but he’s not Herschel. What was confounding was how he seemed to get about 250 of his yards off the same counter play.

Did UF make any adjustments?

“We made the adjustments we were given to make,” Diabate said.

Were they enough?

“That’s not my decision to make,” Diabate said. “I’m a soldier. When the General tells me where to shoot, I shoot.”

If this keeps up, General Grantham should be relieved of duty. That’s the message Mullen had to deliver in private. In public, he was as non-committal as he was about the quarterbacks.

“I don’t like to jump to conclusions,” Mullen said. “I like to know the facts on everything that’s going on and what the issues are and what we’re doing and what we need to do.”

The issues add up to a program that is 2-6 in its last eight games against Power Five teams. Mullen needs to get busy finding answers, though two should be obvious.

If the defense doesn’t get better and stay better, it needs a new coordinator.

And you have an inconsistent but budding star at QB. If you don’t let him shine, you’re going to lose him.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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