Whitley: Mullen better figure out a cure for what's ailing UF

David Whitley
Gator Sports
Florida coach Dan Mullen talks with quarterback Emory Jones in Saturday's game against Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE — Stop the world, the Gators want to get off.

Unfortunately for Florida, the world won’t stop, the season won’t stop, and no team seems capable of stopping the program UF measures itself by.

If it wasn’t already obvious the Gators no longer measure up to Georgia, you must have missed Saturday’s game.

The programs have diverged to the point where Florida must play almost flawlessly to win. The Gators weren’t perfect, but they were only down 3-0 with just over two minutes left in the first half.

But there’s no room for error against Georgia, much less room for three errors. Florida had a three turnovers in 10 plays. Georgia scored three touchdowns.

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Before you could say, “Mullen's on the hot seat now,” Georgia was skipping to the locker room with a 24-0 lead.

"Here's the deal," Mullen said. "The rope's slipping right now."

Here's the deal: It's your job to stop it.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Florida is not and should not fire a coach who goes to three consecutive New Year’s Six bowls and follows it with an 8-4 record. That assumes, of course, the Gators don’t lose any of the four remaining games they’ll be heavily favored in.

But Saturday’s beatdown was so thorough, a different Mullen showed up at the post-game news conference.

There was no spinning how the Gators had more offense than Georgia (they really did, 355 to 354 total yards, which shows you how stats can be meaningless). Mullen was humble. It was a more humble Mullen than we're used to seeing.

 “I’m certainly not pleased with where we are. I know our players are not pleased with where we are, and Gator Nation is not pleased with where we are,” he said. “That’s up to me to get that fixed, and I certainly plan on doing that.”

It won’t be easy. Georgia was the last chance to salvage a lost season. Beating South Carolina, Missouri or Sanford or FSU isn’t going to change the narrative that Florida’s program is heading in the wrong direction.

That’s not just a “narrative.” When you are 2-7 in your last nine games against Power Five opponents, you are heading in the wrong direction.

Mullen talked a lot about the Gators’ mindset and the need to create “positive energy.” He broke out the “hold the rope” metaphor.

“Dropping the rope certainly doesn’t fix anything. Grasping the rope does, and holding on tight does,” Mullen said. “Squeezing as it burns does.

“And I will say something about me. I don’t drop the rope. I’m not going to let you rip it out of my hands. You can drag me around by the face if you want, but I’m not going to let any inch of that rope go.”

As to what that translates into on a football field, Mullen pointed to Saturday’s mistakes.

“They create a turnover and scored right away on it. We didn’t,” Mullen said. “Their offense fed off their defense.”

Georgia’s offense actually fed off Florida’s offense. Mullen started Anthony Richardson and schemed up a decent game plan. But as the first-half clock wound down, the redshirt freshman came unglued against Georgia’s killer defense.

Mullen’s psychoanalysis is the players now expect negative things to happen, so they let go of the metaphorical rope when they do. But even if Mullen gets everybody’s mind right, does Florida have the bodies it needs?

This is where Mullen’s still in denial. If there’s one Power Five opponent that really matters to Florida, it’s the SEC neighbors directly to the north.

The Bulldogs have been killing Florida in recruiting since Smart arrived. But when asked if there’s a talent gap between the programs, Mullen said, “Well, we were better last year, and they were better this year.”

It’s not that simple. Mullen is now 1-3 against the Bulldogs, and the missile gap is widening. Georgia’s 2022 recruiting class is ranked No. 1, and Florida’s is No. 22. The Gators’ top two defensive recruits have decommitted since the LSU game.  

Mullen might be able to develop players and scheme up enough offensive wizardry to win eight or nine games a year. But to be a consistent SEC contender, you need the horses.

“There’s no coach out there that can out-coach recruiting,” Smart said. “No coaching is going to out-coach players. Anybody will tell you our defense is good because we have good players.”

Before Mullen addresses that deficiency, he has more pressing issues. Like his team's mindset. It wasn't a good sign that a chunk of the roster didn't go to the end zone for the band's post-game performance of the alma mater.

Even if the players don't mentally check out, the best Florida can hope for now is an 8-4 season. A lot of schools would kill for an 8-4 record and a trip to something like Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

Florida isn’t supposed to be like a lot of schools. It’s supposed to be like Georgia.

If this narrative doesn't start changing, Mullen is going to run out of rope.

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