Whitley: Gators are sick and there's no cure in sight

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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Florida’s players went through a lot of IV bags of fluid before Saturday night’s game, hoping to stay hydrated and fight off an aggressive flu bug.

Now it’s the fans who need IV bags, preferably filled with morphine or their favorite pain-killing beverage.

After getting drilled 40-17 by South Carolina, Gator Nation is as sick as it’s been in a long time. And the really bad news is there’s no cure in sight.

I know what a lot of you are thinking — Yes, there is. Get rid of Dan Mullen!

Sorry, folks. That’s not the answer right now.

Unless they write emails like Jon Gruden, you don’t fire coaches who’ve been to three consecutive New Year’s Six bowls. That said, even Athletic Director Scott Stricklin’s confidence in Mullen has to be wavering.

This team is deteriorating before our eyes, and Mullen seems befuddled over what to do about it. To be generous, you could attribute the LSU loss to the Tigers rallying around Ed Orgeron. Georgia is Georgia.

But getting boat-raced by the Gamecocks?

South Carolina was playing its third-string quarterback. This is a team that had to rally to beat Vanderbilt by one point.

The Gators were anywhere from 17½-point to 20-point favorites. In 42 games against UF, South Carolina had never scored more than 36 points.

All that explained the giddy look on coach Shane Beamer’s face when he stopped for his halftime interview and the scoreboard read 30-10.

“It’s nice to do a halftime interview when we’re winning,” he said. “Haven’t done one of those in a while.”

Neither has Mullen, who has no answers other than “we have to play better.”

The team went into an us-against-the-world bunker all week. Mullen said the attitude was gung-ho. There was still a lot to play for, like a 9-4 record and some positive mojo going into the offseason.

All that, and the Gators laid one of the biggest eggs in program history.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Mullen said. “I’m obviously very disappointed.”

You have to wonder if the players have started mailing it in. That’s a hard thing to gauge, especially because nobody was made available for interviews after the game except Mullen.

“I certainly don’t think we gave up,” he said. “Give the guys credit. They faced a lot of adversity and continued to battle.”

At the top of that list was the flu, which hit about 30 players last week. Emory Jones was one of those needing a bag of fluid before the game.

The mini pandemic partially explains Saturday night’s shocker. But there was no good explanation for South Carolina having 459 yards of total offense.

In the game before against Texas A&M, the Gamecocks had 15 yards through three quarters. They ranked 106th in the FBS rushing stats, averaging 117 yards a game.

Against the Gators, they had two 100-yard rushers. Quarterback Jason Brown, a fifth-year transfer from St. Francis, looked like Matt Freakin’ Corral.

Meanwhile, the Gators' once-mighty running attack has gone AWOL. South Carolina attacked that supposed strength, stacking the line and daring UF to beat it via the air.

As usual, Jones looked good in spots. As usual, he looked not-so-good in other spots. The Gators’ passing attack isn’t consistent enough to solely rely upon, especially when the offensive line is getting out-muscled.

Speaking of getting pushed around, we give you UF’s defense. Beamer must have studied the LSU tape, because the Gamecocks got rich running the same simple counter plays.

“We are not playing great at the line of scrimmage,” Mullen said. “We’re turning the ball over. Those are two huge things.”

But take heart, Gator fans. There is some relief in sight. Basketball season starts Tuesday, and Samford comes to The Swamp on Saturday.

Against those Bulldogs, Florida can get away with not playing great and turning the ball over. Probably. But the big picture is now pretty much gloom and doom.

Beating Missouri and FSU isn’t going to make anyone feel better, though losing will make them feel worse. The only real suspense left is whether Todd Grantham will get fired before the season. After Saturday night’s defensive meltdown, he might be cleaning out his desk as we speak.

Most fans would just as soon call it a wrap, even if it means no trip to the Birmingham Bowl. They just want to get to the offseason and see what kind of changes Mullen makes.

They’d better be good. Gator Nation can take only so much pain.

— 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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