Gene Frenette: Gators' blowout Cotton Bowl loss may force Mullen's hand on Grantham
A lot of Florida fans will point to the critical opt-outs of eight starters – especially key offensive weapons Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, Trevor Grimes and Jacob Copeland – as the big reason for Wednesday’s 55-20 Cotton Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Nobody can dispute it changed the tenor of the game.
But the recurring 2020 team of watching Todd Grantham’s leaky defense, which too often opted out of tackling against the Sooners, has to leave head coach Dan Mullen shaking his head about what to do moving forward.
Cotton Bowl 2020:Five takeaways from Florida Gators' blowout loss to Oklahoma Sooners
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Though the Oklahoma debacle has to be put in proper context based on who wasn’t out there, UF fans who have been vociferous in their criticism of Grantham will now ring louder than ever. Mullen either has to change coordinators or hope Grantham, who has been with him since 2017 at Mississippi State, can vastly improve the defense as he did before this year’s disaster.
Multiple reports from Gainesville indicate Mullen will part ways with safeties coach Ron English and cornerbacks coach Torrian Gray, which is no surprise since the UF secondary struggled all season and was ranked 101st nationally, giving up 257.5 yards per game. Their departure could mean Mullen may retain Grantham, who has been with him since 2017 at Mississipi State.
Even before Oklahoma blow-torched the Gators for 684 yards, including a ridiculous 435 rushing yards on 40 attempts, there were plenty of signs UF’s defense was record-setting, and not in a good way. No doubt, playing exclusively 11 SEC games and no rent-a-victims is going to skew the numbers.
But prior to the Sooners’ blowout, it has to alarm Mullen that the Gators allowed 28.64 points per game, the most since UF went winless in 1946 (29.8 ppg). If you include the Oklahoma game, then the 30.83 ppg is the most in school history. By any measuring stick, it’s an eyesore that may only get marginally better in 2021 with a younger team and no Kyle Trask-run offense to bail them out.
Since Mullen looks at the Cotton Bowl as nothing more than the start of spring practice, as one postgame comment (“The last game the 2020 team played was 11 days ago [against Alabama].”) clearly indicated, then players he’s counting on to start next season better show rapid improvement.
Oklahoma exposed the fact that Florida may well take a step back in 2021. This doesn’t look like a roster ready to meet Mullen’s standard of contending for an SEC Championship.
Truthfully, it may not matter who runs the Gator defense next season. But Mullen must decide if he believes 2020 is an anamoly or that somebody besides Grantham needs to fix it. . . .
What about Todd Wash in Jacksonville?
Speaking of defenses that are tough to watch, Jaguars’ coordinator Todd Wash doesn’t want this stain on his resume: If the Jaguars allow 36 points Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, they would become the fourth team in NFL history to allow 500 points in a season. The Jaguars would join the winless 2008 Detroit Lions (517 points), 1981 Baltimore Colts (533) and 1966 New York Giants (501), who managed to reach it in just 14 games. . . .
It’ll be interesting to see whether Doug Marrone’s decision to start veteran Mike Glennon at quarterback against the Colts -- one week after a ho-hum outing against the Chicago Bears – has any impact on Gardner Minshew’s future in Jacksonville. Between his lack of transparency on a thumb injury suffered in November, getting benched after his return and not being offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s favorite style of quarterback, Minshew has fallen out of favor.
He would be a cheap backup option in 2021, but will a likely new coaching staff view him as an ideal mentor for Lawrence? If Minshew wants a chance to compete for a starting job, the Jaguars might have to shop him and see if they can get any takers. . . .
NFL trivia: Who are the only two quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with records under .500 as a starter? Answer at the bottom. . . .
What a monumental opportunity for Los Angeles Rams backup quarterback and Bishop Kenny High product John Wolford, making his NFL debut and first start Sunday in a playoffs-or-bust matchup against the Arizona Cardinals and QB Kyler Murray. That’s a tough assignment, but Wolford, replacing the injured Jared Goff, does have a slight advantage in opponents having little tape to evaluate him except preseason. Another possible edge: Wolford is given little chance by most pundits to pull this off and he loves to be underestimated. . . .
It’s likely BYU quarterback Zach Wilson’s stock between now and the NFL draft will continue to ascend. He may pose a dilemma for the New York Jets in the No. 2 slot, whether to move on from Sam Darnold and take Wilson, or trade down for more draft capital to put impact pieces around Darnold.
Either way, it’s very possible Lawrence and Wilson could go 1-2. Of the seven previous drafts since 1970 in which quarterbacks were taken with the top two picks, it’d be interesting to see if the Lawrence-Wilson combo could surpass the best 1-2 punch of Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning (1971). . . .
Wonder if Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis still thinks his coach, Jon Gruden, is worth a 10-year, $100 million contract? The Raiders are 18-29 since he took over in 2018 and have given up more points per game (28.36) in that span than any other team. . . .
Cam Newton's Patriot struggles
It was stunning to see how much the New England Patriots’ Cam Newton, the league MVP in 2015, struggled to complete routine passes in Monday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills. Granted, the Patriots don’t have much in the way of weapons, but it’s hard not to notice how Newton has become the Benjamin Button of NFL quarterbacks, aging at a rapid rate. . . .
Condolences to Bethune-Cookman University and the family of legendary player-coach Jack “Cy” McClairen, who passed away Monday at age 89. Few people in college athletics were as connected to one school as McClairen was to BCU, where he served for seven decades in various capacities, including stints as head basketball coach, head football coach and athletic director. As a student, he earned 12 letters in basketball, football and track and field.
The only significant period where Coach Cy wasn’t tied to BCU came during his six seasons as a receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1955-60), making one Pro Bowl. A 26th-round draft pick, McClairen, who served two years in the Army before going to the NFL, made the Steelers’ roster after the team cut quarterback Johnny Unitas. What an amazing athletic life. . . .
At the rate college basketball games are being cancelled for COVID-19 issues, has anyone noticed that Kentucky basketball has lost six consecutive games? At 1-6, John Calipari’s team will need to dominate the SEC to have a shot at making the NCAA tournament, providing March Madness is even played. . . .
Trivia answer: Joe Namath (New York Jets/Los Angeles Rams) was 62-63-4 in 13 seasons and Sonny Jurgensen (Washington Football Team/Philadelphia Eagles) was 69-71-7 in 18 seasons. . . .
Pigskin forecast: Indianapolis Colts over Jaguars by 20 (scoreboard watchers); New York Jets over New England Patriots by 1 (Auld Lang Syne); Cleveland Browns over Pittsburgh Steelers by 1 (tradition breaker); Texas A&M over North Carolina by 7 (CFP snubs); Kentucky over North Carolina State by 4 (hoops vigils). Last week: 2 right, 3 Booger McFarland lectures.
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