Florida Welcomes Billy Napier

It’s that time again (unfortunately) to welcome a new head football coach to Gainesville.  Florida hopes that it finally has hit upon a long-term and successful hire with Billy Napier, after the mostly disastrous past 11 seasons under Won’t Misschump, The Swamp Donkey, and Dancin’ Danny.

Napier comes to Florida with a solid background as both an analyst, assistant coach, and head coach.  He spent a few years at both Clemson and Alabama coaching wide receivers and also as Offensive Coordinator at Clemson, watching what those programs did to build – and sustain – their current runs as elite programs.  He is also the son of a legendary high school football coach in Georgia, and has a ton of contacts in that state which should serve him well in recruiting.  His first head coaching job came at Louisiana, where he built a conference champion over 4 consistently-improving seasons.

Napier has a set way of building a program that includes both the infrastructure (assistant coaches plus staff) and the system to set them in motion and sustain them.  He is calm and methodical in explaining them, which I believe is how he was able to quickly gain the trust of the Athletic Dept. and University administration that hired him.  The success at those three schools obviously carried weight in the interview process, but it speaks to his ability to communicate his vision of success that he was hired so quickly and without a long search process. 

The staff he has put together is likely the most professional, hardest working, and best recruiting group since Urban Meyer built a mini-dynasty in Gainesville.  He has hired coaches from both the college and NFL ranks that have an established record of success, and also are already exhibiting desperately-needed hard work and energy on the recruiting trail.  He smartly negotiated a large bump in the salary pool for both his assistants and the support staff to rival the handful of recent winning programs.  Results are already being seen in recruiting – the list of players interested in Florida now comes close to the level of players that Meyer signed.  Now, we need to see if they can close on them and develop them (and the program) to where the Gators should be – among the nation’s elite.

Napier has instituted his “8-Phase” approach to the program.  These 8 Phases obviously lead up to the regular season, and it will be fascinating to watch the level of detail take hold in the process.  He is now up to Phase 3 – Spring Practice.  It will be refreshing to see open competition for every position and player, not the previous staff’s way of heavily favoring seniority over talent and productivity.  So many simple and basic points of coaching and the way you treat young men were warped by the Mullen Mafia it was professional malfeasance.  Part of the beauty of the massive army of employees he’s hired is in how no one person is overworked, and can apply 100% focus and energy on their specific responsibilities – including the players themselves.  And if they don’t?  They will be released from their duties……as it should be.

Ultimately, the final result – wins and losses – carry the most weight.  It’s hard to say what we will see this fall, as there are so many moving pieces – coaches, players, and new schemes.  It could be a bumpy ride during the season, but I believe the Athletic Dept. and the University have bought into Napier’s plan and vision, and will be patient with him to build the Florida program to his standard.  We will all be witness to his “process” and how it develops over the coming seasons.  Gator Nation is ready to celebrate returning to the conversation of being among the elite programs in the country and winning more SEC championships – it’s almost criminal that the last was all the way back in 2008.

Best of luck to Coach Napier and his “Army”.  Something tells me they won’t need too much luck with all of the hard work – and smart work – they put into the task. 

Samford Review / Missouri Preview

70-52.

Quite the second-half turnaround.  The Gators got hot from behind the 3-point line, hit the boards hard, and…..wait……what?!

The descent into hell accelerated Saturday, as FCS Samford embarrassed Florida by taking a 42-28 halftime lead, making the Gator defense look, well, even worse than the previous week.  It took a record-setting day from Emory Jones and the Gator offense doing what it should have done anyway to get the win, dominating the entire afternoon and rolling up those 70 points on over 700 yards of offense.  The sad thing was…..they HAD to in order to win the damn game!  And, of course, with Jones close to the passing yards record in addition to the total yards record he had just broken, Dan Mullen pulled him for a few garbage-time snaps from Anthony Richardson.  He is completely oblivious.

At least dead-man-coaching Mullen put it in proper perspective, claiming it was a “hard-fought and ‘good’ win.”.  LMFAO – how clueless can you be?  And then, to double down, he leads a dance party in the locker room after this “big win” that’s released on social media……just to be completely ripped by the national media and other schools and coaches around the country.  That will definitely turn around the 2022 recruiting class.

Samford set records for a FCS school scoring on a FBS school, a SEC school, and Florida in particular.  Their 42 points was the most allowed in a half by the Gators……EVER.

Dance on, Danny Boy.

Mullen continued his string of good decisions by allowing Christian Robinson, coach of the terrible LB corps and Todd Grantham disciple (LOL) to call the defensive signals.  Yeah – that was gonna change things.  Thank god former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni is on staff as a defensive analyst – it appears he put on a headset in the second half and “helped” with the defense.  That group was horrific – again.  No energy, poor tackling, and lack of effort.  As I feared, a lot of these guys have mentally and physically checked out over the past month.

And to think I always laughed at the crap defenses in the Big 12.  The past 2 weeks have made those Big 12 defenses of the past two decades look like the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, or the 1985 Chicago Bears……or (sadly) the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs.

Ace RB coach and Special Teams coach Greg Knox, not to be outdone, limited Dameon Pierce to only 7 carries for “only” 78 yards, watched as Samford cashed in a 98-yard kickoff return TD, and then mind-numbingly didn’t have the kick team ready for an onside attempt in the second half after Samford cut the lead to 56-52.  Pierce has not had double-digit carries in a single game in 2021!  At least he’ll be fresh for the League when he’s drafted, and that team won’t believe their good fortune in getting such a solid player with so much tread still on his tires.  I can’t wait for Florida’s Pro Day, when teams will see Pierce up close, watch how good he looks in drills and catching the ball, and view the (limited) film from his career.  The comments will be pure gold – “Wow – where did they hide this guy?”  “He must have been the number 1 RB on the depth chart.  Wait……what?!”

We are witnessing criminal malfeasance perpetrated by most of this coaching staff.  I’m just glad there is solid, definitive leadership at the Athletic Dept. and at the University level to fix this mess.  Oops……

It’s on to Missouri, who somehow held last week’s juggernaut South Carolina to 28 points in a 31-28 win.  I pray Pasqualoni is allowed to take over the defense.  The main priority is to stuff the box with 8-9 guys to try and slow down RB Tyler Badie, who just racked up his 4th 200 yard game of the season.  It all starts with stopping the run – fail that, and it’s another loss, and more embarrassment.  If Missouri chooses to throw, then so be it.

Florida’s offense had better be ready to run the ball in the cold as well, if for no other reason than to keep the horrific defense on the sidelines.  The O-line has to open some lanes for whomever Knox deems fit for carrying the ball.  That should have been the formula at Carolina, but Danny Boy chose to go rogue and try “shock and awe” with Jones throwing almost exclusively the first half.  Missouri has one of the worst run defenses in the Power 5 – that trend has to continue this week.  Jones will start, and likely again go the distance barring injury or another blowout loss.  The Tigers are nothing special on defense, and the Gators should find success……if they care to play hard and are given a smart game plan by the smartest man in the room.

It’s hard to watch Mullen and the Mississippi St. Mafia continue to tear down what Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer built.  These clowns need to be shown the door ASAP, but I have zero confidence his buddy and fellow MSU stalwart Scott Stricklin has the guts to do so.  Maybe……maybe the defense can show some pride this week, and perhaps the team can rally.  It’s really hard to see it happening given the body of evidence to the contrary and the lack of coaching leadership, but since this season has descended so quickly into chaos, I suppose anything is possible.

How Florida can be favored on the road this week is just crazy to me, and shows (again) what a weak schedule they could have feasted on this season.  Missouri is just as bad as Carolina, which could be the death knell.  Referencing last year’s big fight at the start of halftime between these teams at the Swamp, of which Darth Mullen was a prime participant, Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz got in some barbs during SEC Media Days in August and specifically pointed to this game on the schedule.  What is the next act in the Theater of the Absurd?

Prediction: Missouri 31 Florida 24

South Carolina Review / Samford Preview

Rock Bottom.

Welcome to the new Gator Standard, courtesy of Dan Mullen and Co.  Florida completely quit on the coaching staff in its most embarrassing loss, since, well, last season against LSU, or going back to the 2013 debacle against Georgia Southern, or going back to……umm……let me step into the WayBack Machine……the end of the Doug Dickey era in 1978, perhaps.

The defense embarrassed itself and Gator Nation against a Lamecock team that had struggled to barely defeat Vanderbilt, Troy, and Eastern Illinois.  It allowed a 3rd string FCS QB to shred them, and also was gashed by the second-worst rushing attack in the SEC.  Wide-open WRs, wide-open running lanes, missed tackles, and no fight.

The offense was dismal as well.  Carolina came in with a terrible rush defense, yet they stoned a pathetic Gator O-line most of the night, and also got pressure on Emory Jones the entire game, along with a strip-sack for a score.  The Gators actually had some early success throwing downfield, but even that stopped for some reason after halftime.  Another fantastic game plan from Mullen.

It was a horrific game all around, and now it’s likely all over but the shouting.

There is a game this week, but it carries no significance.  The Samford Bulldogs come to the Swamp for a nice paycheck and the chance at (another) shocking Gator defeat.  It’s very unlikely, but I’m almost numb at this point due to the rapid descent into college football irrelevance, no matter what happens.

Honestly, there’s not much to be gained from what is essentially a controlled scrimmage.  Some kids actually may be energized with the two fat a**** gone, and perhaps can start to show what they can really do.  The crowd (what’s there) won’t be happy anyway, and I expect to hear them get their pound of flesh by booing Mullen.

I expect we will see more sloppiness on offense, while the defense outmans its opponent.  LMAO – we’ll probably see Mullen have EJ throw it all over the yard, while RB Coach (and Special Teams wizard – NOT) Greg Knox gives Damien Pierce another few carries while still using his weird rotation of guys.  Really, they should just pound away with the running game to get some timing back, and as prep for Missouri in cold weather, then F$U. If the O-line has any pride, they will take out some real frustrations on Samford.  Just get out of there with a comfortable win, and no injuries.

Now all Mullen can do is open up the ‘Embattled Head Coach” playbook.  Cast blame on the flu, the weather, the noise, and fire, years too late, an incompetent Defensive Coordinator and OL coach.  Todd Grantham and John Hevesy stole money from Florida, and I hope they never get another job.  Mullen, however, hired these clowns and stuck with them out of blind loyalty or stupidity – neither of which reflect good judgment from a head coach.  This was simply an offering to keep his job for another few weeks and to cover his ass, and I hope it fails.  Any Athletic Director with a spine would have seen through all of Mullen’s recruiting laziness, arrogance, Immaturity, and petulance, and shown him the door, but his buddy Scott Stricklin is on his own hot seat and has shown to be nothing but an empty suit.  What a disaster.

It’s up to the University leadership, UAA leadership, and someone out there who wants to be the head coach at The University of Florida to get sh*t right.  The 2022 recruiting class will likely fall outside the Top 25 with little help on the defensive side of the ball.  Mullen (if he survives) will pray to the transfer portal gods once again, which is not the way to sustain and build a program.

It could potentially be an even uglier ride to the end of the 2021 season, so buckle up……it could be a bumpy ride.

** Note:  This is my 3rd re-write……I hope it gets by the Editor……LOL.

Prediction: Florida 48 Samford 13

Georgia Review / South Carolina Preview

I’m not sure where the program is headed after a humiliating 34-7 loss in Jacksonville, but I’ve got a good idea if history is a guide.  I’ve seen this show before, both at Florida and at other big schools, and it very rarely ends well.

Dan Mullen’s playcalling for the offense was uninspired and lazy.  He gave Anthony Richardson precious little of the misdirection plays and long pass opportunities seen earlier this year, and all of that can’t simply be blamed on the mediocre O-line play.  It was a crapshoot to have AR get his first start in this scenario against what may prove to be a generational defense, but Mullen certainly didn’t give him much help.  The O-line struggled in pass protection all afternoon, and more penalties crept back in.  I don’t see anything Mullen can hang his hat on after that performance.

As bad as the offense played at times, they still put some good drives together, and were in the game until the fateful last 3 minutes of the first half.  Instead of playing it smart with poor field position and trying to get into halftime down either 3-0 or 10-0, Mullen still had AR passing, and the kid admittedly made some bad throws.  But instead going into halftime down no more than 10 points and getting the second-half kickoff, the competitive phase of the game had effectively ended.

The defense played hard, but eventually, their spirit waned after the turnover debacle.  The secondary played perhaps it’s best game of the season, as it should, given Georgia has no one to really scare anyone at receiver or TE.  The D-line had it’s moments against the run, but the lack of talent and size at linebacker was exposed……again.  The LBs again missed tackles and were out of position at times filling their run gaps – Christian Robinson has proved to be a bad position coach, and hopefully, he leaves along with DC Todd Grantham at the end of the season.  The defense gets credit for not laying down and giving up, especially after the offense had essentially given the game away by halftime. 

This was certainly not the performance to have given the terrible losses at Kentucky and LSU.  Gator Nation is restless (again), and Mullen is just adding fuel to the fire with both the coaching performances from him and his staff along with his dreadful press conferences.

It’s on to South Carolina and a program that is struggling badly right now under new head coach Shane Beamer.  Their problems at QB make Florida’s issues there look rosy.  They will likely start Luke Doty or Zeb Noland, who originally was supposed to be a graduate assistant coach.  Neither has the arm strength or running ability to stress a defense.  Their offense has no real threats other than RB Kevin Harris with only 236 yards rushing, and WR Josh Vann, their best weapon.  Their O-line is terrible, and the Gamecocks average only 119 yards per game rushing.  It looks like Won’t Misschump ruined another school’s offense, and his legacy lives on.  Florida’s defense should feast on this overmatched group all afternoon……if they are focused and play hard, which may or may not happen given the state of affairs right now.

Carolina’s defense, especially against the pass, is solid.  They have 11 interceptions, led by CB Javian Foster with 5, which is one of the better totals in the country.  Their front seven has struggled against the run, however, and the Gators must re-establish a physical running game this week.  This should be a good matchup, but, again, it’s hard to say what the mental makeup of the team is right now.  Given the struggles of both Jones and Richardson throwing the ball, I’m anticipating a large dose of ground-and-pound, unless the situation is dire.  Jones will start and likely play almost all of the snaps, given Richardson’s injury status coming out of the Georgia game.  Mullen will have to have at least one of the true freshmen – Jalen Kitna or Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, ready to play.

Mullen and his staff have a tough task ahead trying to keep players engaged and focused.  I fully expect more lackluster and inconsistent play the rest of this season, as the coaching has let the players down, and some are going to mentally check out.  There is no juice left in the schedule these last 4 games – all against bad teams.  Perhaps some individual leaders will step up and rally the team, but I’m in wait-and-see mode.

There is so much negative press and energy around Mullen right now that it has to be affecting the team.  I just hope the talent gap is so great the last month of the season that the Gators can put together some wins and try and salvage whatever little they can out of the 2021 season.  Maybe the Gators can finish 8-4 with a win over a bad F$U team in Gainesville.  The problem is that recruiting has taken some big hits the past few weeks with decommitments, Mullen is getting trashed on the recruiting trail and in the national media for being lazy (no real surprise), and a mediocre bowl game isn’t going to energize the players or fans.  Once again, the worst thing is that all of this could have been avoided – it’s self-inflicted damage due to Mullen’s arrogance, lazy recruiting, and immaturity in dealing with adversity.

Prediction: Florida 27 South Carolina 17

Georgia Preview

Florida limps into Jacksonville on the heels of an ugly 2 game losing streak, coaching turmoil, player unrest, and recruiting troubles.  But, “All is well!”, just like Kevin Bacon’s character said in ‘Animal House’.

A beleaguered Dan Mullen brings the Gators into this game with seemingly not enough coaching fingers to plug all of the leaks in the dike.  The first issue will be how many snaps does Anthony Richardson get at QB?  It’s likely he trots out Emory Jones to start……but does Mullen hope to just keep the game close enough to let Jones play most of the game?  At this point in the season, it’s likely time to let AR-15 get more reps and show during the rest of 2021 if he can develop enough to be the man in 2022.  But it’s Mullen, so nothing can be assumed.

The Gator O-line has to return to something at least close to it’s form earlier in the season.  Florida has to have some semblance of a running game for some balance and to give either QB the chance for success throwing the ball.  Injuries have been blamed by Mullen for their recent struggles, but I’m not completely buying it – the lack of elite talent is as big of an issue.  And now they get the best front seven in the country for a challenge.  Georgia’s D-line has been dominant all season, led by DT Jordan Davis, a sure 1st-round NFL pick.  Their LB corps is fast and talented, led by Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith.  Their secondary hasn’t been challenged much.  There could be opportunities for Florida’s WRs if the QBs give them some chances.  This isn’t to say the Puppy secondary is bad, but the Gators have some underutilized talent at WR that needs opportunities to show what they can do.  It seems when AR-15 is in the game they show out, so by default that may determine what Mullen does.  I don’t expect Georgia to allow the Gator RBs over 200 yards in receiving like last season, but the RBs really need to make some explosive plays running or receiving.  They have the talent – but will they get the chances to show it?  

Florida’s defense was completely embarrassed at LSU, allowing almost 300 yards rushing to a poor rushing team, and now faces a Georgia offense that relies on it’s power running game and talented O-line to control the LOS and dictate the action.  The Puppies have their own excellent RB rotation of Zamir White, Kendall Milton, and James Cook.  If the Gators can’t at least slow this group down, it will be another long afternoon, and likely another bad loss.  Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has said he plans on playing both Stetson Bennett and J.T. Daniels at QB, but I believe at least part of this comment is a direct poke at Mullen and his reputation as a QB whisperer.  I expect Bennett to start – he has the past month as Daniels has been nursing various injuries.  Neither QB has been especially impressive throwing the ball when playing any kind of decent defense……but we’re talking Todd Grantham here, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see either of them go off, things have become so dysfunctional in Gainesville the past 1 1/2 seasons. Georgia has been plagued by injuries and lack of production from the WR position, and have had to rely more on TE Brock Bowers and slot receiver Ladd McConkey than expected.  Neither target is one that the Gator secondary can’t handle…..if the scheme allows them to play aggressively.  The Gator secondary has to handle it’s business, as the front seven will have it’s hands full trying to slow down the running game.  I just hope the coverage is close and aggressive the entire game – they match up well athletically.

This is not the game to play it safe – the season goals are already gone, so (sadly) the team has to try and play the spoiler role.  I just hope the coaching staff allows the players the opportunity to do it.  Mullen is starting to really feel the heat, and I have seen no evidence that he’s willing to make any meaningful changes.  Winning this game could go a long way to staunch the bleeding, of which it’s mostly been self-inflicted.  I’ve seen everything in this rivalry, and the Gators could pull off the upset like they did in 2014, for example.  The difference is……again……Todd Grantham, the anchor that is weighing down the entire program.  Because of that alone, I don’t see Florida winning, unless they completely flip the script, get turnovers, and at least significantly slow down Georgia’s running game.

Prediction: Georgia 41 Florida 20

LSU Review

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, Dan Mullen and Todd Grantham completely gutted the 2021 season with another upset loss to an outmanned LSU.  Repeating the same mistakes from the 2020 fiasco, the Gators turned the ball over 4 times, one, a pick-six, and reverted back to their horrific defensive play, allowing the Tigers to run through them like swiss cheese to the tune of 300+ yards.  This coming from a team ranked next to last in rushing in the SEC.

It’s already appearing as if some players have checked out mentally, as I feared.  Kaiir Elam started at CB, but looked tentative as if he’s saving his health for the Draft.  No one on defense really stood out.  The D-line embarrassed itself by getting pushed around all afternoon.  The LBs missed tackles and continually looked lost trying to fill their run gaps.  The secondary played touch with LSU’s WRs all afternoon, allowing too many easy 3rd down conversions.  Brenton Cox regressed back to blindly rushing off the edge, allowing LSU to easily run right by him for huge gains – again and again.  Once again, the Gators made weak-armed Max Johnson look like Joe Burrow at times.  And……again…..Grantham couldn’t figure out how to stop the same counter-run play for an entire game.

The Gator offense lost it’s identity, failing to run the ball effectively against a bad LSU front seven.  Emory Jones looked completely lost at times, and threw 2 terrible interceptions, the second being the pick-six that gave LSU a 35-21 3rd quarter lead and getting him benched.  From then on, Anthony Richardson came in and rallied the Gators back time and again, making a handful of spectacular TD throws and keeping drives alive with his legs.  Yes, he also had 2 interceptions, but the last was a desperation throw with under 2 minutes left and with a defender (again) bearing down upon him.  The O-line played it’s worst game of the season, getting abused physically, and blowing a lot of pass protections.  LSU was down 5 starters on defense, including both all-SEC candidate cornerbacks.  And……once again……Mullen laid more than just an egg……an entire omelet.

And in the largest bit of irony, even winning this game wasn’t enough to give Ed Orgeron any more time, as he’s been shown the door by LSU.  Partially for a poor win-loss record since the end of 2019, but also for covering up rape allegations, a Title-IX investigation currently ongoing that includes some actions of the football program, and for personal indiscretions off the field, some of which are well-publicized.

Sadly, we’re right back at the same place where Won’t Misschump and the Swamp Donkey were.  Mullen has shown zero propensity for changing his staff, and Grantham is the anchor around his neck that is dragging the entire program down.  Mullen likely survives and gets another year in 2022, but he has exhausted all equity he built up his first 3 1/2 seasons with last year’s late collapse and now the latest two disasters.

Here are the ugly truths:

– Florida is now 4-6 in it’s last 10 games, 3 of those wins against FAU, USF, and Vanderbilt

– The Gators are 2-6 in their last 8 games against Power 5 opponents

– Mullen is 0-2 vs. Alabama, 1-3 vs. LSU, 2-2 vs. Kentucky, 0-1 vs. Texas A&M, and soon to be 1-3 vs. Georgia

All of his talk about “The Gator Standard” is lip service – he shows no passion or care when losing (which he’s getting a lot of experience with); he goes with seniority over ability at many positions; he continues to employ bad coaches like Grantham and John Hevesy, who most teams wouldn’t even interview; he continues to provide meaningless comments to the media and fans when pressed for details on what he’s going to do to change the program’s fortunes; and, finally, he shows no ability for self-reflection, believing he’s always the smartest man in the room.  The only reason he gets another year in Gainesville is because his buddy, Scott Stricklin, is the AD……and I hope the mess he helped create within the women’s basketball program gets him fired.  That seems to be the only way to make Mullen feel any heat and possibly make some LONG overdue staff changes.

I said in my season preview that the floor for this team was 7 wins – at this point I’m just hoping the Gators don’t fall right through that floor.  Mullen has frittered away the huge advantages he could have had recruiting in-state players vs. Miami and F$U, who both stink, and now has to try and hold the 2021 class together.  Important targets and some commits are looking around now, and the decommitment of Shemar James, the top LB prospect in the country, is a killer – he likely flips to Georgia.

It seems those who feared that Stricklin and Mullen would turn Florida into Mississippi St. east may have been right.  Now, Gator Nation has to go through the ringer (again) for 2 weeks until the Georgia game in Jacksonville, which right now looks like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid vs. the Bolivian Army.  It looks like a long, drawn-out 5 games to go for the 2021 season, with rumors of player and coach movement throughout and into what will be a rough offseason.

And the worst thing of all?  It all could have easily been avoided if Mullen had the guts and humility to make changes during and after 2020.  This is self-inflicted damage.  He’s choosing to ride-or-die with the Mullen Mafia.

On that happy note, I’ll be back next week with a preview for the Georgia game.  

Vanderbilt Review / LSU Preview

Florida showed again that it can dominate in glorified scrimmages, putting away Vanderbilt 42-0 despite playing an uneven game on offense and defense.  It was a happy Homecoming against an outmanned opponent that allowed the staff to clear the bench in the second half with the outcome never in doubt.

The offense used this game to work on the deep passing game.  However……while Emory Jones had some success, I am not buying into that fool’s gold until it’s proven against SEC competition that has a pulse.  The O-line has some players banged up, but it’s stil concerning to see some of the stupid penalties from the Kentucky game still happening – that has to get cleaned up now.  The running game has become ragged, as opponents will simply dare Florida to throw the ball the rest of the season.  You could see the lack of intensity from the start of this game, but, again, that just shows how bad the Commodores are – on the field, not in the recording studio.

The Gator defense gave fans some bad flashbacks to 2020 in the first half.  They allowed Vandy to dominate time of possession while racking up 50(!) plays.  Fortunately, they self-destructed, missing 2 easy FGs and losing a TD on a reversed replay review that easily could have stood.  Why Todd Grantham can’t simply play aggressively from the start of a game remains a mystery.  The defense tightened up in the second half, and fortunately didn’t seem to suffer any injuries of note.  There were some good individual performances from Zach Carter and Gervon Dexter on the D-line, Ty’ron Hopper at LB, and Trey Dean at safety.  But some of last year’s issues are starting to crop up again – poor tackling, soft coverage, and some bad run fits by the LBs.  Hopefully most of that was due to the (lack of) ability of the opponent.

It’s on to LSU, for what I had hoped earlier would be THE BIG PAYBACK.  But, with the weirdness that is a Dan Mullen game plan (see Kentucky), I’m just hoping to get out of Baton Rouge with any kind of win.

The Tigers have been gutted by key injuries the past 2 weeks.  Star WR Kayshon Boutte, all-SEC DB Derek Stingley, all-SEC candidate CB Eli Ricks, and starting DE Ali Gaye are all out, leaving some big holes at those positions.  They are coming off of getting beaten down 42-21 at Kentucky, and it’s gonna be interesting to see if Mullen shows the guts to go for the kill for 60 minutes, or coaches not to lose……again.  Tiger Nation is screaming for Ed Orgeron’s head, as he is 8-8 after selling his soul for the 2019 National Championship season.  The SEC is an unrelenting grind, and LSU has certainly underperformed since then.

Florida is still a running team first, so I still expect Jones and the RB rotation to get their chances early and often to control the game.  The Tigers were gashed for 330 yards by the Wildcats, and the Gators have some serious issues if they can’t run the ball.  It looks like the Gator O-line should be in decent shape after shuffling some guys in and out due to injury.  We’ll see if the vertical passing game actually gets it’s chances, as the Gator WRs should be able to make some plays……if given some opportunities.  LSU has depth and experience issues in the secondary that have to be exposed.

Florida’s defense made Max Johnson look like Joe Burrow last season, in the most embarrassing home loss at the Swamp in decades.  The D-line is much improved, and needs to make a statement this week and deliver some punishment.  It’s been another week of empty statements from Mullen on the health of Kaiir Elam, again saying he should play this week.  I’ll believe it when I see it – he’s been missed.  LSU features only one RB, Tyrion Davis-Price, and I expect him to get a lot of work as long as the game is close.  Johnson does not have good arm strength or running speed, and is missing his primary receiving weapon, so the Florida front seven needs to apply pressure and get some hits on him early.

There’s not much left to play for this season.  Avenging the embarrassment of the 2020 loss to LSU is at least something, but so is showing some real intensity and grit on the road in the SEC and playing a complete game.  Mullen is starting to feel some real heat from Gator Nation, and deservedly so.  Again, we’ll see if last week was just some lip service on the field and to the media, or if he’s realized you need to coach every game hard.

I picked LSU to win this game in my preseason preview, but I’m going to go with Florida in a do-or-die, save the season situation.  It’s telling that this game gets a noon kickoff, as there is no buzz around this matchup, with both teams in a fight to simply get their respective seasons back on track.  It will actually be an 11:00 am local kickoff, which is the best scenario for the Gators, as LSU’s fan base will not be liquored up (at least as much as usual), and has been muted with the mediocre performance of the Tigers so far.  I just hope they have more to complain about and are even quieter after the game is over.  Amazingly, Florida is a 10.5 point favorite – I’d love to see the Gators rush out to an early lead and curb-stomp the Tigers, but that doesn’t seem to be Mullen’s make-up right now.  I can only hope that changes for the better.

Prediction: Florida 27 LSU 24

Kentucky Review / Vanderbilt Preview

In what can only be described as indescribable, the Gators completely imploded to lose to a mediocre Kentucky team 20-13 on the road, effectively ending their hopes for accomplishing anything of real note in 2021.

Where to begin?  Let’s start with the comedy of errors – penalties – including 9 false-starts by the O-line.  Dan Mullen and John Hevesy completely crapped the bed by not implementing a silent count, even at halftime, and gutting almost every potential scoring drive.  The special teams allowed an unconscionable blocked FG to be returned for a TD, causing a 10-point swing and forcing the offense to play from behind the rest of the night.  Mullen doubled down on his irresponsible oversight of the snap count, calling a game that would make vanilla seem like rainbow with sprinkles compared to the dreck he delivered.  His completely risk-averse mentality once again cost a victory, as he continues to underutilize athletic WRs like Jacob Copeland, Xavier Henderson, and Justin Shorter.  Why he refuses to try a fade route in the red zone is beyond comprehension, and he totally neglects their size and the physical mismatches these guys have most weeks.  Emory Jones was……well……not good.  He continued to miss open receivers, and seemingly can’t find wide open guys 20+ yards downfield.  It’s his 4th year in Mullen’s system, so is it the player and/or the coach?  It’s certainly not winning SEC football.  Anothiny Richardson again saw minimal snaps, and didn’t play enough to affect the outcome in any meaningful way.  Mullen again failed at clock management, effectively folding the tents with over 2 minutes left in the first half with plenty of time to try for more points.  Finally, the playcalling in the 4th quarter when Florida got inside Kentucky’s 10-yard line not once, but twice, was criminal.  No 50/50 or jump balls to the WRs, too many QB runs, and no aggressiveness.  I also understand rotating 3 very good RBs, but Dameon Pierce had a hot hand and was hammering the Wildcat defense……but never seems to be on the field in those circumstances.

The defense, for once, held up, allowing only 224 yards, 87 through the air.  Yes, they allowed UK’s first score with some shoddy tackling on a WR screen, but were solid almost the entire game.  The offense did them no favors,keeping the score close instead of taking charge early and allowing the defense to really punish a lousy opposing offense.  Kentucky is always a power running team first, so Florida held up pretty well.  They also miraculously held the Wildcats to 1-9 combined 3rd- and 4th-down conversions, helping the Gator offense to possess the ball over 36 minutes……which they did nothing with.

Talk about dispiriting.  That’s a 3-5 record for Mullen in his last 8 games, interspersing 2 well-played games against Alabama with some historically bad clunkers.  Gator Nation won’t soon forget the way 2020 ended with the inexplicable home loss to a terrible LSU team, then totally mailing it in against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.  His arrogance again showed itself in his post-game and Monday pressers, glossing over terrible coaching by talking about meaningless statistics and lamely taking some responsibility for some of the penalties.  Some of this stuff is beginning to look more and more like a trend, not an anomaly.  The worst part is that Mullen shows no sign of changing……anything.

Next up for Florida is Homecoming Week, with a rancid Vanderbilt team coming in for a beatdown.  This will be an easy preview for me – Vandy is terrible, and normally would not stay within 40-50 points of the Gators.  This is a chance for Mullen and the staff to play the younger guys a lot – and that includes Richardson.  He needs the reps in live action, and more than the usual 6-8 snaps.  Time to start seeing if he can improve and develop his game.  There are a lot of guys dinged up after 5 weeks, and this is an opportunity to give them some rest before traveling to LSU.  The Commodores really are bereft of talent – I can’t understand why Clark Lea would leave his DC position at Notre Dame to waste a few years losing in Nashville.   The Commodores music group has had more hits than this football team’s defense.  Florida is favored by 37 points, but I could see them not covering that spread because of the hangover effect from the cluster in Lexington, along with playing a lot of guys and not being as cohesive.  Just stay healthy, win by 4 or 5 TDs, and get ready for LSU.

This is a dangerous time for Mullen.  Along with another bad loss, it’s going to be really interesting to see if the staff starts to lose control of some of the locker room – especially the Draft-eligible guys that may start to mail it in to try and save their health.  There is practically nothing of substance to play for now except trying to get into another consolation New Year’s Six bowl game, and possibly ruining Georgia’s run at a perfect season.  Recruiting may have taken a hit with a couple of 5* players that had Florida in the lead now leaning elsewhere, and Gator Nation is starting to wonder if this is the best it can expect from Mullen – 8 to 10 wins, maybe the occasional upset, and an infrequent shot at getting to Atlanta.  Mullen’s seat is starting to get really warm, and nothing this week will change that.

Prediction: Florida 48 Vanderbilt 10

Tennessee Review / Kentucky Preview

Florida took care of business with a workmanlike 38-14 win over Tennessee Saturday night.  It was another slow start for the defense, giving up 2 long TDs with poor tackling and pursuit of a simple screen pass, and a blown assignment in the secondary allowing a deep completion.  To the team’s credit they dominated after that, taking a 17-14 lead at halftime and then wearing down the Vols 21-0 in the second half.  That makes it 16 out of 17 against the Dollies, as Florida has made a mockery of the series.  Rocky Flop, indeed.

The Gator offense looked pretty solid and composed all night.  Emory Jones had an efficient game with 209 yards passing and another 144 rushing.  Only a fumble by Jacob Copeland and later a penalty really stopped them.  Jones completed passes to 9 different receivers, and is getting the TEs more involved as well, which stresses the defense even more and makes his job easier and more manageable.  The Gators rolled up 283 yards on the ground, but I still want to see more passes to the RBs.  The O-line looked a little sluggish at times, and a few guys left and re-entered with minor injuries.  They seemed to make some adjustments at halftime and pushed the Vols around after that.  Justin Shorter is starting to get more involved at WR, but Copeland and Xavier Henderson need more looks and touches – they are simply too good to be underutilized in the passing game.  All 3 RBs again had their moments in particular series, and look like one of the best RB rotations in the country.

Florida’s defense was mostly good, but did seem to have a bit of a letdown after the Alabama game, allowing themselves to be gashed a few times in the run game to go with the long TD pass plays.  The front seven was mostly solid, but the secondary continues to miss tackles and have too many busts in coverage.  At this point it just shouldn’t be that difficult – DC Todd Grantham has to simplify things for them and allow them to play fast……but this has been going on ever since he arrived in Gainesville in 2018 and likely won’t change,  Kaiir Elam was not played to allow him to recover from the knee sprain he suffered against Alabama, and he was missed.  But the bigger issue is the continued spotty play from the safeties.  Trey Dean has been only OK, and whomever has manned the second spot simply hasn’t performed well.  Even this far into the season, the staff may need to make some hard choices regarding playing time and also position switches.  Travez Johnson continues to struggle at STAR, and perhaps needs a change. Jadarrius Perkins and Elijah Blades may be getting more snaps as soon as this week.

Special Teams were solid, and Jace Christmann seems to have won the PK job, making all of his extra points and a FG.  He is a 5th-year player and a former all-SEC player at Mississippi St., so he’s used to the pressure.

Florida now goes to the Bluegrass State for a huge road game at Kentucky.  If the Gators want to accomplish anything of note in 2021, this is a must win for them.  The Wildcats have opened things up on offense more this year, with new QB Will Levis injecting some life into a moribund passing game.  However, Mike Stoops will always rely on the run game first, and they have two good RBs in Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke.  They have rolled up some good stats to date, but the strength of the opposing defenses is suspect.  It’s on the Gator front seven to man up and control the LOS and force Levis into passing situations.  He has 5 interceptions already, so the Gators could make things much easier on themselves with a complete effort for 60 minutes.  The D-line needs to be disruptive and keep Kentucky off-schedule.  I expect some deep shots by UK, as Florida’s safeties have blown too many assignments this season and not proven they have figured that out.  Wan’Dale Robinson is by far their biggest threat at WR, and I expect Elam to be covering him as long as he can play.

On offense, Florida should expect Kentucky to do what most opponents will – load the box and force Jones to show he can move the team through the air if necessary and with efficiency.  The Gator RBs are a proven commodity, but it will be Jones who again will need to make the right reads, run effectively (and often) if necessary, and stand strong in the pocket and deliver some accurate throws.  The Wildcats have lost a lot of talented players to the league the past 3 seasons, and, while still well coached under Stoops, simply aren’t as good as before.  The Gators need to stress the edges and take shots downfield and get some chunk plays, and not assume they can grind out drive after drive.  The RBs need to be incorporated more into the passing game as well to spread the field and make things easier for Jones.

When will Florida’s special teams step up?  It seems like years since they blocked a kick, and have shown no real threat returning kicks.  The defense just doesn’t generate turnovers, and could really help out going forward with more aggression.  Defense and special teams are even more important on the road in the SEC.

It should be a raucous crowd in Lexington Saturday night, as Kentucky thinks (again) that they are going to make some real noise in the SEC.  It’s time for Mullen and the Gators to (again) silence them, and continue to build momentum as October rolls around and things start getting serious in the SEC.

Prediction: Florida 27 Kentucky 20

Alabama Review / Tennessee Preview

In what may turn out to be the SEC regular-season game of the year, Florida stood toe-to-toe with Alabama for 60 minutes before falling 31-29.  The Swamp was as loud as it’s ever been, and that could very well have been one of the top 5 best crowds ever. joining the likes of USC 1982, F$U 1997, Tennessee 1999, LSU 2006, Ole Miss 2015, or even Auburn 2019. 

The Gators were their own worst enemy early on, falling behind 21-3 in the first quarter due to soft defense, missed tackles, shaky QB play, and penalties.  They ultimately dug a hole a little too deep to climb out of against such a good opponent.  No one can question the effort, though, and the Gators were the better team for the last 40 minutes.That’s something to build upon, but not at the expense of assuming everything will be easier going forward.  Once again, Todd Grantham’s soft defense cost Florida dearly, and the adjustments to tighter coverage and changing up blitz looks, while effective, came too late.  The Gator defense finally tightened up in the second quarter, and only allowed 10 points the rest of the way.  Even those 10 points allowed were mostly the result of crushing 3rd down penalties that gave Alabama too many additional chances.  The D-line played it’s best game since 2019, holding the Tide to under 100 yards rushing and getting pressure on Bryce Young.  The secondary was victimized by some horrendous pass interference calls that extended drives for Bama and led to the early barrage of scores.  But that’s better than watching them get picked apart by playing soft and not challenging the opponent.  Zack Carter is simply an all-SEC DE right now, Gervon Dexter is showing flashes of being a monster at DT, and Kaiir Elam shut down any Bama WR across from him.  Finally, Jeremiah Moon is a revelation at ILB – he stepped in for the injured Vantrell Miller and made plays all afternoon.  He looked as good as any ILB the Gators have rolled out in years – I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.  He may have found a position to make some money in the League.  Props to the entire defense for playing hard for 60 minutes.

The offense was even better than hoped for the last 3 quarters, outrushing Bama 245-91, leading in time of possession, and winning on the scoreboard 26-10.  The Gator RB trio of Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce, and Nay’Quan Wright all had big plays, ran hard, and even started getting worked into the passing game.  Emory Jones settled down after the first quarter, hung in the pocket and made some good throws, and also was effective as a runner.  Mobile QBs are such a weapon against any defense, and even a front seven as good as Bama’s struggled to contain his running.  This was likely the best O-line performance under John Hevesy since he returned along with Mullen in 2018.  Good, physical play, few mistakes, and solid pass protection that Jones needs to take better advantage of.  He continues to miss some open receivers by hesitating, and has to learn to let the ball rip sometimes.  He also needs to trust his WRs more downfield – Jacob Copeland, Xavier Handerson, and Justin Shorter can make plays on 50/50 balls, and have been sorely underutilized so far.  Trent Wittemore has really settled into his slot WR role, and is very effective against LBs and safeties in zone coverage.  This will prove valuable going forward in extending drives and giving the QBs a reliable target when under pressure.

As far as the failed 2-point conversion goes, Mullen stated after the game that one player was lined up incorrectly (Davis), and another (an OL) missed an assignment.  Even Jones said he knew Davis was lined up incorrectly, but didn’t call a timeout.  Despite wanting to save one of the two remaining timeouts, that play is WAY too important to not have everyone on the same page – that’s on both Mullen and the QB to call a timeout and get things right.  Those details are too important in a close game against a great team.  Another lesson that I hope Mullen learns.

Now it’s time to see if this was an aberration, or the first of a continuing series of consistent, hard efforts.  There are no moral victories for Florida Football – I need to see a staff and group of players that won’t listen to all of the compliments from the fans and media and won’t allow a huge letdown this week against Tennessee.  The Volunteers come in with a 2-1 record, but that loss is against the only team it’s played with a pulse – Pittsburgh.  This will be their first road game of 2021 and it needs to be a harsh reality check for them.  Josh Heupel is about to find out this ain’t the crap AAC conference he faced when coaching at UCF.  

Tennessee has it’s own QB issues, to date starting both Michigan transfer Joe Milton and Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker.  Both are good athletes with strong arms, but both have been erratic passers and looked pedestrian for long stretches.  They have installed much of the faster tempo offense that Heupel brought from UCF, but obviously are not comfortable yet with it.  Hooker likely gets the start this week.   Despite opening up the offense, Tennessee is still more run-heavy, relying on RBs Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small along with whichever QB is in the game.  The Vols historically have a good O-line, but Florida’s D-line should have the advantage in this game.  They need to blow things up at the LOS early and often and not allow the Vols to settle into a rhythm.  As usual, it starts with stopping the run game first, forcing Tennessee into passing situations.  The defense should be able to get pressure, and hopefully force some turnovers and sacks.  No Vol WR has stepped up as the leader – Jimmy Calloway seems to be the most dangerous target, but the Vols spread the ball around to many receivers.  If the Gators can replicate their coverage from the last 3 quarters against Alabama, the Dollies could be in real trouble.

The Gator offense should continue to try and build on the solid running game it has established this season – control the clock, wear down the Tennessee front seven, and control the flow of the game.  Hopefully Jean Delance and Stewart Reese bounce back after playing injured against Alabama, and allow the RBs to continue their stellar play.  Jones has earned the starter’s role, and should have gained confidence from last week’s performance.  If Tennessee loads the box to force the Gators to the air, Jones needs to push the ball downfield more to Copeland, Henderson, and Shorter.  He seems to have developed some good chemistry with Wittemore, who is showing how valuable a slot receiver can be in keeping drives alive and giving the QB a security blanket.

Tennessee has a weapon on special teams with Velus Jones on KO and punt returns.  Florida must do a good job of limiting his impact, as Gator Nation painfully knows how a special teams play can affect the outcome of a game.  It will be interesting to see if Jace Christmann is the lead placekicker for Florida after Chris Howard’s costly XP miss 

The coaching staff has to get the players refocused on looking ahead – fans and media have been praising the team all week for their effort against Alabama, but that will mean nothing if they don’t take care of business the next 4 weeks, starting now.  There is a long SEC season still ahead and plenty to play for – the team has to make sure to get it’s mind right first.  There will be a good crowd in the Swamp for a big Saturday night game, and that should give the players some extra juice.  I would not be surprised with a sluggish start, but if it happens, hopefully, they snap out of it quickly.  This could be a close game into the 3rd quarter, but Florida has the advantage along the LOS and should pull away.

Prediction: Florida 34 Tennessee 17