Do you blame Dan Mullen for Florida Gators’ big loss to Georgia?

JACKSONVILLE — Georgia coach Kirby Smart didn’t mention former Florida coach Dan Mullen by name after Saturday’s 43-20 smothering of the Gators. He didn’t need to.

Smart was talking about the doubts surrounding his two-time reigning national champions and brought up the prediction of a loss from someone who is supposed to be his friend.

“He didn’t like to recruit, though…” Smart said.

Unless you can think of someone else who picked a Florida upset and has a middling recruiting reputation plus personal relationship with Smart, that was a shot at Mullen.

It wasn’t the only one. Florida fans fired their own Saturday as No. 1 Georgia scored its most points in the series since a 44-0 romp by Herschel Walker’s Bulldogs in 1982.

The talent gap is one unavoidable reason why. Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (315 yards, two touchdowns, no sacks) outplayed Graham Mertz (230 yards, two touchdowns, four sacks). Beck was a top-250 national recruit from Jacksonville who visited Mullen’s Gators but signed with Georgia anyway.

Mullen got four-star linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson on campus for junior day but couldn’t land him; the top-200 recruit made one of Georgia’s fourth-down stops.

They are among the 65 former blue-chip prospects at the core of the nation’s second-most talented team, according to 247Sports’ composite. The Gators rank 15th with 43 former four- and five-star prospects.

That stat alone shows why Florida was a two-touchdown underdog, and some of it falls on Mullen because Billy Napier is only in Year 2. But recruiting and evaluation aren’t everything.

“I think every single part of what we do matters…” Napier said. “Ultimately, you need continuity in system. You need to develop players. This is a developmental game. You need players in your system for multiple years.”

Napier hasn’t had that yet. But neither did Smart at this point in his Georgia tenure when he crushed Florida 42-7 on his way to the national title game.

Though Napier started at a disadvantage because he inherited a six-win team and mediocre SEC roster, how much did they influence Saturday’s 23-point canyon?

Florida’s offensive line allowed four sacks and let Mertz have more fumbles (two) than incompletions (one) in the first 23 minutes. You can blame Mullen’s recruiting, but Napier brought in two of the starters as transfers, including Damieon George (who has underwhelmed from Alabama).

You can blame Mullen’s recruiting for a shaky defense, but Napier brought in two transfers to start on the defensive line; Cam Jackson and Caleb Banks combined for one solo tackle and four assists with zero sacks or hurries. One of the Mullen signees who transferred, Antwaun Powell-Ryland, leads the ACC with 11 ½ tackles for loss for Virginia Tech after having two more sacks Thursday.

You can blame Mullen’s recruiting for putting the Gators in a position where the margin for error was small. But you can’t blame him for the snuffed-out reverse that stalled the second drive near midfield. Or the decision to run a trick play on fourth and short at the 34. Or throwing short of the sticks on fourth and 3. Or the apparent inability to account for the Georgia attacker who blocked a punt out of the end zone. Or the failure to sign that attacker, five-star defensive back Joenel Aguero, who committed to Georgia a month and a half after his official visit to Napier’s Gators.

No, Mullen did not like to recruit much, judging by the classes he assembled and how he handled questions about it at the end of his tenure. The roster reflects that, as did oddsmakers’ predictions, like a preseason win total of 5 ½ that likely hinges on beating Arkansas. But you can blame Mullen for the situation Napier inherited while still wondering if this staff has gotten the most out of it entering the final month of Year 2.

Mullen, like his successor, lost his first two games to Smart. After the second — a 24-17 loss — he said the gap between the programs was seven points.

By that measure, the gap was 22 points in Napier’s first year. Now it’s 23. And counting.

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