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It’s time to have a serious conversation about Dan Mullen’s future at Florida.
Based on the team’s recent performances and comments made by Mullen in the press (particularly about recruiting), the faithful back in Gainesville were already restless about the trajectory of their program.
And then the Gators went and turned in a completely lifeless performance on the road against South Carolina on Saturday night, losing 40-17 to drop to 4-5 on the year.
This was a South Carolina team that barely beat Troy, needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Vanderbilt and was down to third-string quarterback Jason Brown, a guy who transferred in from an FCS program and was behind ex-graduate assistant Zeb Noland on the depth chart.
Despite that, Brown and the Gamecocks went out and torched Todd Grantham’s defense. The Gamecocks entered Saturday’s game averaging 327.6 yards and 20.9 points per game, No. 114 and No. 115 in the nation, respectively. South Carolina gained 316 yards and scored 30 points in the first half alone, taking a 30-10 lead into halftime.
Meanwhile, Mullen’s offense scored 10 early points before largely sputtering the rest of the way. The Gators looked unconfident and, at times, downright disinterested. Mullen, who said after the game his team was dealing with a nasty flu bug, had no answers. Grantham, predictably, didn't either.
It was just the latest chapter in what has been a dispiriting tailspin that dates back to the final month of the 2020 season. The Gators have now lost eight of their last 10 games against Power Five opponents. But last year, the Gators were 8-1 and fighting for a College Football Playoff spot when they lost a wild home game to LSU (you know, the one where Marco Wilson threw the cleat). UF then lost the SEC title game to Alabama and played with a depleted roster in a Cotton Bowl loss to Oklahoma to close out the season.
With so much talent off to the NFL, a step back was expected in 2021. But nothing like this.
A little more than a month ago the Gators were ranked No. 10 in the country entering a road game against Kentucky. The result that night was a 20-13 loss filled with mistakes and penalties. Two weeks later, UF got pushed around for 321 rushing yards in a 49-42 loss to LSU, a team that was averaging just 83 rushing yards per game to that point in the season.
Next came a 34-7 loss to top-ranked Georgia that featured a complete offensive meltdown at the end of the first half that turned a 3-0 deficit into a 24-0 deficit in the span of about two minutes.
It was a game that highlighted Mullen’s failure to pick a quarterback — Emory Jones or freshman Anthony Richardson — and stick with him. Mullen made his mark in the sport by molding under-the-radar recruits into formidable SEC performers, but he has been unable to work that magic this season.
The Georgia game also highlighted the talent gap between UF and the programs that are supposed to be its peers.
Mullen has been peppered with questions about his program’s recruiting, but he refuses to acknowledge the obvious: Florida should be recruiting significantly better. That’s especially true during a time when the two other big programs in the state of Florida — Miami and Florida State — are not winning in ways they have in the past. Nonetheless, Florida has been lagging behind both its SEC and in-state counterparts in the most recent classes, and Mullen continues to sidestep questions on the subject.
Following Saturday night’s rock bottom, Mullen will be answering much tougher questions — questions about whether he’s fit for the job. Mullen has three more games to reverse the fortunes of an undisciplined, turnover-prone team.
Florida has already quickly cycled through Will Muschamp in four years and Jim McElwain in fewer than three years since the departure of Urban Meyer.
Will Mullen make it to Year 5? This is a program that expects to compete for national championships. In 2021, it's a program competing to simply reach bowl eligibility.
- Sam Cooper
Here are this week's winners and losers:
Oklahoma State: The No. 11 Cowboys didn’t have any issue at all at West Virginia on Saturday in a 24-3 win. OSU led 10-3 at halftime and then shut out West Virginia in the second half as Tay Martin caught two touchdown passes from Spencer Sanders. This is an Oklahoma State team that doesn’t resemble the ones defined by explosive offenses in the 2010s. The 2021 Cowboys are led by one of the best defenses in the country and held West Virginia to just 133 total yards. Does this team have what it takes to beat Oklahoma?
Texas A&M: There was hardly any offense to be found in College Station. But a defensive touchdown and four field goals was plenty for the No. 14 Aggies in a 20-3 win over No. 13 Auburn. The Tigers had just 226 yards and Bo Nix had an interception and a fumble. Nix also averaged a paltry 3.7 yards per pass. A&M is piecing together a potential 10-win campaign with Zach Calzada at quarterback. A&M's SEC West title hopes are still alive, but Ole Miss will be a big stress test for the defense next week.
Arkansas: Call the hogs, Arkansas is going to a bowl game. Arkansas got to 6-3 on the season with a 31-28 win over Mississippi State on Saturday. The win came as MSU kickers missed three field goals including a potential game-tying kick at the end of the fourth quarter and a 23-yarder in the first half. A bowl game will be the first for Arkansas in five seasons as the Razorbacks have a chance to get to 8-4. Heck, if Arkansas finishes the regular season at 8-4 and wins its bowl game it’ll be the first time in 10 years that the Razorbacks have won more than eight games.
Wisconsin: The Badgers are in first place in the Big Ten West after a 52-3 rout of Rutgers on Saturday. No. 21 Wisconsin is now 6-3 on the season and ascended to the top of the West thanks to Minnesota’s loss to Illinois. The Badgers have bounced back from a 1-3 start and are playing the best of anyone in the division. The rest of the West is pretty bleak at the moment. Graham Mertz threw for 240 yards on just 16 pass attempts on Saturday while the Badgers rushed for 305 yards as a team.
Miami: Don’t look now but the Hurricanes are surging. After losing close games during the first half of the season, Miami is on the opposite end now. Miami beat Georgia Tech, 33-30, on Saturday to move to 5-4 on the season. Miami entered the fourth quarter trailing by four but scored nine unanswered points to take the lead for good. Tyler Van Dyke had another stellar game with 389 yards passing and three touchdowns. It's onto Florida State for the Hurricanes in Week 11.
Penn State WR Jahan Dotson: Dotson was unstoppable in the Nittany Lions’ 31-14 win over Maryland. Dotson had 11 catches for 242 yards and three scores in front of over a dozen family members who came to College Park to watch him play. They saw him catch TD passes of 38, 21 and 86 yards and his 242 receiving yards are a Penn State record.
Tennessee: Tennessee edged Kentucky 45-42 in a wild game in Lexington on Saturday night. UT scored 42 points despite having the ball for less than 14 minutes and Kentucky’s offense ran a remarkable 99 plays in over 46 minutes. The Wildcats had 612 yards of offense to Tennessee’s 461 but the Vols had four TD drives of three plays or fewer. The win pushes Tennessee’s record to 5-4 and drops No. 18 Kentucky to 6-3 and almost assuredly out of a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Utah RB Tavion Thomas: Thomas scored four touchdowns in the first half of Utah’s 52-7 win over Stanford on Friday night. It was the second consecutive game with four touchdowns for Thomas after he rushed for four scores against UCLA. Thomas had 20 carries for 177 yards while Micah Bernard had 12 carries for 110 yards and TJ Pledger had 107 yards thanks to a 96-yard touchdown run. The Utes rushed 46 times for 441 yards.
Arizona: The Arizona Wildcats have won a football game. It’s not something we’ve been able to say since Oct. 5, 2019. That’s 20 games. But Arizona beat a depleted Cal squad 10-3 on Saturday for the first win of Jedd Fisch’s tenure as head coach. Cal came into the game without seven starters including QB Chase Garbers. The Bears ended up punting 11 times — Arizona punted seven times — and had a grand total of 122 yards. The winning touchdown came courtesy of a Michael Wiley TD run with less than three minutes left.
UNLV: The Rebels got the first win of Marcus Arroyo’s tenure in a 31-17 win over New Mexico. UNLV took the lead with 11:41 to go in the second quarter and never trailed after that as Kyle Williams had seven catches for 137 yards and a touchdown. After going 0-6 in 2020 and 0-8 to start the 2021 season, UNLV had lost the first 14 games of the Arroyo era and hadn’t won a game since Nov. 30, 2019.
Army: The Black Knights are assured of at least a tie for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy after a 21-14 overtime win over Air Force on Saturday. Army will win the trophy outright if it beats Navy in December — Air Force beat Navy earlier in the year. The game was scoreless in the first half before an offensive explosion in the second half sent it to overtime at 14-14. Christian Anderson scored the game-winning touchdown on the first possession of overtime and then Army broke up a pass on fourth down to win.
Michigan State: The No. 2 Spartans can still win the Big Ten and make the College Football Playoff. But the dream of an undefeated season is over after Purdue won 40-29 on Saturday. The Boilermakers now have 17 wins over top-five opponents as an unranked team as Aidan O’Connell threw for a whopping 536 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan State’s defense gave up 11 third-down conversions on 18 attempts and forced just two punts all day.
Wake Forest: The No. 9 Demon Deacons are also no longer undefeated after losing 58-55 on the road to North Carolina. UNC scored 24 straight points to take the lead in the fourth quarter after coming back from a 21-point deficit to Wake Forest a year ago. Even though UNC and Wake are both in the ACC, the game didn’t count for either team’s conference record thanks to a scheduling agreement between the two schools. So Wake Forest is still undefeated in the ACC and in first place in the Atlantic Division ahead of a huge game against NC State in Week 11.
Texas: This probably isn’t what the Texas administration had in mind when it fired Tom Herman and hired Steve Sarkisian. The Longhorns dropped to 4-5 overall and 2-4 in Big 12 play with an ugly 30-7 road loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Texas is now embroiled in a four-game losing streak, something it hasn’t endured since 2010 during the Mack Brown days. UT blew a double-digit lead in the three previous losses. This time, the Longhorns simply got blown out instead.
Baylor: The No. 12 Bears lost 30-28 to TCU less than a week after TCU parted ways with longtime coach Gary Patterson. The loss drops Baylor to 7-2 on the season and potentially out of the Big 12 title race depending on how things shake out. Baylor plays undefeated Oklahoma in Week 11 and a third loss could be devastating to the Bears’ conference hopes. Baylor’s defense has been a strength all season but TCU freshman QB Chandler Morris — the son of former Arkansas coach Chad Morris — threw for 461 yards and two touchdowns in his first start while also rushing for 70 yards and another score.
Minnesota: The Gophers now have losses to Bowling Green and Illinois this season. How was this team at No. 20 in the College Football Playoff rankings? Minnesota assuredly won’t be ranked again on Tuesday and might have thrown away a shot at the Big Ten West as a result of its 14-6 loss to the Illini too. Minnesota can still win the division with a win over Wisconsin in the final week of the season, but it would likely need to beat Iowa and Indiana on the road before that too. Minnesota will likely be an underdog in Iowa City.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were abysmal in a 17-3 loss at Boston College on Friday night that may signal the end of Justin Fuente’s tenure with the program. The VT offense struggled all night but Fuente just basically gave up on the game when the Hokies punted on a 4th and 6 with 4:47 to go in the game. Virginia Tech is now 4-5 on the season and has games against Duke, Miami and Virginia. Can Tech go 2-1 in those three games? It’s a longshot.
Stanford: The Cardinal is now 3-6 after that huge 52-7 loss to Utah. Stanford gave up 441 rushing yards and had just 167 yards of offense without starting QB Tanner McKee as he missed the game with a knee injury. Jack West averaged 3.3 yards per attempt in McKee’s place and was also sacked multiple times. Stanford was proud of its 2021 schedule that contained all Power Five opponents. Well, Stanford may be regretting that now. It has to win out against Oregon State, Cal and Notre Dame to get to 6-6.
SMU: SMU has now dropped back-to-back games after beginning the season 7-0. The Mustangs lost 44-37 to Houston last week and then dropped another one on Saturday, his time a 28-25 decision to Memphis. SMU fell behind 28-10 early in the fourth and could not complete the comeback. Now the Mustangs are a longshot to play for the AAC title.
Fresno State: A week after going on the road and beating undefeated San Diego State, Fresno State got blown out at home by Boise State, a team that entered Saturday's game with just a 4-4 record. It wasn't close. The Broncos won 40-14 as Fresno turned it over three times and went 4-of-13 on third down.
Temple: Since it upset Memphis on Oct. 2, Temple has lost four consecutive games and has been outscored 180-27 in the process. The latest was a 45-3 loss to East Carolina. The Owls are now 3-6 on the year and it's fair to wonder if the Rod Carey era is nearing an end.