Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde evaluates Dan Mullen’s status

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It wasn’t that long ago that coach Dan Mullen‘s tenure looked like it was shaping up to be everything Gators fans wanted. The team was just six points away from a College Football Playoff appearance last season, and after giving Alabama all it could handle in Week 3, it looked like this could finally be the team to break through.

Then, Saturday night happened. The Gators lost to Kentucky in Lexington for the first time since 1986, and Mullen is now 2-2 against a Wildcats team who UF’s previous five coaches never lost to.

While Florida is clearly an improved and more competitive team than the ones under previous coaches Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain, it’s becoming more and more clear that something needs to change if Mullen’s squad is going to take that leap forward.

In his latest column, Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde took a look at several coaches who seem to have lost quite a bit of their luster. Here’s what he had to say about Mullen.

After a two-point loss to Alabama Sept. 18, Mullen was being lauded for his ability to keep the Gators at the forefront of the SEC after major personnel losses from 2020. He was 31–10 at Florida, and some believed Mullen’s team could beat Georgia and retain the SEC East title.

Now: In 2018, Mullen became the first Florida coach since the mid-1980s to lose to Kentucky, and then he did it again Saturday. While the Wildcats are 5–0, that didn’t sit well with Gators fans accustomed to having their way with Big Blue. Chances of repeating as SEC East champion all but disappeared with that loss.

The big problem: Mullen has gotten conservative offensively with this team, running the ball 59% of the time and not trusting his quarterbacks in the passing game. When he ate all three of his timeouts on a timid offensive possession to end the first half against Kentucky clinging to a 10–7 lead, Florida fans who remember Steve Spurrier were apoplectic. Fifteen penalties and a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown were not well received, either.

What will bring back the love: Putting up 50 on Vanderbilt on Saturday will help. Then comes crucial games at LSU and in Jacksonville against Georgia, followed by what should be four more wins. Mullen will be fine once the Kentucky-related outrage wears off.

Mullen’s job security is certainly not moved considerably by the loss to UK, even though it’s arguably the worst he’s taken as head coach. But Forde is right that something needs to change. Mullen, who is known for taking chances, has been very conservative in his play-calling this season, and that was especially problematic against Kentucky.

The Gators are great at running the football, but the Wildcats found a way to slow down the rushing attack, and whether the problem is a lack of faith in quarterback Emory Jones or something else, Florida will need to play a lot better down the stretch if it wants to have any chance at salvaging this season.

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