In discussions of politics, you will hear references to “The Two Americas” This can refer to various divides in our nation, but the most central one is the division between ideological visions which give rise to red states and blue states.
In college football, fans of the Florida Gators are confronted with a non-ideological but very real problem after Saturday’s 24-17 loss to Georgia.
Yes, Georgia had to win this game and Florida did not – at least not with the same level of urgency. Yes, Georgia had Jake Fromm and Florida had Kyle Trask. Yes, Georgia has achieved at a level in recent years which Florida has not matched.
Yet, even though Georgia has built itself into a noticeably stronger program – with Florida trying to play catch-up – it was still discouraging to see how the Gators lost on Saturday.
No, the offense’s limitations do not represent the most alarming part of this loss. They need to be addressed, but part of this offense’s low ceiling comes from Feleipe Franks not being on the field with his equation-changing speed and running ability.
On a broader level, it is beyond obvious that Mullen hasn’t yet found his ideal quarterback. He better find one soon – which is another conversation for another time – but given the talent we saw on Saturday in Jacksonville, it was never realistic to expect UF to score a lot against Kirby Smart’s defense.
Hoping UF’s offense would thrive? Great – we always should hope.
Expecting UF’s offense to flourish? Not in a reasonable universe.
The Florida path to victory always needed to run through coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense. This was true mostly because Georgia’s offense had been atrocious the previous few weeks against South Carolina and Kentucky, but partly because the Gators were getting back two outstanding defensive players, Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga.
Florida figured to have the pass rush it needed to keep Georgia contained… and make Jake Fromm eat dirt.
Well, we all saw how THAT turned out. Georgia was able to protect Fromm on one third down after another. Third-down conversions were the difference in the game.
Yet, as bad as the third-down pass rush was, the secondary was equally bad. Trey Dean got lost on several occasions, and his teammates either suffered coverage busts or were half a step slow, or didn’t pick up the flight of the ball in time to deflect a Fromm pass.
It wasn’t one component of secondary play which killed Florida – it was every component of secondary play.
Georgia’s slumbering defense found an awakening against Florida. The Gators did nothing to keep Georgia fast asleep. That was the missed opportunity for UF on Saturday.
So, as we look to the future – and I am thinking about 2020, not the next month – Dan Mullen has a real choice to make, a choice only he can know how to handle.
If Mullen knows he can develop a high-quality quarterback – think of Will Grier under Jim McElwain; we don’t have to expect Danny Wuerffel or Tim Tebow – he can reasonably say that his offense will eventually be able to figure out Kirby Smart, the coach Mullen has to beat if he eventually wants to win SEC East championships and go to Atlanta in December.
However, if Mullen knows he won’t have that high-end QB (which is its own problem, but can’t be wished away if events break in the wrong direction), he has to think about firing Grantham.
No, Grantham isn’t terrible. He takes advantage of bad offenses, but against moderately good or great offenses, Grantham falls short. We saw a perfect example against Georgia.
Mullen has to weigh the resources of his offense versus the capability of his defense. If the offense figures to be limited, Mullen needs to get a rock-star defensive coordinator.
Florida shouldn’t be settling for a coordinator who can’t pounce on Georgia when the Bulldogs are vulnerable. Florida needs a defensive coordinator who can throttle SEC opponents with noticeable weaknesses.
No, I wouldn’t expect Grantham or any UF defensive coordinator to stop this year’s Alabama or LSU offenses… but Todd Grantham, if he is to earn his paycheck, has to be able to handle every other 2019 SEC offense.
On that score, he has clearly fallen short.
If Mullen develops his offense to an elite level, Grantham’s defense would be perfectly fine for this program. With a high-powered offense, Florida would have a lot of leads, which would mean a lot of must-pass situations for opposing teams, which would mean Grantham could unleash his blitzes and have fun.
But… if Florida can’t play that way, there is no sense in keeping Grantham around. Find a better mastermind for a defense which needed to bring some bite, but didn’t even have any bark against the Dawgs.
These are “The Two Floridas.”
Not just offense and defense, but the Gators Dan Mullen WANTS, versus the Gators Dan Mullen HAS, and will have in 2020.
Mullen needs to be honest with himself about the team he will have next year. That calculus ought to determine whether Mullen retains Todd Grantham for next season.
Gators down stretch look very familiar
It sounds like an insult, but it’s not: Gators are McElwain 2.0
It does seem like an insult to say that the 2019 Florida Gators, under Dan Mullen, are a better version of Jim McElwain’s SEC East champion Florida teams. McElwain was not a beloved coach. He didn’t enjoy coaching at Florida. He didn’t handle the prominence or the pressure of the job very well.
Dan Mullen enjoys coaching the Gators. He relishes pressure. He has performed well in the SEC for a long time, as a head coach and offensive coordinator. He is so many of the things McElwain wasn’t.
Few men in college football scheme receivers open better than Dan Mullen. He has a gift for play calling, and he squeezed a lot out of his Mississippi State teams. One can very reasonably say that he took the Bulldogs as high as they could fly, as far as they could go.
That is pretty much what Mullen has done with this 2019 team.
He has had a backup quarterback for most of the year, not Feleipe Franks. He has had a below-average offensive line which simply cannot facilitate a consistent or especially productive running game.
He has had Jabari Zuniga, arguably his best defensive player, healthy for a tiny fraction of the season. Jon Greenard has been injured for multiple games as well.
Everywhere you look, Florida has been limited. Everywhere you look, Florida has not had the ideal players it would want to face Georgia and LSU.
Speaking of Georgia and LSU, Florida had to play those two teams this year. It also had to play Auburn and Miami and still has Florida State on the slate.
If you were to tell Mullen that he would have his best players within the context of an injury-free season, this 2019 course of events (in terms of wins and losses and style of play) would have been noticeably disappointing. Yet, given the injuries and the limitations, Florida being 6-2 in the SEC and 9-2 overall is pretty damn good.
Adjusted for circumstances, Florida has done as much as it realistically could have been expected to do. LSU is the best team in college football this regular season. Florida gave the Tigers a good test for three quarters and were outplayed in the fourth. There isn’t much more one could have asked from UF in that game.
The Georgia game was certainly a disappointment, but if you’re going to say that Florida and Georgia have the same levels of talent, please turn in your college football analyst card at the door.
That is not a credible assertion.
We can talk about recruiting in a separate conversation or column, but in 2019, Dan Mullen has coaxed a 9-2 record – likely to become 10-2 with a win over Florida State – from a limited roster with a lot of backups playing extended snaps at hugely important positions.
Florida is winning games without style points. It is managing situations and handling challenges.
Sound familiar? These were the two SEC East-winning seasons under McElwain, the only two seasons in this decade (which is about to end) when Florida went to Atlanta.
The 2019 Gators share the ragged, uneven quality of McElwain’s teams, but the coaching and adaptability are better. The number of losses is lower. The ceiling for the program is higher.
McElwain 2.0 feels like an insult, until you look below the surface and see what is truly being compared.
Georgia clinched SEC East- eliminated Gators Saturday night
Any hope the Florida Gators had of working their way back to Atlanta and the SEC Title game, through a potential backdoor, ended Saturday night. That’s when, the Georgia Bulldogs outfought their rival Auburn, 21 – 14 giving them a 6 – 1 record and the SEC East title for the third consecutive year.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Gators had done their part to set up a possible late season rally to win the division by smothering the Missouri Tigers on the road 23 – 6. That improved Florida to their final SEC record of 6 – 2. However, because they lost head-to-head 2 weeks ago to the Dawgs in Jacksonville, it meant the Gators had to have Georgia lose both of their remaining games, including next week at home with Texas A&M.
Georgia made sure that didn’t happen, as D’Andre Swift ran for 106 yards and Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm threw three touchdown passes. That included the eventual game-winner to tighten Eli Wolf from 5 yards out that put Georgia up 21 – 0 after three periods.
Auburn put together a tremendous rally behind freshman quarterback Bo Nix, who threw for 245 yards and a touchdown and ran for another TD to pull the Tigers within 21 – 14 with seven minutes to go.
Auburn got the ball back two times with chances to go and get a tying touchdown and both times, the Bulldogs held them on downs. The last one coming in the final minute of the game when Nix was sacked on fourth down inside his own 15-yard line to clinch the win and title for Georgia..
The Bulldogs, who were ranked fourth in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings still controls their own destiny to the playoff by winning out and winning the SEC title game. Of course, likely standing in their way is that top-ranked LSU, who is unbeaten heading into play Saturday night and will be the other team trying to make the final four.
The best case scenario now for the Gators is to win their remaining game with rival FSU at the Swamp in two weeks and then look to be in a possible “New Year Six” game, most likely the Cotton Bowl.
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