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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Gators defense flashes back to 2020

LSU gashes Florida to the tune of 321 rushing yards

Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on the field before Florida's game against Vanderbilt on Oct. 9.
Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on the field before Florida's game against Vanderbilt on Oct. 9.

The 2021 Florida-LSU game should have been known for the emergence of Gators backup quarterback Anthony Richardson. 

The redshirt freshman scored four straight touchdowns and added a crucial 2-point conversion once he seized control of the offense after Emory Jones’ second interception of the game.

The Gators defense, however, spoiled his arrival. 

LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price jab stepped to his left and took the handoff from quarterback Max Johnson, running right. His left tackle and guard paved the way for the junior to scamper 18 yards for a touchdown, and LSU led 7-6.

The Tigers repeated this halfback counter over, over and over again, and the same play call flattened No. 20 Florida 49-42 Saturday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a defensive disaster reminiscent of a season ago. 

“I mean, we made the adjustments we were given to make,” linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said after the game. “It seemed like they were hitting with a similar scheme, kind of counter run. We had whoever we had in the box, so we had to play it how we played it.”

The Tigers entered Saturday’s contest as the nation’s fourth-worst rushing offense, but Davis-Price led LSU with 287 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He shattered the record for most rushing yards against Florida in a single game (238), set by former Georgia running back Herschel Walker in 1980. 

Diabate gave credit where it was due. He said Davis-Price is great at running through tackles and being patient behind his offensive line when searching for a crease. 

He didn’t have any compliments to offer about the game plan or adjustments Florida and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham made, however.

“That’s not my decision to make,” Diabate said. “I don’t look into those things. I’m like a soldier. When the general tells me where to shoot, I shoot. I don’t really ask too many questions. That’s y’all’s job.”

The defense seen against LSU gave Florida fans flashbacks to last season, when Grantham’s unit surrendered 34.4 points per game, the worst Florida scoring defense since 1917. Instead of starting from scratch on the defensive side of the ball, head coach Dan Mullen elected to just fire two secondary coaches. 

This year, the defensive numbers are inflated due to cupcake games versus Florida Atlantic and South Florida that were absent during last season’s all-conference slate. Florida allowed 200 yards of offense versus common SEC bottom-dweller Vanderbilt and avoided a one-possession lead at halftime thanks to an overturned touchdown and the Commodores’ kicking incompetence. 

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With the defense struggling again, Mullen has to fan the flames he lit when he didn’t cut Grantham loose. 

The fourth-year Florida coach’s main response to multiple questions about the defense after LSU’s game was that he’ll evaluate and watch film. One reporter asked Mullen point blank if he would consider a coaching change midseason. He said he won’t jump to conclusions. 

“Nothing changes my perspective on anything,” Mullen said about Grantham. “We’re always evaluating things throughout the course of the season in everything we do. It’s a long season. We’re in the middle point of the season going into our bye week.”

Mullen and the Gators have drowned recently versus Power Five foes: They are 2-6 in their last eight games, mainly due to porous defense. The road after the bye week doesn’t get easier. They face No. 1 Georgia, who has given up 46 points total while the Gators gave up 49 versus LSU, on Oct. 30 in Jacksonville. 

Contact Zachary Huber at zhuber@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

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