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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The 2021 Florida football team didn’t play as a team

Former coach Dan Mullen was relieved of his duties Sunday

Former Florida football coach Dan Mullen pictured during a game against Samford Nov. 13.
Former Florida football coach Dan Mullen pictured during a game against Samford Nov. 13.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin decided to part ways with former head coach Dan Mullen on Sunday afternoon after a 24-23 loss to Missouri in overtime. The choice came after the Gators fell to 5-6 in 2021 and lost nine out of their last 11 games versus Power Five opponents dating back to last season. 

How did it happen after three consecutive trips to New Year’s Six bowl games? 

It’s simple; football is the ultimate team sport. Florida failed to sustain success in all three phases of the game, a problem that plagued Mullen’s team back to the 2020 LSU loss.

The 2021 Florida season felt like a life-size game of Whac-A-Mole, where a new issue reared its head every week. 

In Week 3 versus Alabama, Florida’s defense surrendered 21 points in the first quarter while the offense failed to get in gear. The slumbering start forced the Gators to play behind the whole game and, despite outscoring the Crimson Tide 26-10 in the final three quarters, falling two points short.  

Their defense stood firm two weeks later, allowing 224 yards of offense in a Week 5 game against Kentucky. However, Florida’s offense floundered against the Wildcats, with eight false start penalties and a blocked field goal attempt returned for a touchdown to lose 20-13. 

The Gators fell in a 49-42 Big 12-style shootout to Louisiana State when they failed to overcome four turnovers from quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson. 

The defense also surrendered 321 rushing yards to the fourth-worst rushing offense at the time. Tigers running back Tyrion Davis-Price shattered former Georgia running back Herschel Walker’s record for most single-game rushing yards against Florida with 287. 

The next week versus Georgia, Richardson coughed up three turnovers in the last 2:22 seconds before halftime, generating 21 points for the Bulldogs. Once again, the defense rose to the occasion. UGA would have only won 13-7 without those 142 seconds. 

Neither unit showed up versus South Carolina, as the Gamecocks whooped Mullen and Co. 40-17. The blowout led to the firing of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy. 

Florida’s offense needed 70 points and a career day from Jones to stave off the Samford Bulldogs. The defense still gave up 52 points, the most an SEC school ever allowed to a Football Championship Subdivision foe. 

Newly appointed defensive coordinator Christian Robinson and his unit rebounded quickly, keeping the SEC leading rusher, Tyler Badie, in check for 19 rushing yards in the first half. Florida’s offense only offered up six points in return. 

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Badie eventually caught fire and finished with 27 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown, which led to another Gators loss. 

The overtime loss served as the nail in the coffin for Mullen. It also means Florida will finish with a 2-6 record in SEC play, its worst mark since the conference expanded in 1992 and  only finishing higher than Vanderbilt in the SEC East. 

The best teams in college football like Georgia, the Crimson Tide and Ohio State, found ways to win when one facet of their team slacked. Stricklin will start searching for a new head coach, but he needs to make sure the new leader of the program gets the Gators to play like a team. 

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

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