Catch up on previous 2021 opponent previews!
Having the greatest offense in school history is a lot of fun but isn’t a guarantee of success.
Take the 2008 Missouri offense, for example. The 2007 squad had the greatest offense Mizzou has ever seen according to SP+, ranked 4th in the nation with a 44.0 rating and lost only two games. But the 2008 squad - returning a Heisman-finalist quarterback, All-American pass catchers and lineman - barely lost a step, ranking 6th overall with a 43.8 rating...but lost four games. Or look at the 2018 version of the Tigers: the third greatest Mizzou offense ever fielded was 8th in the country with a 41.3 rating but was incredibly unlucky in losing five games over the season. Offensive fire power alone was enough to get them close to the national title picture but not enough to even win their conference.
And then there’s 2020 Florida. If you’re my age, Gator football was synonymous with prolific offenses, including the 8th greatest offense in the history of college football (the ‘07 Gators with an offensive rating of 50.1) or the 2008 National Champion Gators (43.7 offensive rating). The 2020 version of Florida football put out the second-greatest Florida offense ever - featuring a Heisman-finalist quarterback, All-American pass catchers and linemen - and lost four games. The Gator offense was dynamic and a threat to score on any play but it wasn’t enough to even win their conference.
You need balance to win, pure and simple, and that balance has been elusive to obtain since Urban Meyer “retired” from football (for the first time). Will Muschamp brought elite defenses and aimless offenses, and now Dan Mullen has revitalized the Gator offensive attack but paired it with a sentient-stick-of-dynamite as defensive coordinator, capable of havoc-ing his way to shutouts or blowing easy coverages and letting the opponent score effortlessly. If they’re able to put it together at once, the Gators will be one of the few teams capable of challenging Georgia and Alabama for SEC hegemony. Until they do, they’ll be undone by a series of “what-ifs” and close calls until Mullen outlasts his welcome.
Here’s what Florida did last year:
Florida truly was one of the ten best teams in the country last year. After a clunker of a performance against A&M (post-game win percentage: 38%), the Gators ripped off a series of flawless victories, performing at the 99th percentile or better over the next 5 games (and a merely human 60th percentile against Arkansas). They even had a 99% post-game win expectancy against LSU, were it not for one of the dumbest penalties of the past ten years. But then the defense got detonated by the Alabama death machine and the non-NFL caliber leftovers of the 2020 squad were put out of their misery early by Spencer Rattler and the Oklahoma Sooners. Where this team goes from here is uncertain but it’s a shame they wasted one of the all-time great offensive rosters in history with a four-loss season and an absolute no-show smothering in the Cotton Bowl.
Dan Mullen - 4th Year - 29-9 (19-7)
I used to like Dan Mullen. Back when he was simply a sneakerhead; a young head coach with a quirky, energetic, recruiting-based personality that was building Mississippi State into the greatest college football trivia question, “name the first team to ever be ranked #1 in the College Football Playoff Rankings”.
But Dan Mullen sucks. As a coach and as a person.
In 2016, when video surfaced of 5-star defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons punching a woman on the ground, the university allowed Simmons to be admitted into the school and team with the understanding that there would be disciplinary action enforced by the football team.
Mullen suspended him for the first game of the year and that was it. When asked follow up questions as to how he arrived at that decision or any general comments, Mullen wanted to talk about how cool his shoes were.
Last year, at the height of the pandemic, Mullen pouted about their loss to Texas A&M, whining about how A&M “packed the stadium” and that caused the Gators to lose. This led to Mullen calling for the school to allow fans to “pack The Swamp” so that he could have a competitive advantage at home.
Here’s a screen shot of the “packed” stadium that was so loud that the Gators lost. Count the empty maroon seats:
At the end of the first half of a tight game against Missouri, quarterback Kyle Trask was hit while throwing a useless Hail Mary pass. The players helped each other up and headed towards the locker rooms until DAN EFFIN’ MULLEN ran out, dramatically screaming and moaning about how there was a no call on the field, and was so violently bitchy about his complaints that he started calling out the Mizzou players and coaching staff to try and fight him. This action brought his team back on the field and started a brawl that cost three players an ejection but only cost Dan $25,000 (or, to put it another way, 0.32% of his yearly salary).
He then, of course, showed up at the postgame press conference in a Darth Vader costume. No remorse for costing players one of their few games in their career, no remorse for having his COVID-riddled team expose Missouri, all the support staffs and stadium personnel trying to break up the fight to the virus...no, he wanted to be Darth Vader.
He’s overseeing a recruiting downfall since he took over, going from classes that ranked 6th, then 9th, then 9th again, and 12th for 2021 (2022’s class is currently 31st). He once had to call not one but two timeouts at the beginning of the Georgia game - a game they were playing right after a Bye Week, mind you - because he didn’t get the right play-calling wristbands on his offense. When Marco Wilson threw an opponent’s shoe against LSU and was given a penalty for it - which lead to LSU taking the lead and winning the game - Dan Mullen had no problem with it, calling what Wilson did “a football play”. When the majority of his playmakers sat out against Oklahoma in the bowl game he said he wasn’t worried because he could play his “2021 team” and felt confident in winning; the Gators got blown out by 35.
Florida football, as a program, should be the coolest kid in school. The Gators, under legendary offensive guru Steve Spurrier, revolutionized offense with the greatest trash-talking coach of all time and helped established “S-E-C” dominance thanks to Urban Meyer’s squads tearing through the league and the rest of the country. Florida is the popular kid that you outwardly hate but secretly like because they have everything going for them and are so darn fun to be around.
Dan Mullen is a petulant baby, who whines when he loses and creates a laundry list of excuses as to why things aren’t good. He needs to constantly be told he’s the prettiest at a program that knows they are the prettiest. It’s the weirdest pairing in the SEC and one that I’ve grown to absolutely despise. I hope Dan stubs his toe and burns his tongue on coffee every morning for the rest of his life. Stupid loser.
John Hevesy & Billy Gonzales - Co-Offensive Coordinators: Hevesy and Gonzales have been calling plays for Mullen since their days in Starkville. They’ve shown an ability to be versatile in their attack - based on the talents of their quarterback, of course - and have both done more with less at Mississippi State and done more with more at Florida. It might truly be Mullen’s offense, but these guys are the ones developing the players, writing the script, and calling plays and as long as they are in the booth the Gators should be in good hands.
Todd Grantham - Defensive Coordinator: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Todd Grantham is not a good defensive coordinator. He blitzes way too much and is easily manipulated by any offensive coordinator worth their salt. He’s only had success because he’s typically worked with blue-blood programs but has never shown an ability to consistently put a quality product on the field. After the 2020 season Mullen said he was going “evaluate every aspect of the program” and many people thought that was the cue that Grantham would finally get fired. He’s still here but it’s unclear for how much longer, especially after the rebuild project he’s been handed for 2021.
Greg Knox - Special Teams Coordinator
Garrick McGee - Quarterbacks: McGee spent one season as an analyst for Mizzou before getting bumped to wide receivers coach in 2019. The former UAB head coach wasn’t retained by Drinkwitz and found another analyst gig with the Florida staff in 2020. The new Gator QB Coach has had plenty of coaching experience is in his career but rarely seen success. He’ll have his hands full trying to replace current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Kyle Trask.
Tim Brewster - Tight Ends
David Turner - Defensive Line
Christian Robinson - Linebackers
Jules Montinar - Cornerbacks
Wesley McGriff - Secondary
As previously stated, the Florida offense was really freaking good. Kyle Trask was a Heisman finalist. Kyle Pitts won the Mackey award and was drafted in the first round. Kadarius Toney also went in the first round and is now a New York Giant. In fact, out of the eight Gators picked in the 2021 NFL Draft, five were from the offensive side. And now the second-greatest Gator offense of all time must start over. Considering the core of their offensive success was passing the ball - 5th in passing offense, 9th on passing downs, 10th in completion rate, 5th in efficiency - and almost none of the guys responsible for said passing attack return, it’ll be interesting to see if they rely on the shaky run game or try and force the new quarterback to adhere to last year’s passing schemes. Regardless of the choice, don’t expect the ‘21 offense to be anywhere close to what the ‘20 squad did.
Quarterback - Emory Jones - Redshirt Sophomore
I’m not sure what to make of Emory Jones. His career 63% completion percentage is...fine... as is his 6.9 yards per attempt. And he also averages 6.7 yards per carry and is super quick while running. But if you ever watch him play, it’s just...bad? It certainly doesn’t look great! Whether it’s the tendency to arch his back and shotput deep balls or the fact that he forces bad throws in tight coverage in mop-up duty, he’s yet to show anything to resemble the 4-star rating he earned out of high school. Fellow 4-stars Anthony Richardson and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson are available, as is former 3-star Jalen Kitna, and all but Kitna were listed as dual threats coming out of high school, so the skill set should be similar. This could be a huge weakness for the ‘21 team if Jones (or whoever) is unable to even halfway replicate what Trask did last year.
Running Back - Dameon Pierce - Junior
Pierce played in all 12 games of the 2020 Florida season and ran the ball 106 times. Yes, you read that correctly. He averaged eight (8) carries per game and ended the season with 503 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s the nice part about having one of the best passing offenses in college football! The downside is when that talent leaves and the offensive scheme revolves around the running game (and unproven receivers). What Pierce can do with a heavier load is yet to be seen, but he has a great chance to be the stopgap hero of 2021.
Wide Receiver - Jacob Copeland - Redshirt Sophomore
Five receivers claimed 58% of the team’s targets in 2020 and the top three are all gone. That leaves Copeland and the lanky Justin Shorter as the returning talent who, combined, went for 79 targets, 703 yards, and 6 touchdowns. That’s pretty impressive for a returning tandem but the depth behind them is questionable and untested. Blue-chip prospects Daejon Reynolds and Marcus Burke might make their way into the rotation but it’ll be interesting to see how Copeland and Shorter are used when they are the #1 targets for an entire season.
The Gator defense was the reason why Florida was not a legitimate Playoff contender: 86th against the run, 72nd against the pass, 87th on standard downs, 95th on passing downs, 71st in success rate while blitzing (Grantham’s calling card!). Grantham’s guys just gave up yardage by the bucket full and hoped for a sack or a turnover to stall out the offense. And now the roster gets turned over and - particularly the secondary- gets a brand new starting rotation. Whatever skill Grantham has will be put to the test this year.
Defensive Line - Zachary Carter - Redshirt Junior
Carter is a defensive tackle and yet he had EIGHT tackles for loss in 2020. He was a one-man wrecking crew up front but he will need to do it again because he’s the only contributor on last year’s line that returns. There are some younger pieces who got some rotational play - and a few blue-chip incoming freshmen, sure - but overall the line will be operating at an experience deficit for most of the year.
Linebacker - Brenton Cox, Jr. - Redshirt Sophomore
Initially signing with Georgia out of high school, the former 5-star outside linebacker was dismissed from the Bulldogs after an arrest for marijuana possession and rumors that he had become a “bad apple” in the UGA locker room. So now he’s a Florida Gator, terrorizing offenses off the edge and generating consistent havoc. The Gators return their top five linebackers from last year, a rare position of continuity that will certainly be needed to steady the 2021 defensive effort.
Defensive Back - Kaiir Elam - Sophomore
Starting all 12 games at cornerback, Elam lead the team in defensive snaps (688), passes broken up (10), interceptions (2), and lead all defensive backs in tackles (23). Again... he is a cornerback! Florida only returns two of 2020’s top six defensive backs so Elam will have to continue his streak of excellent play. Obviously the Gators can replace those losses with excellent high school recruits but youth in the secondary can prove disastrous for any level of defensive competency.
So what does it all mean?
The offense is resetting and could quite possibly have a completely different tactical scheme. The defense returns all their linebackers but only a few familiar faces outside of that. And recruiting has been dipping for the past two years. And they play Missouri in Columbia at the end of November.
Recipe for a Tiger upset, right? We’ll see. Of the blue-chip giants on the schedule, this one certainly jumps out as one that can be possible. Florida will be coming off of a cake-walk against Samford, whereas Missouri will probably be fresh from a dogfight against South Carolina. And while Florida State is a big deal game for Florida, the Seminoles aren’t quite what they used to be and the “save your strength for the tougher fight” trope that fans talk themselves into doesn’t quite ring true this year. There’s still plenty of uncertainty on the Tiger sideline as well, mind you, but if Drinkwitz can get more out of the offense this year and the defense can take a few steps forward, catching a young Florida team with (possibly) nothing to play for in (possibly) the cold-ass winters of Missouri? Sure, let’s dream big and believe in upsets.
Florida will still outclass Missouri in talent for now but it’ll be really interesting to see how Drinkwitz can close the gap in the recruiting trail and how he calls plays against the d-bag who tried to fight his entire team. I’d certainly say we owe it to Mullen to beat the ever loving s*** out them for this year...and every year after.