Hayes: Well, you can't blame Gators' latest disaster on Dan Mullen
Can’t blame Dan Mullen for this one. Can’t keep making the same, tired excuses.
Especially when TCU, which won 5 games in 2021, is ranked in the Top 4 and finding ways to win with a first-year coach.
Especially when USC, which won 4 games in 2021, is 3 wins from possibly advancing the Playoff with a first-year coach.
Especially when LSU, which won 6 games last year, won the SEC West Division and controls its Playoff fate with a first-year coach.
Florida won 6 games last year, and in coach Billy Napier’s first season, is no better than the team that got former coach Dan Mullen fired.
“It’s a setback,” Napier said in a post-game press conference after a 31-24 loss at SEC tomato can Vanderbilt. “No doubt about it.”
When you’re 11 games into the season, they’re your players — not the guy who was fired.
When you’re 11 games into a season, you’re the coach preparing a team, motivating a team and getting them ready to avoid a classic trap game on the road against an inferior team.
When you’re 11 games into the season, a season-high in penalty yards, missed tackles (again), an inability to get off the field on 3rd down (again) and — here’s a new one (that’s sarcasm, everyone) — time management gaffs are all on the current staff.
Not the former staff that continues to get dragged into the mud.
Yeah, we get it, you walked into a mess and had scant time to put together a staff, recruit high school players, recruit the portal, install offense and defense in the spring, get through the summer program, and get to the season and try to win games with the group you were handed.
Only Napier wasn’t exactly “handed” this group. He had the same amount of time as Sonny Dykes (TCU), Lincoln Riley (USC) and Brian Kelly (LSU) to recruit freshmen and the transfer portal for this season.
Kelly and his staff not only did it better than anyone — he had 39 players on scholarship when he walked into the football offices last December — he has 3 impact freshmen starting and playing at a high level.
LSU has 2 freshman starting offensive tackles (Will Campbell, Emery Jones) playing well weekly against defensive fronts in the best conference in college football. Kelly also has the best freshman in college football in linebacker Harold Perkins (who chose LSU over Florida).
Kelly has done it with a quarterback from the transfer portal (Jayden Daniels) whose own teammates at Arizona State celebrated on social media when he announced he was transferring.
Dykes has done it with a 5th-year senior quarterback (Max Duggan) who lost the starting job in fall camp, and never sulked or stopped working. He got the job back in Week 1 after an injury, and has played so well this fall, he should be a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Riley did it with a small recruiting class, but by also casting a large net into the transfer portal. His quarterback (Caleb Williams) is a potential Heisman finalist, and the Trojans’ leading tackler (Shane Lee) couldn’t get on the field at Alabama in 2021. USC’s top 2 receivers and 2 running backs are from the portal.
So at some point the idea that Mullen left Florida hanging and Napier in a bad spot — of course he did, he was fired — doesn’t hold water anymore.
You know what else Mullen left Napier? An uber-talented quarterback (Anthony Richardson) who hadn’t been coached properly. Guess what? He still plays like he hasn’t been coached properly — with his 14/8 TD/INT ratio after 11 starts.
In fact, the best thing for Napier and the program moving forward might be Richardson leaving for the NFL. Two different NFL scouts told me last week that some franchise would take a chance on Richardson in the first round, that there’s too much talent to ignore.
Two different Florida Collectives, meanwhile, are trying to come up with enough deals/cash to keep Richardson in Gainesville. Next question: Why?
For whatever reason, it’s not working with Napier (Florida’s QBs coach and play-caller) and Richardson. Richardson threw for 400 yards and 3 TDs (1 INT) against Vanderbilt — which is pretty much what everyone does against the SEC’s worst defense — but hasn’t been a quarterback of substance all season.
Meanwhile, the Florida defense is an absolute mess. Napier entered the SEC with a handful of assistants from his staff at Louisiana, including defensive coordinator Patrick Toney.
Kelly hired Matt House, who built tough, smart defenses at Kentucky before leaving for the NFL and returning to LSU. He hired Mike Denbrock as offensive coordinator, and the guy who was responsible for developing QB Desmond Ridder at Cincinnati and who helped the Bearcats get to the Playoff — and worked as Kelly’s OC at Notre Dame — has worked wonders at LSU with a quarterback no one wanted.
Napier hired Toney, whose qualifications for coordinating an SEC defense included working with Napier at his previous job. The Florida defense might be the worst in school history, its opponents converting nearly 50 percent of 3rd-down opportunities (Vandy was 7-of-14).
That wasn’t Dan Mullen’s game plan Saturday against Vanderbilt that included chucking it 43 times with a talented but unknown commodity at quarterback, and running it 21 times with the greatest strength on the team — against the SEC’s worst defense.
It wasn’t Mullen who had the team so mentally focused and motivated for a sleepy, 11 a.m. local kick, that they committed a season-high 80 yards in penalties — including a defensive holding on 3rd-and-14 after they had closed the deficit to 14-12 midway through the 3rd quarter.
Eleven plays later — including a 3rd-and-8 conversion at the Florida 46 — Vandy scored to make it 21-12 and took control of the first win over Florida in Nashville since 1988.
“There was a lot of Florida beating Florida out there,” Napier said.
And here we thought it was Mullen beating Florida all along.