Grading the Gators: Grantham fails spectacularly in defeat at LSU
Florida fell 49-42 at LSU in a game that raises serious questions about the trajectory of Dan Mullen’s program at Florida. Florida’s loss to a mediocre, struggling LSU team missing multiple All-America and All-SEC talents will assuredly dump the Gators out of the Top 25 for the 1st time since Mullen’s 1st season in Gainesville. It also sets the stage for the Gators to be 4-4, with losses in 7 of their last 9 games against Power 5 opposition, after their trip to Jacksonville and a date with No. 1 Georgia on Oct. 30.
Florida will look to the bye week to regroup. But the outlook in Gainesville, at least for the remainder of the 2021 season, is grim.
A few readers have asked that the Sunday piece on Gameday weekends “grade” the Gators’ performance from Saturday. Ask and you shall receive!
Here are the SDS grades for the Gators in Saturday’s game at LSU.
You aren’t normally getting a “C” when you post 42 points on the road anywhere, let alone in Death Valley. But Florida tossed 4 interceptions (the Gators lead the conference with 12 interceptions this season), losing the turnover battle 4-0. LSU turned the first 3 Florida interceptions into 21 points; the final interception, an off-his-back-foot prayer by Anthony Richardson, sealed the win for LSU.
The Gators also never gave their running game a chance (more on that below), and they were limited to a season-low 138 yards rushing.
Florida did pile up the passing yards, especially when Anthony Richardson entered the game for good in the 2nd half after an Emory Jones pick-6 gave LSU a 15-point lead. Richardson’s ability to move the Florida offense swiftly up and down the field changed the game, and the Gators clawed back to tie twice in the 4th quarter before coming up short. Richardson’s talent — which Mullen called “transcendent” in the postgame — was the obvious silver lining in the loss.
It’s now up to Mullen to turn the reins of the program over to the transcendent freshman, as unfortunate as that is for Jones.
It’s fair to debate how much of this is on Florida’s players (more below), but Florida’s defense was terrible Saturday.
The Gators were bullied up front, surrendering 321 yards rushing to an LSU offense that had struggled to run the ball most of the season. LSU running back Ty Davis-Price, who had 288 yards rushing on the season entering the game, ran for 287 against the Gators, a single-game LSU record.
Meanwhile, Florida’s vaunted pass rush produced a few hurries but only 1 sack, which came on the 1st possession of the game. Florida’s defensive tackles in particular were woeful, registering 0 pressures and 0 tackles for loss.
The Gators also tackled well in the 1st half before collapsing in the 2nd. How much an injury to blossoming free safety talent Rashad Torrence II contributed to Florida’s struggles tackling Davis-Price is a reasonable question, but one safety doesn’t mean Florida was going to suddenly stop the run game.
Florida simply needs to play better — and it needs to reclaim the physicality that it brought to a win over Tennessee and a close loss to Alabama.
Special teams: D
Florida continues to miss Evan McPherson, who left a year early and is now the kicker for the Cincinnati Bengals. The latest manifestation came early in Saturday’s loss, when Jace Christmann missed an extra point. Florida got the points back on a 2-point conversion in the 3rd quarter, but the missed extra point could have really hurt the Gators.
Florida’s kick coverage was also mediocre, and the Gators missed out on a chance to pin LSU very deep in the 4th quarter when they missed several tackles on a kickoff return that let the Tigers set up shop on their own 32-yard line.
Punter Jeremy Crawshaw was the bright spot, averaging 44 yards per punt with a long of 57 despite kicking into a stiff wind on 3 of his punts.
For the 2nd consecutive season, Florida failed to take advantage of an opportunity to play a reeling LSU team ravaged by injuries.
This season, there’s no game for a championship waiting the following week to blame.
Florida was simply unprepared, outcoached and outplayed. That’s a bad look given that LSU’s staff is likely keeping real estate agents on speed dial as the calendar hits late October.
Mullen’s game plan made little sense. Despite having the best rushing offense in the Power 5 in terms of success rate, yards per game and yards per attempt, Florida elected to pass 1st throughout the opening half. The result was 2 interceptions and 2 short fields that gave LSU a 15-point lead and confidence.
Florida never went back to the run consistently again, despite knowing it could do that even while playing from behind, as it proved against Alabama last month. It was a bizarre and foolhardy approach against a banged-up LSU front that had given up huge rushing yardage to both UCLA and Kentucky in losses.
Mullen’s bigger problem, however, wasn’t his game plan offensively.
It was his defensive coordinator.
Todd Grantham’s inability to adjust to a simple counter play (a wrinkle LSU introduced the week prior against Kentucky and something Florida should have seen on video) resulted in the Tigers’ historic day on the ground.
It also left Florida players questioning their own staff after the game.
When a Florida beat writer asked junior linebacker Mohamoud Diabate whether he trusted what Grantham was asking him and the Gators to do schematically, Diabate was careful with his words.
“I’m confident in my teammates’ ability to play hard. I’m confident in my teammates.”
Pressed a bit further, Diabate elaborated. “We made the adjustments we were given to make as players. When the general asks me to shoot, I shoot. I don’t ask questions. That’s (the media and fans’) job.”
Diabate, a terrific student with a 3.9 GPA who is considering applying for a Rhodes Scholarship, is one of the most thoughtful, reflective and bright players in the SEC. If he, a leader of the Florida defense and a beloved member of the locker room, is choosing his words carefully about Grantham and the defensive staff, that’s a problem.
Grantham should be relieved of his duties after Saturday’s fiasco. He’s compensated far too handsomely to fail that spectacularly.