Florida suffered its first loss of the season against Texas A&M today, an ugly 41-38 setback that’s far more irritating than damaging— but one that exposed a great deal of Gator shortcomings. What stood out in particular? (Spoiler alert: a lot of them are related.)
The defense is not bad. It’s atrocious.
Yes, I’m aware that Florida probably wins the game if Malik Davis doesn’t fumble at the end. But Davis did far more good than bad on the day, and the same can’t be said for the defense. Never before have I seen a Florida defense with a top five ranking look so completely and utterly helpless for sixty full minutes. The Aggies hung 543 yards of offense on the Gators, and probably would’ve hung even more had Florida not controlled much of the clock in the first half. Let’s be crystal clear about what this defense is: it’s not young, it’s not inexperienced, it’s not going through growing pains— and it’s not just suffering through the typical early season issues that the 2018 and 2019 defenses suffered through. This is an atrocious defense, point blank. It can’t stop the run, it can’t stop the pass, it can’t set the edge, it can’t wrap up and bring ball carriers to the ground, and it isn’t in good hands with Todd Grantham. It’s not too late for changes and adjustments to be made, but I’m worried that without them, this defense is on track to be one of the worst in Gator history.
Todd Grantham has to be on notice.
It’s not reasonable to expect Dan Mullen to fire his defensive coordinator three games into a season— particularly not when he’s been so loyal to him for that long. So he’ll get the rest of the year. But I fear that the rest of the year will see the patterns just continue playing out on loop. You know. The incessant third and long conversions, the frequent busts in the secondary, and the petulant refusal to run anything but the same lazy three man rush zone defense that has been getting picked apart since his arrival in 2018. And when— that’s right, not if, but when— those patterns play out for the rest of the year, Mullen isn’t going to be faced with much of a choice. He’ll simply have to cut bait and find a new defensive coordinator barring a miraculous spectacular second half of the season from this defense. And if he doesn’t? If Grantham comes back for a fourth season? We may have to have a much more difficult conversation about the future of this program that I really don’t want to have.
Marco Wilson has regressed
God bless Marco for saving Florida against Tennessee with his late PBU at the goal line as a true freshman in 2017. I don’t know what the deal is or why, and I’d hate to speculate— but he simply is not that player anymore. He got burned for several big catches, including a long touchdown pass in which he was beat, but managed to catch up to the ball because it was underthrown and got in perfect position to make a play on it— and just didn’t. Florida’s fairly thin in the secondary, and the STAR is a naturally difficult role to plug somebody into, so there aren’t exactly an abundance of options to replace him with there now. In nickel or dime packages where he’ll have help and a reduced set of responsibilities, maybe he can put together some strong film and work his way back. And I hope he does. He’s a great kid. But in a defense full of weak links, Wilson was picked on repeatedly and couldn’t answer the bell, meaning it’s got to be time to give somebody else a shot back there.
Florida might have the best and most clutch kicker in America
Evan McPherson was only called on one time, but what a roller coaster that one time was. Down three with ten minutes to go in the game, McPherson trotted on to attempt a game tying 43 yard field goal. That quickly became a 48 yarder after a delay of game penalty, and then it got pushed back five yards more thanks to a false start. Having watched the goal posts move ten yards further away, McPherson then had to stand around and think about it for a few minutes as Texas A&M called a timeout. And after all that, McPherson stepped on and calmly drilled the 53 yard field goal, displaying the same picture perfect mechanics that he has throughout his time in Gainesville after what had to be a very frustrating few minutes. Kudos to him for that. And that bodes very well for Florida in tense games later on down the road.
Florida’s path to a national championship remains every bit as intact as it was before today, but now they have zero margin for error. I could be the bad guy here and go off about how this defense needs to improve at a greater clip than it feels capable of improving in less time than is humanly possible. But I’m going to eschew that for another week and merely point out that this was a lone cross-Division loss, meaning that if Florida wins out, it will be 9-1 in the SEC, with all the head to head tiebreakers. I will mention, though, that the way this defense played today is not only not conducive to winning a national championship, it’s not even conducive to making it to the Citrus Bowl. If the Gators respond to the wake up call well, shake up the defensive personnel and game plan and get better on that side of the ball, this loss was worth it. If not? More losses are coming, probably soon and possibly in bunches. For better or worse, this team’s fate is in its own hands.