Pat Dooley gives his first-half grades for Florida football

·8 min read

This was not what Florida football fans expected in 2021, even if the media did. All you heard in the summer was that Florida would take a step back this season, paving the way for an easy path for Georgia.

And now that it’s happened, everyone seems shocked.

Too much was put into the near-miss against Alabama as the measuring stick for how good this team is. In front of an amazing crowd, the Gators were this close to beating No. 1.

But they did not.

And what has happened since has a good chunk of the Gator Nation calling for mass firings and accountability. Dan Mullen’s reply to all of this has been, “We’ll evaluate everything. It’s a long season.”

Yeah, but it’s getting shorter every day. There are four games remaining after Georgia, Florida’s second game against a No. 1 team this season, and they are all games where the Gators are going to be huge favorites.

South Carolina and Missouri are a combined 1-6 in the SEC. FCS team Samford is 3-3 with a loss to Mercer already on its record. FSU is 2-4.

Which likely means an 8-4 record, a decent bowl game but certainly ending the streak of New Year’s Six bowl games under Mullen. Then again, Georgia’s bus could take a right on I-10 and the Gators might get a forfeit.

That’s a joke, of course. Like a lot of this season has been a joke. Seriously, Florida’s biggest win this year was a two-point loss.

So, let’s look at why they are here at 4-3 and 2-3 in the SEC by grading the rooms through seven games:

Quarterbacks: C

Doug Engle/GainesvilleSun

This is a strange room. There appears to be no friction between the two quarterbacks who play, but there is a lot from the fans who insist they know who should be playing.

Anthony Richardson led four straight scoring drives to bring the Gators back at LSU, but he also threw two terrible interceptions. Of course, he has a long way to go to catch Emory Jones and his nine picks.

Florida ranks last – 130th in the country – in interceptions thrown. And the Gators are not really a passing team.

Jones had done a good job on quarterback runs and still leads the team in rushing. Richardson is second. The two quarterbacks are averaging 7.5 yards a carry, so, that’s not the problem.

The problem is that Jones is a pretty mediocre quarterback and Richardson is extremely talented, but a loose cannon. There’s no doubt that Mullen needs to quit being stubborn since the Gators are not going anywhere special this season and go with Richardson the rest of the way to find out what he really can do as a starter.

Running Backs: A-

Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun

Everybody was raving about this room before the season, and it has been very good. It’s a bit of a surprise that the two five-stars have 22 mop-up carries between them, but nobody is complaining.

The three-man rotation of Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce and Nay’Quan Wright has done a great job. It’s a mystery how Pierce could only get one first-half carry at LSU, but together the threesome is averaging 5.4 yards a carry.

They have also been solid catching balls out of the backfield with Pierce leading the way with 14 for 164. Pierce has 10 touchdowns for the season and runs like a whirling dervish every time he gets the ball.

If those three backs were one back, that dude would be 10th in the nation in rushing. It is clearly not the problem.

Receivers: C-

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida has been dynamic under Mullen at this position and Billy Gonzales is an excellent coach. But this year just hasn’t been the dynamic passing game we have seen the last two years. I know, Kyle Trask isn’t walking through that door.

But part of the problem – and this is what Mullen told the ESPN guys before last week’s game – is that Florida doesn’t have much speed at wideout. You have to love Justin Shorter for everything he does with that big body, but he’s not getting behind defenses. Jacob Copeland was supposed to be a star and he leads the team in catches and is averaging 18.4 yards a catch. But he goes invisible in the first half of games.

Xzavier Henderson has been OK. Ditto the injured Trent Whittemore. And that’s pretty much the list. It’s almost like Urban Meyer’s first team, that at times would go five wide without five SEC receivers.

Getting more speed is a must in recruiting and it appears the gators are on the right track with the current commits. But they can’t help this team.

Tight Ends: C

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Not a lot of targets for a room that was supposed to be pretty strong even without Kyle Pitts. He was a unicorn, and you weren’t going to replace him, but we saw signs of greatness in Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer a year ago.

It’s not their fault that the two have one combined TD. The tight end either isn’t a big part of the game plan each week or the quarterbacks are not looking for them.

Offensive Line: B+

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The good news is that the Florida offensive line is up for the Joe Moore Award, which goes to the best offensive line in the country.

The bad news is that the false start penalties against Kentucky and the inability to run the ball at LSU contributed heavily to the losses.

Florida ranks fifth in the country in rushing yards and the offense has been skewed that way. There have been injuries, but what offensive line does not have injuries during a rugged SEC season?

The line has been very good, but not great.

Defensive Line: B-

Doug Engle/Ocala Star Banner

Because of poor recruiting – and there is no other way to put it – Florida had to rely heavily on the transfer portal for the interior of its defensive line. And it has done a decent job.

But the 287 rushing yards allowed to Tryion Davis-Price falls at least partially on a group that couldn’t get off blocks.

Not to mention defensive ends who seem to only be worried about the sacks they can get.

Brenton Cox hasn’t played enough games to be considered a bust of a five-star. He does seem to be hobbling a lot and nobody wants to be too hard on a college football player.

Let’s leave it at this – a unit that was supposed to dominate seems to pick and choose when it wants to be.

And that’s not good.

Linebackers: C-

Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun

Everyone loved Florida’s front seven going into the season. But then Ventrell Miller went down in the second game of the season.

And what Florida has now is a bunch of undersized guys trying to play the position. That goes back to recruiting and while Mullen has expressed privately that his defense was doing it with smoke and mirrors, that falls back on the lack of recruiting.

There are times when the linebackers look good because they have more speed than Florida had with Miller or even going back to David Reese. But LSU took advantage of it to the max.

There has been an amazing lack of big plays from the linebacker group – three sacks, zero forced fumbles and zero interceptions (sorry, I don’t consider Cox to be a linebacker).

Secondary: B-

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not as bad as last season. Florida ranks 29th in the country in yards allowed, but a lot of that has to do with the opposition. The Gators have only four interceptions. Only two SEC teams – Ole Miss and Kentucky – have fewer.

But the secondary is more than just covering receivers. The tackling has – at times – been abysmal and certainly guys were out of position last week.

Not having Kaiir Elam for a good chunk of the season hasn’t helped and Florida hoped to get help in the transfer portal that has not panned out (like Elijah Blades going back into the portal).

This was a concern before the season started and it still is.

Special Teams: C-

Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun

Florida has lost three games and in each one there was at least one special teams’ gaffe.

On the other hand, the Gators rarely make anything happen on special teams.

Where have you gone Urban Meyer?

Overall: C-

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

This wasn’t supposed to be a great team, but it was supposed to be better than it is. Mullen has not won over any Gator fans and it’s pretty obvious that Todd Grantham’s defense isn’t sure about him.

This is a good team that has lost three games by 16 total points. It’s how the Gators lost these games that has fans up in arms. Because each time, it was different.

It feels like a lost season and I’m not sure what Mullen can do to turn it around other than starting Richardson and hoping he can handle the full load. It does feel like Florida football is at a crossroads. Is it going to be Mississippi State under Mullen or can he make the necessary changes to get the Gators pointed back towards elite status?

That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.

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