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Florida was arguably the second-best team in the SEC last season. I say arguably because after the Gators started off the season 8-1, they finished with three consecutive losses, including a 55-20 beatdown in the Cotton Bowl at the hands of Oklahoma.
Still, they did play Alabama for the SEC Championship, and many still believe they were in the conversation to be the conference’s second-best team in 2020. Every bit of that success and respect was the result of Florida’s high-powered, high-scoring offense, however, and everyone knows it.
Yes, that includes Dan Mullen, even if he’s not willing to acknowledge it.
“I don’t know about that because I think, if you look in different games, we’re a very maybe erratic defensively at different times, but there’s a lot of different things that go into that,” Mullen said Monday at SEC Media Days, via Saturday Down South. “There’s some games we played really, really well defensively. There’s games where I thought we played well, but statistically maybe weren’t great.
“And if you look in a lot of those games, if you were going to play us on the other side of the ball, you had to play a different style game, maybe, than you wanted to or expected to and take a lot of chances because we were going to try to score points and keep up with us, or we jumped out to a big lead and you were just kind of — you know, just throw caution to the wind to try to put up yards and points as fast as possible.”
For anyone who paid attention last year, there’s no question where the defense stood. It was atrocious, and with four starters gone in the secondary, there isn’t much hope that that side of the football will drastically improve in 2021.
The problem with that? The defense has to improve.
If they don’t, things could get ugly in Gainesville. And by ugly, I mean we might actually be talking about a potential upset to Florida State in Week 13. Honestly, it might not even be considered an upset by that point. That notion might sound ridiculous now, but this Gators team finished 8-4 last year despite fielding one of the best offenses in school history.
The quarterback who threw for over 7,000 yards, 68 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions in 2019-20 is now gone. So are the team’s top 3 pass-catchers from last season. Of Kyle Trask’s 43 touchdowns in 2020, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes accounted for 31 of them.
Trask, Pitts and Toney were all Day 1 or 2 picks. Offensive tackle Stone Forsythe heard his name called on Day 3. But Florida didn’t just lose players to the NFL either. Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is now the quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In other words, the losses on that side of the football are substantial.
Now, I’m not saying the cupboard is completely bare. There’s still potential with Emory Jones, especially with Mullen continuing to groom him. That stable in the backfield, which includes Dameon Pierce, Lorenzo Lingard and Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman, runs deep, and there are still some playmakers in the passing game.
But it’s not going to be what we saw in 2020. Period.
When taking that into consideration, it’s hard to imagine this team being very good if the defense continues to allow 30.8 points and almost 430 total yards per game. Over 170 of those yards came on the ground, which is unacceptable considering the front seven might need to carry the defense. This is a team that didn’t play winning football last season, but that has to change.
There can’t be excuses for the defense or defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
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Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.