By Dan Mullen’s count the Florida Gators missed 20 tackles Saturday against Kentucky that gave the Wildcats an additional 168 yards of offense. Through two games the Gators have given up 525 rushing yards, an average of 262.5 per game.
Tackling was an issue against Charleston Southern in the opener so much so that players were asked about it all week leading up to the game against Kentucky. To a man they all said tackling and finishing was being emphasized. Kentucky had a power running game and a mobile quarterback. It was going to be a much bigger task than Charleston Southern. They said they were ready for it, their actions showed otherwise.
Following the game Mullen questioned how physically and mentally tough his team was. He walked back those statements on Monday, somewhat, offering clarification.
“It wasn’t a challenge on their character. I’m not calling them soft people. I said our lack of toughness was in our performance. And that gets back to practice and your mindset and all that,” Mullen said. “So I made that clear to them. I’m not saying ‘You guys aren’t tough. You’re a bunch of softies.’ I’m saying our performance wasn’t very physical and tough. And the only way you change that is by changing the habits of what you do at practice.”
That attitude was pointed mainly at how the team practices against the scout team. Each week when a team prepares for an opponent they have a scout team whose job it is to mimic what that week’s opponent will do. If you have a mobile quarterback you may have a receiver be the quarterback on scout team to allow the defense to prepare for what they face that weekend. Mullen didn’t get the same intensity he would have liked during those periods. That laissez-faire attitude permeated the team and showed itself on Saturday.
“We got our tails kicked. OK? You can’t hide that,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said Monday night.
Grantham went on to say that the coaching staff continually talks about the standard that they expect. Part of that is the standard that has been set at Florida by putting out perennially great defenses year in and year out. 2017 saw one of the worst defenses in recent memory and was thought to be an aberration.
Through two games it appears to more of their identity than a one off.
Florida allowed 303 rushing yards to Kentucky, they hadn’t allowed 300 yards on the ground since Georgia Southern rushed for 429 on 54 carries in 2013. Prior to that you’d have to go back to 2002 against Miami (Ron Zook’s second game as head coach) to find the next 300 yard rushing game against Florida. In Florida’s last nine SEC games the defense is giving up an average of 187.8 yards-per-game on the ground, including five games where an opponent rushed for 200+ yards (LSU-216, UGA-292, MIZZ-227, USC-220, UK-303).
That’s not an aberration, it’s a trend.
It’s a trend that was noted by Edgar Thompson in the Orlando Sentinel that started with Jim McElwain. McElwain was gifted an elite defense by his predecessor, Will Muschamp. The offense was deficient so McElwain and his staff loaded up on offensive played in recruiting. That tactic leaves Florida where they are today defensively.
Saturday is over but the questions remain. Florida is 1-1 with a Colorado State team coming to town fresh off an upset win over SEC for Arkansas. The Rams don’t run the ball efficiently, averaging just 86.33 yards on the ground per game. They can throw it though, which will test a Florida secondary reeling from the injury to starting cornerback Marco Wilson.
Questions remain but the season continues. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself and Mullen won’t put up with that attitude.
“Everybody in the world’s got problems,” he said. “Successful people have solutions, and our guys, we’ve got to go out on the field today and find solution and fix our problem.”