Notebook: No changes to defensive staff, Mullen noncommittal on QBs, more tidbits

Despite being gashed for 321 rushing yards and 7.1 yards per rush by an LSU offense that ranked near the bottom of the country in rushing at the time, Florida coach Dan Mullen is maintaining the status quo on defense. He hasn’t fired or demoted defensive coordinator Todd Grantham nor is he willing to discuss what he’s going to do when Grantham’s contract expires after the season.

“I haven’t looked at all of our coaches’ contracts,” Mullen said on Wednesday. “I’m sure we have a bunch of contracts [that] are up at some point, and that’s something that we look at after the season when it’s kind of more appropriate to do those things.”

LSU appeared to run the same two or three plays over and over in the second half, and the defense never made the appropriate adjustments. That prompted an avalanche of frustration, anger and disappointment toward Grantham from fans on social media and message boards that figures to continue for quite some time.

Even linebacker Mohamoud Diabate seemed to take a subtle shot at Grantham in his postgame comments.

“We made the adjustments we were given to make,” Diabate said.

“I don’t look into those things. I’m like a soldier. When the general tells me where to shoot, I shoot. I don’t really ask too many questions. That’s y’all’s job.”

The 2020 defense was perhaps the worst unit in school history, ranking 83rd in the FBS in total defense and 74th in scoring defense. They played much better in the first six games of 2021, but they threw away all of the progress that they made by letting LSU run through them with minimal resistance.

Instead of making staff changes, Mullen is focusing on cleaning up their rush defense issues during the bye week.

“We’ve got to do a better job closing gaps down,” he said. “Leaving too much space in there. We’ve got to be able to close that off with the defensive front, make sure we’re fitting things perfectly and then make tackles. We had a bunch of missed tackles in the game as well. So, a combination of different things that we’re working on.”

Mullen declines to name starting QB against Georgia

As expected, Mullen wouldn’t divulge anything about his plans for the quarterback position against Georgia next week.

Emory Jones has started every game this season, but he was replaced by Anthony Richardson in the second half against LSU. Richardson led the Gators to four consecutive touchdown drives at one point, though he did toss a pair of interceptions as well.

There’s no way anybody could watch the film of that game and not notice that the offense operated much more efficiently with Richardson in the game. Mullen’s play-calling also seemed to be more creative and exciting for Richardson than for Jones.

Mullen was asked if Jones is still the starter. As he did after the LSU game, he didn’t say much one way or the other, which was in stark contrast to the way he adamantly proclaimed Jones as his starter earlier in the season.

“I haven’t set the script yet of what we’re going to call for the first play of the game,” he said.

“Like everything, we’ll look at everything, and we evaluate everything that we do all the time, just like at every spot on the field. Both guys have played a bunch. We’ve got experience, and we’re fortunate to have the two guys that are a pretty good combination out there on the field together.”

Mullen said that he likes the way both players have progressed throughout the season. Jones has only thrown five interceptions in the last five games after throwing four in the first two games. Richardson looks more comfortable throwing from the pocket and has fully recovered from a hamstring injury.

“I think [Richardson] continues to improve,” Mullen said. “I’ve seen improvement out of both guys throughout the course of the year, which is really something positive.”

Consistently inconsistent

Perhaps the most frustrating part about the way the Gators’ season has gone is the fact that they’ve lost three games because of three separate sets of issues. It’s not like they have one major problem, and all they have to do is fix that to become a great team again.

They played pretty good defense for three quarters against Alabama but lost because of some missed tackles on the first couple of drives, a couple of special teams blunders and a slow start offensively. They lost against Kentucky because they committed 15 penalties and lacked a vertical passing game. They didn’t commit a single penalty against LSU but lost because the run defense fell apart and the quarterbacks threw four interceptions.

“When we’re not making mistakes, we’ve been a pretty good football team this year and played well,” Mullen said. “Part of it [is] we’ve got to find a way to win these close games. We have a couple losses in one-score games that we’ve got to find a way to come out on the other end of that.”

Mullen added that it’s the coaches’ responsibility to clean up the consistency issues, and that’s a big point of emphasis for them in practice this week.

“It’s a lot of us making sure we’re putting everybody in the right position to make plays or preparing them the right way,” he said. “It’s not just one thing. It seems to be varied things in different weeks, and that’s one of the things that’s on me of making sure that we do play consistently. Haven’t been many games that I’ve been coaching where we threw four interceptions in a game, and there haven’t been many games where I’ve been coaching where there have been 15 penalties in a game.

“We’ve just got to keep paying attention to the little details and for me to make sure we’re doing everything to put the guys in position to do that and execute at the highest of levels.”

Mullen pleased with the Gators’ attitude this week

With the Gators sitting at 4-3 and expected to fall to 4-4 after playing No. 1 Georgia next week, many in Gator Nation have given up on this season. All that the Gators can accomplish at this point is making a lower-tier bowl game.

The fans seem to be counting down the days until the season is over and changes will hopefully be made to the coaching staff.

Even recruits seem to be giving up on them. Linebacker Shemar James, UF’s highest-ranked pledge, decommitted on Wednesday morning.

Within the football complex, though, Mullen has liked what he’s seen this week. He sees a team that’s eager to improve and not one that’s mailing it in.

“I think we’re heading in a good way with the attitude of the program,” Mullen said. “Our kids here on the team have a great attitude, great focus. The energy we’ve had at practice has been really good. And so, I’m pretty pleased with where the mindset of the guys on the team are right now.

“I think our guys love playing football, and, so, there’s still a lot of football to go be played this year.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been in a couple of close games that we ended up on the wrong side of. I think our guys look at that and say, ‘Hey, what we have got to focus on are the important things,’ which is ‘Are you getting better or not?’ You can go change a couple plays here and a couple plays there, and, to be honest with you, your record is better, but you’re still fixing problems, your issues, your things that you’re not doing well and how to focus on things we are doing well. That’s kind of where everybody’s been.”

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.