Florida’s defense is on pace to be the program’s worst since World War II

Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen spent extra time with the defensive staff Saturday. If he didn’t figure out the problems, LSU may light UF up this weekend.
The Florida Gators' defense struggled (again) against Texas A&M on Saturday.
The Florida Gators' defense struggled (again) against Texas A&M on Saturday. [ SAM CRAFT | AP ]
Published Oct. 12, 2020|Updated Oct. 13, 2020

Florida coach Dan Mullen was in no mood Monday to discuss the controversy he created over the weekend by calling for a full 88,000 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for Saturday’s game against defending national champion LSU.

UF has shown no indication it intends to lift capacity beyond 17,000 during the coronavirus pandemic, and Mullen said he hasn’t discussed the issue with his administrators.

“I haven’t talked to people because I’ve been really focused on trying to beat LSU,” Mullen said during his weekly news conference.

Related: Gators' Dan Mullen deflects questions about filling the Swamp during coronavirus pandemic

With the way his defense is playing, that’s a big enough challenge on its own.

Through three games in this abbreviated season, the No. 10 Gators are fielding their worst defense since at least World War II — by a lot.

UF is giving up 33.3 points per game. That’s four points per game more than any other year since 1917.

Even Will Muschamp's Gamecocks had some offensive success against Florida.
Even Will Muschamp's Gamecocks had some offensive success against Florida. [ BRAD MCCLENNY | AP ]

Opponents are averaging 6.3 yards per play against UF. That’s more than half a yard worse than any other season since 1946, which is as far back as UF’s detailed media guide statistics go.

Opposing quarterbacks are completing 66.4 percent of their passes. That’s more than six full percentage points better than any other year dating back to World War II.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, UF’s defense is allowing a mere 164 rushing yards per game. That’d only be the Gators' worst figure since the Reagan administration.

Mullen credited some of UF’s defensive issues at Texas A&M to the Aggies' offensive execution, especially the performance of veteran quarterback Kellen Mond.

Related: This is who the Florida Gators are: A great offense with a defense that keeps failing them.

But Mullen was especially displeased with a run defense that wasn’t physical enough. The Aggies rushed for 4.1 yards per carry in the first half and 5.9 in the second. Isaiah Spiller racked up 133 of his yards in the final two quarters, including 58 on a game-changing touchdown drive in the third.

Texas A&M's Isaiah Spiller ran through the Gators' defense in the second half.
Texas A&M's Isaiah Spiller ran through the Gators' defense in the second half. [ SAM CRAFT | AP ]

It should be no surprise, then, that Mullen spent more time than usual on Sunday with his defensive staff trying to pinpoint every problem.

“We went through each guy,” Mullen said. “We went through, are we asking guys to do things they can do well? Where are we being mismatched? Where is, right at this moment, where is their strength? Where is their weakness? And are we highlighting their strengths and protecting their weaknesses?”

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Mullen and his staff better hope they have found the answers. LSU put up 41 points in each of its past two games.

State college quick hits

• Florida State legend Bobby Bowden told the Tallahassee Democrat that he feels better and is strong enough to walk around his hospital room as he recovers from COVID-19. As of Monday morning, the 90-year-old had not yet been released.

• FSU quarterback Jordan Travis was limited Sunday after suffering an apparent hand injury in the loss at Notre Dame. Coach Mike Norvell said FSU’s expected starter is still “moving in a positive direction, and we’ll see how the week plays out.”

• The Seminoles are making no changes to their COVID-19 protocols for Saturday’s home game against No. 5 North Carolina, even as the state continues to reopen. Capacity is limited to about 20 percent, masks must still be worn, and tailgating remains prohibited.

• TV and kickoff information for some of the Oct. 24 games were announced Monday. UF’s home game against Missouri will start at either 7 or 7:30. FSU’s game at Louisville will have a noon kickoff on a regional sports network, and Miami will host Virginia at 8 p.m. on the ACC Network.