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No. 1 Georgia dominates Florida Gators. Why? Recruiting.

Dan Mullen didn’t want to talk recruiting Saturday. Kirby Smart did. That explains the scoreboard.
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson throws a pass while under pressure from Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker, who's one of the Bulldogs' many former elite recruits.
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson throws a pass while under pressure from Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker, who's one of the Bulldogs' many former elite recruits. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Associated Press ]
Published Oct. 30, 2021|Updated Oct. 31, 2021

JACKSONVILLE — Florida’s massive talent gap with No. 1 Georgia was evident throughout the Gators’ awful 34-7 defeat Saturday.

The reason for that gap became obvious afterward. When Florida coach Dan Mullen was asked whether his program is recruiting well enough, he didn’t have much to say.

“I don’t know,” Mullen said. “We just finished the game.”

Around the same time in a separate Zoom news conference, Georgia coach Kirby Smart restated his philosophy.

“If you don’t recruit,” Smart said, “then you don’t have a chance.”

The Gators (4-4, 2-4 SEC) didn’t have a chance at TIAA Bank Field because the Bulldogs (8-0, 6-0) have been recruiting like the College Football Playoff contenders they are while Florida has been recruiting like the middle-of-the-SEC program it has become.

Look no further than the cataclysmic two-minute stretch at the end of the first half that turned a 3-0 battle into a 24-0 blowout.

Related: Let’s talk about Dan Mullen’s long-term future at Florida

As UF quarterback Anthony Richardson fought for more yardage on a rush up the middle with a little more than two minutes left, Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith flew in, ripped the ball out and recovered the fumble at Florida’s 11-yard line.

Smith was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2019 class out of Bradenton’s IMG Academy. He signed with Smart’s Bulldogs over Mullen’s Gators.

The next play was an 11-yard rushing touchdown by James Cook. Cook is a Miami native and former top-50 national recruit. He also chose Georgia over Florida.

Two plays later, Richardson was pressured off a blitz by five-star linebacker Nakobe Dean. Richardson’s throw was deflected by five-star defensive lineman Travon Walker and tipped to Smith. Dean and Walker also signed with Georgia over Florida.

Nolan Smith was responsible for two turnovers Saturday against Florida.
Nolan Smith was responsible for two turnovers Saturday against Florida. [ TNS ]

The Bulldogs scored on the next play with a beautiful sliding touchdown catch from Kearis Jackson. Jackson was the No. 130 overall recruit in 2018. He also had an offer from Florida.

The game was effectively over seven plays later on a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by Dean.

See the pattern? And it keeps going.

Jalen Carter, a five-star defensive lineman from Apopka, tore through UF’s line. Cornerback Kelee Ringo, the No. 4 overall recruit in 2020, soared to bat down a third-down pass in the red zone. Five-star running back Zamir White ripped off a 42-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes left in the game.

Jalen Carter, a former five-star recruit from Apopka, was disruptive Saturday against the Gators.
Jalen Carter, a former five-star recruit from Apopka, was disruptive Saturday against the Gators. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Associated Press ]

All of them signed with Smart’s Bulldogs over Mullen’s Gators.

Mullen inherited a talent gap from fired Jim McElwain when he was hired in November 2017, but he has had enough time to fix it. He hasn’t. Georgia has signed five consecutive top-four recruiting classes. UF hasn’t signed one since 2013.

If Mullen sees a discrepancy, he didn’t say so Saturday night.

“Well, we were better last year, and they were better this year,” Mullen said. “What do you think?”

I think Mullen had a good reason to dismiss the question. He didn’t want to sound as if he were bad-mouthing his players.

But I also think he answered a similar question very differently two years ago after a loss to Georgia. When he was asked about the gap between the programs then, he cited the scoreboard.

“We’re seven points behind Georgia,” Mullen said after that 24-17 defeat.

In that case, Mullen’s Gators are now 27 points behind Georgia. That’s the third-largest deficit UF has had in the last 50 years of this series.

If Mullen is going to close that deficit and get the program to Georgia’s level — or even back to where the Gators were two years ago — he’ll have to do so through recruiting.

Related: Florida coach Dan Mullen’s job isn’t at stake Saturday. His approach should be.

“We have to continue to recruit harder, we have to continue to get better, we have to continue to get great players,” Mullen said. “I think our guys recruit hard. We have to find guys that fit the Gator standard and are excited to come play with the Gators.”

With a month and a half until the early signing period, UF’s class sits 22nd nationally and ninth in the SEC (11th if you include future members Texas and Oklahoma). It’s discouraging for the Gators, but there’s still time for them to change it.

Until they do, the results aren’t going to change, either.

Gator bits

• Richardson left the game with an injury in the second half and did not return. Mullen did not have an update on his condition.

• UF has lost seven of its past nine games against Power Five opponents.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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