Embattled Florida coach Dan Mullen doesn’t feel as if he’s coaching for his job when his Gators travel to Missouri.
“To me, this week’s no different than last week or the week before or five years before or 10 years ago…” Mullen said. “You’re always expected to perform in this league.”
But after failing to meet expectations through a 5-5 start, it’s possible — if not probable — Mullen’s job hinges on how his team handles Missouri and Florida State. With that in mind, here are four things Mullen can show Saturday.
1. His defense is improving
This one is obvious. The Gators have allowed their last four opponents to score at least 34 points. It’s the first time that has happened in the 115 seasons of UF football.
Firing coordinator Todd Grantham did not pay off immediately. The 42 points lowly Samford scored last week were the most UF has ever allowed in a first half.
The Gators are giving up 4.4 yards per carry — the program’s second-worst average since 1972, ahead of only last season. That could be trouble against Missouri and running back Tyler Badie, who has four 200-yard rushing games.
If the Gators haven’t fixed their defense, Badie and the Tigers will light up UF. But if UF plays better, it will provide some hope that a Grantham-free defense would look better under Mullen in 2022.
2. His quarterback development remains elite
Mullen’s ability to groom quarterbacks was a major selling point when he got the job. But this season has been mixed.
His first UF quarterback signee, Emory Jones, ranks 25th nationally in total offense (276.7 yards per game) and broke the school’s single-game record last week. His completion percentage (68.5) is in the top 20, too. But he has also thrown 10 interceptions (second-worst in the SEC).
Anthony Richardson has shown flashes of brilliance but hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Add in his five interceptions, and only Hawaii has thrown more picks this year than UF (15).
If Mullen gets credit when his quarterbacks play well, he deserves blame when things get bumpy. Strong performances by Jones, Richardson or both would be a positive sign for Mullen and UF’s future.
3. His players are becoming more confident
This is what Mullen said he wanted to see most as he looks toward the program’s future.
After the Georgia loss, Mullen talked about needing players to step up and make big plays to keep problems from snowballing. Part of that comes from confidence. As younger players see more playing time and opportunities, Mullen hopes to see them make more routine plays — completing tackles or coming up with contested catches.
“It gives you confidence of an expectation to make more and more plays,” Mullen said.
And once that expectation is there, Mullen said they can start making special plays that can change games (and seasons).
4. He doesn’t deserve another season
We’re not saying Mullen should be fired. What we mean is that this week and next present more opportunities for failure than success.
If the Gators finished their SEC slate against 7-3 Kentucky or the ranked Razorbacks, Mullen would have a chance to earn a statement win that shows he’s turning the program around.
Instead, UF closes against 5-5 Missouri and 4-6 Florida State. Even if the Gators win both, will beating two mediocre teams win over any power brokers who are on the fence about his future?
Now consider the opposite scenario. If UF loses to the Tigers, Seminoles or both, that could be the final piece of evidence that convinces the Gators it’s time to move on.
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