Florida is stuck in the mud, and Dan Mullen is doubling down

It is tempting to see Florida's defeat to Georgia as a result of the two minutes in Jacksonville before halftime. James Cook ran 11 yards for the touchdown and Kearis Jackson caught Stetson Bennett's 36-yard touchdown pass. Nakobe and Nakobe both ran 50 yards, respectively, to complete a pick-6.
A hard-fought 3-0 win turned into a 24-0 defeat and then a 34-7 loss. This was just five months after Dan Mullen received a three year extension to his contract and a salary increase to $7.6million per annum. He is now the fifth-highest-paid college football coach.

Taking that literally, Mullen isn't facing questions about the program's trajectory. The loss is not the problem. Georgia is ranked No. 1. Because of this, Florida was a 14 point underdog.

If you look at the past two months and the year in detail, it becomes clear why so many people are upset about the Gators.

This team was confident a year ago after beating Georgia by two touchdowns. They also had a Heisman Trophy finalist as quarterback. This feels like a dream. The Gators did not only miss the playoffs, but they also lost their last three games and had to say good-bye to their quarterback and first-round picks at tight end and receiver.

They are currently 4-7 in their last 11 games (4-4 this year), and their offense is now average while the defense continues its slide. It all can be attributed to Mullen's choices: he stayed too close to his backup quarterback for too long, and he refused the opportunity to move on from his struggling defensive coach.

After Saturday's loss, Mullen admitted that "looking at us right now, we are not where we want be."

To describe the season, he used a metaphor: a long game of tug-of war. He said that the rope is slipping right now.

He said, "Dropping the cord doesn't fix anything." "Grasping the rope and holding onto it does. As does squeezing as it burns. And here's something: I won't let you drop the rope. I won't let you even take it from my hands. You can drag it around with my face, but I will squeeze it and not let go. I won't let a single inch of this rope go and I know that our players will not either."

Mullen is having trouble since the loss of Kyle Trask, and other key players in the NFL draft. Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire

Mullen is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football. Alabama coach Nick Saban described Mullen's ability to adapt and work with different personnel from year to year as "what makes him an outstanding offensive coach." Mullen was able to develop each of the three quarterbacks, Alex Smith, Dak Prescott, and Kyle Trask, into NFL draft picks.

These three QBs were all prospects who had been lightly recruited coming out of high schools. They represent another theme in Mullen's career: the ability to do more with less. He took over a Mississippi State football program that had been 32-65 the previous eight seasons. He led the team to eight consecutive bowl games, despite the fact that the recruiting classes were consistently ranked in the bottom half of SEC.

He would attract the occasional blue-chip prospect like Jeffery Simmons or Chris Jones but Mullen excelled at finding overlooked players such as Benardrick McKinney, two-star linebacker, and Preston Smith, three-star defensive lineman, and making them pros.

This was a necessary skill for a traditional middle-of the-pack program such as Mississippi State. But once he reached a historic powerhouse like Florida, it became a backhanded compliment. It begged the question: Why bother having less talent?

Mullen and Florida ranked in the top 10 for three consecutive years, from 2019 to 2021. However, a closer inspection reveals that the Gators were consistently behind their top competitors in the SEC, which included Alabama, Georgia and LSU. They also trailed Auburn in 2020.

The signing class for this year was expected to be bolstered by the commitments made by Demarkcus and Arik Gilbert, both transfers from LSU. Gilbert, a star tight end, was not able to make it to campus. He signed with Georgia instead. Bowman is now buried behind Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce, who have only 12 carries for 74 yards.

Worse, Florida's 2022 class ranking is currently 23rd.

Mullen's approach to recruiting is not as innovative as Smart and Saban, who are both known for their obsession with recruiting. After Saturday's game, it was displayed.

Mullen answered the question "I don’t know" when asked if his staff was recruiting well enough. We just finished the game."

Smart also said to reporters that "If you don’t recruit, then there is no chance." He added, "Always be recruitment because, if not, someone else will be."

These three touchdowns at halftime also figure here. Cook, Jackson, and Dean were all high-five players in their respective positions when they graduated from high school. All three received offers from Florida. All of them went to Georgia instead.

Mullen remained loyal to Emory Jones for several weeks, even though it became obvious that a change was needed. USA Today Sports

While Mullen's record at Florida is a respectable 33-13, his performance in big games such as Saturday's has been disappointing. He's ranked 5-8 against teams ranked in AP poll.

Some places would give him a pass for having a down year after playing in the SEC championship games the year before. He lost Trask, one of the most talented quarterbacks in program history, and Kyle Pitts, perhaps the greatest tight end to ever play in SEC. Kadarius Toney, a first-round talent as a receiver, was also lost.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida has been playing the toughest schedule in college football. Two of the losses were to No. Two of its losses have been to teams ranked No.

Ask Clemson for information about rebuilding seasons. Or Alabama. Or Georgia. Or Ohio State.

Reloading is not possible at the highest level of college football. Florida's 4-4 record is a good example. Skeptics will be quick to point out that Trask and Pitts were all relics from the former coaching staff.

Jim McElwain can tell you how quickly the narratives can change. He recruited these three players, and Florida reached the SEC championships in 2015-2016. He went 3-4 in 2017 before being fired mid-season.

Mullen may be preaching positivity but he is having trouble avoiding questions about his decisions as a quarterback and defensive coordinator.

He chose to keep Emory Jones as his quarterback for weeks, laughing off any questions about whether he would be the starter. Even though Emory Jones was a career backup, he threw nine interceptions, and never passed for more that 250 yards in one game. He finally decided to move on to Anthony Richardson. The freshman looked like a young Cam Newton, with eight touchdowns in limited play. However, he didn't seem ready to make the switch. He also threw two interceptions against Georgia.

While the season is still in its final stages, Todd Grantham, the defensive coordinator, continues to be criticized for his performance. Grantham, who has been the target of fans' ire over years, nicknamed "Third and Grantham", for failing to make stops on third down. He is also one of college football's highest-paid assistants, making more than $1.5million per year. His defense is 24th in the nation for points per game, since 2018. They are pedestrian in tackling and rank seventh in the SEC for tackle percentage. They struggle to get off field even on third and long, with only 24% conversions allowed on third-and-8. This is 11th in the conference.

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Mullen was asked about possible changes to the coaching staff after the defense was hammered for 321 yards rushing in a loss at LSU.

He said, "I'm certain we have a lot of contracts up at one point and that's an option that we look into after the season when we feel it's more appropriate."

With the momentum clearly going in the wrong direction and at 4-4, it may be that the time has come. Florida has an opportunity for a reset with remaining games against unranked South Carolina and Samford, Missouri, as well as Florida State.

Mullen uses the metaphor that he is clearly losing the tug-of-war game.

Instead of trying to squeeze harder and being dragged through more mud, maybe it's time for a change of pace, regain some season, and start setting things up for next year.

His approach seems to not be changing. Mullen was again asked about recruitment at Monday's news conference.

He said, frustrated by the endless line of questions, "We're currently in the season right at the moment." "We'll do recruitment after the season."