Florida vs. Missouri score, takeaways: Dan Mullen coaches himself out of a job as Gators lose in OT

By Adam Silverstein
November 20, 2021
Florida vs. Missouri score, takeaways: Dan Mullen coaches himself out of a job as Gators lose in OT
Football

Image Credit: Leslie White / UAA

One of the worst in-game coaching jobs in Florida Gators football history should lead to the firing of head coach Dan Mullen. The only question is when the hammer falls and whether athletic director Scott Stricklin will be the one wielding it.

Florida fell to the Missouri Tigers on Saturday in a game the Gators had multiple chances to win only for Mullen to make the exact wrong decision nearly every time. The result was a 24-23 defeat as Mizzou took advantage the opportunity Mullen provided by choosing to play for overtime. The Tigers scored a two-point conversion in the opening period for the upset (by point spread) victory.

The loss was Florida’s fourth straight to an FBS team as it fell to 2-9 against Power Five opponents dating back to the 2020 LSU defeat. The Gators at 5-6 (2-6 SEC) won their fewest SEC games since 1986 (2-4) and now have their worst winning percentage in conference play since 1979 (0-6). UF has also lost seven straight one-possession games, including four this season, and has six losses to unranked opponents in four years under Mullen. It is also 0-5 away from home in SEC play this season.

A source with knowledge of the situation told OnlyGators.com after the Samford win that a decision had not been made on Mullen, who would be allowed to coach the final two games of the season. Mullen said in his post-game press conference that he and Stricklin met last week about which assistants could be brought in next season.

However, Florida now faces the potential of failing to become bowl eligible just one year after advancing to its third straight New Year’s Six game under Mullen. With recruiting having fallen off a cliff and the Gators being a national joke in headlines for six straight weeks, the administration has a tough decision to make.

Let’s take a look at what went so wrong for Florida not only at Mizzou but throughout this 2021 season.

1. When you play not to lose, you lose: At least Mullen does. In what was an almost carbon copy of this season’s Kentucky game, Mullen coached so conservatively that it was not only shocking but appalling. There were at least a handful of occasions when Mullen’s purposeful lack of aggressiveness hurt the Gators. In one game, Mullen punted on fourth-and-inches, kicked a field goal on fourth-and-2 and failed to use his bowling ball of a running back in senior Dameon Pierce on first-and-goal from the 2 (drive ended in a field goal).

That all sounds bad, but the worst decision came last when Mullen — 35 yards from a potential field goal attempt with 1:04 left, a timeout in his pocket and decidedly better athletes on the field — chose to play for overtime. Not only was Florida on the road, it struggled in the red zone (and offensively in general) all day and entered the game with one of the least effective field-goal kicking offenses in the country. Even despite that, redshirt senior kicker Chris Howard was likely feeling confident after hitting all three of his boots Saturday. Mizzou, on the other hand, was gashing UF on the ground in the second half and features one of the best kickers in the nation.

So, after the Gators scored a touchdown on Mullen’s best-called series of the evening, the Tigers immediately found the end zone in just two plays, outside rushes of 12 and 13 yards. Then, because Mullen gave Mizzou the opportunity by preferring overtime, it succeeded on a blown-coverage two-point conversion to win the game.

All of this is not to mention Mullen’s horrific playcalling in the game. Outside of the overtime drive, which kept the Tigers off balance and featured a Philly Special touchdown from redshirt sophomore wide receiver Trent Whittemore to redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones, Mullen relied on quarterback runs, screens and plays behind the line of scrimmage all night. This despite Mizzou entering with the 117th ranked scoring defense in the nation (out of 130 teams).

Basically nothing Mullen did Saturday night made sense. It is a trend that Florida has experienced all season, and it’s one that is not only unchanging but somehow getting worse as the year progresses. If that’s not proof that Mullen is checked out, it speaks to a massive strategic disadvantage the Gators have entering any game when the whole point of Mullen being the program’s coach is to have strategic and schematic advantages.

2. It’s on the players, too: As much as Mullen’s coaching deserves scorn, Florida seemed to commit at least one costly error on every drive in the game. Jones fumbled (but recovered the ball) on the first offensive drive of the game, turning a touchdown opportunity into a field goal. On the next drive, redshirt freshman Jeremy Crawshaw shanked a punt 12 yards, gifting Mizzou a free field goal. (Crawshaw was nearly perfect from that point forward.) Redshirt junior WR Jacob Copeland dropped a ball stalling another positive drive, and the Gators committed a false start on a fourth down they were prepared to attempt. That’s just the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Florida was immensely lucky a punt that bounced off a player’s helmet jumped forward 10 yards and rolled out of bounds. However, the Gators lost yards on first-and-goal at the 2 and then committed a false start on third-and-goal, again settling for a field goal. The defense then allowed a long kickoff return and 26-yard completion for a Tigers field goal. It ended the half by jumping offsides on a Mizzou fourth-and-1, allowing a 50-yard bomb on the next play and committing an illegal hands to the face penalty to gift wrap another field goal and a halftime lead.

Second-half miscues included a late hit that ruined great field position on a punt, a holding that hurt another punt, a busted coverage for a 41-yard touchdown on which Florida was offsides, Jones taking an 11-yard loss on first down inside the Florida 20 and a defensive pass interference on Mizzou’s final series that gave it a field goal opportunity it failed to convert.

The Gators committed nine penalties for 80 yards in the game, but it was the undisciplined nature of the mistakes in key situations that was particularly costly. Another trend throughout the entire season.

3. The defense did step up: Florida lost a game in which its defense allowed Mizzou to convert just 3 of 15 third downs and pass for 165 yards. The Gators showed five times as much energy as they did in the prior two games, achieved in pursuit, won one-on-one battles and forced a ton of negative-yardage plays. Florida had four sacks and 10 tackles for loss, but it could not manage a turnover it badly needed. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Zachary Carter was in the offensive backfield all game with 1.5 sacks, and redshirt sophomore linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper had 11 solo tackles on 12 total with two for lost yardage. Even with the aforementioned mistakes, the defense played more than well enough to win the game.

The offense, however, was an absolute mess. Jones was admonished by Mullen at halftime for missing numerous reads in the first half. He did finish 20 of 32 for 261 yards with a team-high 45 yards rushing in large part because Mullen called so many plays for him. Jones toted the rock 17 times compared to 21 for the three running backs. Pierce was hardly used in the game despite clearly being the Gators’ best ball carrier all season. Copeland had 102 yards, but they came on eight catches, almost all of which were short throws he took for gains. There was just no substantial effort by Mullen to move the ball down field, and by the time he decided to try in the second half, the offensive line was exhausted.

4. Odds and ends: Mullen said in his post-game press conference that redshirt freshman QB Anthony Richardson got banged up in practice … Mizzou head coach Elijah Drinkwitz trolled Mullen after the game by wielding a light saber in a “Star Wars” reference to Mullen’s Darth Vader costume on Halloween

Mizzou is now 6-5 all-time against Florida, but the teams are 5-5 in the series since the Tigers joined the SEC … the Gators ticked down in multiple categories of strength, falling to 24-6 when scoring first, 30-3 when leading after the third quarter and 26-7 against unranked opponents … Florida is now 7-12 when being outrushed and 6-8 in games decided by 10 points or less … after scoring 24+ points in 32 of 35 games under Mullen, the Gators have failed to eclipse that total in three of their last four … UF has scored in 421 consecutive games, an NCAA record

5. What it means / what’s next? Florida has bowl eligibility and a losing season on the line next week against Florida State, which has an identical 5-6 record and is facing the same potential outcomes. Whereas the Gators have lost four straight and five of six games against FBS opponents, the Seminoles are headed in the opposite direction. FSU has won consecutive games and five of their last seven after starting the season 0-4. Not only may UF miss a bowl game for the first time since 2017, it could suffer that fate at the hands of its fiercest in-state rival. The Gators have won two straight over the ‘Noles by a combined 81-31, but FSU won the prior five games in the series.

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