Hey everybody, we need to be talking about the Florida Gator 2021 football season. I think what allows them to be a top contender this season is the chance they made four seasons ago by hiring Coach Dan Mullen. He had been an offensive coordinator at Florida under Coach Urban Meyer and then left to become head coach at Ole Miss.
He was in the process of shocking some people and turning around the Ole Miss program when Florida came calling. People knew that Florida had fallen on hard times. Many sportswriters and some fans thought that it was going to take him a while to get them back to their normal upper echelon status in the SEC.
However, Coach Dan Mullen did not believe that and in three years with the Florida Gators has totally turned them around. Last season, the Gators beat Georgia, won the SEC East, and challenged Alabama for the conference title. I think Coach Dan Mullen has made significant progress. Except for…
Coach Dan Mullen got Florida put on probation for recruiting violations for the first time in decades. Not to mention the halftime brawl against Missouri and criticizing the NCAA for canceling practice for Election Day. And that’s just the things he did. Not what the team did.
A season-ending three-game losing streak, the departure of several offensive stars, and a 2021 recruiting class ranked outside the top 10 (which is unbelievable for The Gators) are cause for concern this season. Some fans are still looking through orange-filled glasses while others see a Ron Zook-type season. Both are wrong.
Let’s start breaking down some key positions that Florida has and some that they have to get better at before they can contend. Obviously, we want to start with the quarterback, which is going to be the redshirt junior QB, Emory Jones. He was Coach Mullen’s main piece of his first recruiting class.
Jones can’t match last year’s QB Kyle Trask passing yardage. Jones is the dual-threat QB that Coach Mullen has been waiting for. He has changed up the offense to take advantage of his skills.
Now let’s look at the backfield which was an issue for Florida last season. The question is…is it going to be better this year for the running backs and offensive line? Florida has only averaged a combined 130.5 yards per game rushing the past two seasons. Coach Mullen is seriously looking to improve this big time. He wants a more balanced attack this year. Look for a rotation of Dameon Pierce, Nay’Quan Wright, and Malik Davis — and, if eligible, Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman.
Dameon Pierce is going to be a strong part of the running game coming back. He had 503 yards and four touchdowns. Malik Davis had 310 yards and zero touchdowns. Nay’Quan Wright had 213 yards and two touchdowns. While if Demarkcus Brown gets eligible, then all bets are off. He is an unbelievable talent.
If there’s anything the Gators are known for in the NFL, it is their wide receivers and tight ends in recent years. The next batch has to start with Jacob Copeland (435 yards with three touchdowns), the big match-up problem Justin Shorter (268 yards with three touchdowns), and Xzavier Henderson (148 yards with one touchdown.) I look for Trent Whittemore (128 yards with one touchdown) to be QB Emory Jones’s security blanket over the middle.
I think that it’s all going to come back to the offensive line again this season. The whole season will come down to how these guys do. Can they hold protection and open holes? They have to be able to run the ball against the different defenses that they are going to face in the SEC. I think we all agree the SEC has the best defenses in the country.
The problem is the offensive line does have three starters returning, however, they are not deep. The Gators are set with center Stewart Reese, left guard Ethan White, and left tackle Richard Gouraige. Offensive line contributions elsewhere are critical. Their depth killed them last season. The offensive line just couldn’t compete with Alabama’s defense.
When you go in to talk about Florida’s defense, I think you have to start with their defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham. He has been a college coach and NFL coach. He loves running the 3-4 scheme where he can create mismatches and bring pressure from different areas to make sure that the offense is always kept guessing.
The problem is The Gator Nation wanted Coach Grantham’s head on a stick along with his $1.8 million salaries. Coach Mullen continues to back him, so expect The Gator Nation to fall in line.
Cornerbacks and Safeties
When you hear either Coach Mullin speak about the defense, they are looking for some players to really grow into key roles and become leaders. They gave up way too many easy passes and touchdowns last season, especially in their last three games. Coach Mullen responded to the back end giving away too much by firing two assistants and hiring Wesley McGriff to coach the secondary and Jules Montinar to coach cornerbacks.
So, let’s talk first about the back end of the defense. They lost both safeties to graduation. To stop the easy passes and even some touchdowns, they need senior Trey Dean III to reach his potential while helping the other young Gators, led by sophomore Rashad Torrence II, get up to speed with the defense.
Last season, Florida counted on the All-SEC junior cornerback Kaiir Elam. He ended up with 39 tackles. So, he definitely stepped up by being able to handle himself and anything that was coming his way.
A strong impression was made by five-star cornerback signee Jason Marshall Jr. during spring ball, and junior Jaydon Hill also turned some heads. Let’s see if they can continue to do it in camp.
The linebacking core for the Florida Gators doesn’t seem to be an issue. You can’t be concerned when you have senior linebacker Ventrell Miller that had 86 stops last year. He will be the leader of this core. Mohamoud Diabate had 67 tackles as the second leading tackler of the LB core.
Coach Grantham has the talent to work with, including perhaps his most physical front seven during his time in Gainesville. The headliner is D-lineman Zachary Carter plus pass rusher Brenton Cox Jr. Transfer tackles from Penn State Antonio Shelton and Auburn Daquan Newkirk should provide reinforcements and might even be an upgrade.
Jace Christmann is being reunited with Coach Dan Mullen. He transferred from Mississippi State to play for Coach Mullen and Florida. Christmann gives them a reliable placekicking option. Christmann converted 32-of-40 field goals in Starkville.
Sophomore Australian freshman Jeremy Crawshaw steps in for Jacob Finn and hopes to become the next top punter from Down Under. He has to be able to get the coffin corner kicks in to flip the field.
The Wrap Up
The main issue is going to be the offensive line and whether Florida can run the ball to open up the passing game. Can the secondary keep the opposing team’s receivers out of the endzone? Florida opens SEC play on Sept. 18 at home against Alabama.
Hopefully, Gator Nation shows up to chomp all over the Tide and Florida’s six-point loss in the SEC Championship game is forgotten. Will Todd Grantham be back on the hot seat to be fired? I think Coach Dan Mullen is safe this season, but he has to fix the holes and get the Gators back into the top five through seven teams consistently.
I’m totally looking forward to this season and keeping up with everything that goes on from week to week. Going to be FUN! Can’t wait. Remember you can agree or disagree with me in the comments below. Or you can write to me at Sam4413@aol.com or hit me on Twitter @Sam4413.