Heading into the 2021 season, no one knew exactly what to make of this Florida team. The Gators had a lot of talent to replace, especially on offense. Heisman finalist quarterback Kyle Trask, who had the best passing season of any player in program history the year prior, moved on to the NFL, and he was joined by the team’s top three pass-catchers in Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes, with the former two being first-round picks in the 2021 NFL draft.
It was fourth-year quarterback Emory Jones‘ time, and like Trask before him, he patiently awaited his opportunity. Jones is a very different player, and with the added component of his rushing abilities, we figured the option game would play a bigger role in Florida’s offense.
What we didn’t expect, however, was the complete 180 in terms of offensive philosophy. After two years of the run game being an afterthought, it was pushed to the forefront. At one point in the season, the Gators had the best non-service academy rushing attack in college football.
But the passing game saw a steep dropoff. Jones just wasn’t all there mechanically, and his decision-making proved costly as he tossed 13 interceptions on the season. Were it not for a six-touchdown performance against Samford, his 19 to 13 touchdown to interception ratio would have been considerably worse than it already was.
However, UF saw glimpses of greatness from redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson. He spent the whole season battling a knee injury he has had since high school, but when he was healthy, he impressed. Still, hesitancy to play him sped up the downfall of Florida’s coaching staff.
The Gators started SEC play with a matchup against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 3, and even after a comeback bid fell just short as they lost 31-29, UF had the nation’s attention with how competitively it played ‘Bama.
That momentum quickly dissipated, though. After a comfortable win over Tennessee the following week, the team lost five of its next seven games, including the second loss to Kentucky of coach Dan Mullen‘s tenure and blowouts to Georgia and South Carolina. After the team lost to Missouri in overtime to fall to 5-6 (and 2-6 in SEC play for the first time), Mullen was fired less than one year removed from an SEC East title.
It was such a rapid fall from grace that it’s tough to diagnose what exactly went wrong. There are a number of factors that can be blamed, from the staff’s unwillingness to play younger players who may be better than their upperclassmen counterparts to a lackluster recruiting strategy that netted even more lackluster results.
Mullen’s teams relied heavily on offensive success his first three years, and this time, that unit was significantly less explosive. Pair that with a defense that wasn’t fixed at all after being the team’s Achilles heel last season, and it’s easier to see why this team was so disappointing.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. New coach Billy Napier takes over a program that needs a lot of work, but he seems to be cut out for it. He’s assembling an impressive staff of both on and off-field assistants, and his returns on early signing day were as good as they could have been, all things considered.
Better days should be ahead for this program, even though this was one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory.
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