Whispers turned to mumbles, then chatter, and now unbridled anger surrounds Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Giving up more than 600 yards in the season opener didn’t quell the fans that had already decided Grantham needed to go and they openly started coveting defensive coaches around the country. Charlie Strong is available. Will Muschamp, they’d say.
All the while Dan Mullen continued to stand in Grantham’s corner even as his fanbase started to question his leadership ability if he were to let Grantham stay in Gainesville another second.
Following Florida’s loss to LSU, a team that was 3-5 at the time, Mullen was asked if he was still confident in Grantham and the job he’d done with the defense. His response wasn’t a fan favorite.
“We played pretty good defense for a good part of the year,” Mullen said on December 13. “We made some critical mistakes. We’ll watch it and as you continue to evaluate you evaluate the whole picture and whole package of it all. You know? We’ll do that. I’m pretty confident with Todd.”
That evaluation process is one that every aspect of the program goes through on a week-to-week basis and one that will certainly go on after the season. Things aren’t as bad as they seem. Florida’s defense is very pedestrian, not the abhorrent mess that it’s made out to be. The Gators rank right in the middle of the SEC in scoring, total, rushing, third-down defense, but 9th in passing defense. They lead the league in sacks and are second in tackles for loss.
Still, it’s hard to feel good about the defense when Florida’s offense has been one of the most prolific in the county and maybe the most prolific in school history.
The Gators are coming off of an SEC Championship game where Alabama amassed 605 yards — only LSU (650) and Ole Miss (723) surrendered more yards to the Tide in 2020. So, when Dan was asked on Tuesday afternoon, his tone changes slightly.
“I’m here on a daily basis dealing with every aspect. As we evaluate every aspect of the program you do the same things, I mean, as I’ve said all along, you can look and say, ok, we must have a huge problem because we can’t, because we don’t put up huge running stats. We’re very run efficient, we just don’t run the ball very much. Ok because we gave up this many points or this many yards, well our defense must be terrible,” Mullen said.
“Boy, you know what, that Alabama game we just gave up all those points, or we had some opportunities to make some stops but we had a couple of mental errors along the way that hurt that against one of the premier offenses in college football. It’s very easy to point and say, defense bad, we have to change everything. Or you look at what the issues are. It’s like, hey, if my wrist hurts I don’t just cut off my arm. Let’s go figure out what the problem is. if I have to cut my arm I cut my arm, but that’s not where I’m starting. We’ve got to evaluate every aspect of it after the season, see where we’re at, and go from there.”
It’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s also not a condemnation.
To Grantham’s credit, when he was asked if he felt this would be his last game at Florida, he took the high road. He said his focus is on Oklahoma and preparing his players for the game. His all-SEC cornerback, Kaiir Elam, supported him.
“I have nothing but love and respect for Coach Grantham,” Elam said. “You know, part of the reason I feel like fans are probably mad at him because it’s on the defense and us not executing, which he’s not on the field playing, so how can you get mad at him? I feel like it’s on us to execute his play-calling and just on us to step up.”
Florida has another tough task on December 30. The Sooners have the best passing offense in the Big 12 and are scoring an average of 41.8 points per game. A repeat of the SEC Championship game would not help quell the anger in the fan base or help with his post-season evaluation.
“From an evaluation standpoint, when you look at it, this will be our third straight New Years Six game since coming here. We got to the SEC Championship Game and we were six points away. Last year we played Georgia and we were seven points away. The comment was, ‘what’s the difference between us and Georgia?’ and we said seven points. Right now what’s the difference between us in the SEC Championship Game, it’s six points,” Grantham said.
“If you look, Alabama is a very talented defense and at the end of the day we gave up six more points in the game. We’ve got to find a way to eliminate that and to get the win.”
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