Gators' defensive woes persist vs. FCS Samford

Gators' defensive woes persist vs. FCS Samford

Parting ways with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham didn’t solve all of the Florida Gators‘ problems.

Six days after coach Dan Mullen announced that Grantham was let go, the Gators gave up 42 points in the first half — the most Florida had ever allowed in the first two quarters — to FCS program Samford on Saturday.

The Gators pulled away in the second half for a 70-52 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“I’m an offensive guy, so I love scoring points,” Mullen told reporters Saturday. “Obviously, I don’t love giving up points, but love scoring points. Offensively, we needed guys to step up and guys to execute, and I think we did that today. I think our guys came out and executed. It ended up being a little shootout back-and-forth, and our offense kept responding and making plays.”

Added Mullen: “Calling a win disappointing is disrespectful to the game and our players.”

The Bulldogs, who haven’t beaten an SEC opponent since 1934, had 530 yards of offense, including 416 passing. They scored on five of their first six possessions to take a 42-35 lead at the half.

It was the most points ever scored by an FCS team against an SEC opponent, and it tied for the most ever allowed by a Power 5 team against such an opponent since the FBS/FCS split in 1978. Eastern Washington matched Samford’s scoring total in a 59-52 loss to Washington in 2014.

“One, you have to give [Samford] some credit,” Mullen said. “They are a team who is going to score points and throw the ball all over the place within their style. The biggest one, if there is disappointment in some of our guys, are the opportunities to make plays that they didn’t make. You know, there were a couple of missed tackles, a couple opportunities for sacks that we didn’t make, we ended up with penalties. … We have to get that cleaned up.”

Linebackers coach Christian Robinson was directing Florida’s defense for the first time on Saturday. Mullen also fired offensive line coach John Hevesy after last week’s embarrassing 40-17 loss at rebuilding South Carolina. Graduate assistant Mike Sollene was promoted to replace Hevesy for the remainder of the season.

“I thought they handled it really well,” Mullen said. “I met with them a couple times and told them to relax and be themselves. You have a great opportunity, so go take advantage of it. Don’t go out there and try to do too much. … Just be you. I just thought the two young guys today were really excited for that opportunity. They enjoyed it and found a way to win.”

According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, the Gators have allowed 175 points in their past four games, their most in a four-game stretch since 1917.

Florida’s woeful defensive performance sullied a brilliant outing by quarterback Emory Jones, who completed 28 of 34 passes for 464 yards with six touchdowns and ran for 86 yards with one score. Jones’ 544 yards of total offense surpassed the previous UF record of 533 yards set by Tim Tebow in his final college game, a 51-24 victory over Cincinnati in the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“Just get guys together and just let them know that we have to go score every drive,” Jones said. “That’s what we planned on doing anyways. Just keeping that mindset and just trying to be on attack every drive and going out there and executing. It worked out for us.”