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Florida Gators 2021 Bye Week Report Card

Grading the Florida Gators' offense, defense, special teams, coaching, and recruiting efforts halfway through the 2021 season.

The Florida Gators are in the midst of their bye week in what has been a disappointing 2021 season.

To accurately describe and assess the Gators' 2021 season to date, the AllGators staff has compiled a team-wide report card, grading Florida's offense, defense, special teams, coaching and recruiting performances through seven games (although recruiting grades date back throughout the entire class of 2022 cycle).

The Gators' midterm grades can be found below, and they aren't all that pretty.

Offense

Zach Goodall: B-

Florida's turnaround from owning a lackluster rushing offense to the No. 4 ground attack in the country (and No. 2 in the SEC) boosts the Gators' offensive grade significantly. Otherwise, the unit has been pedestrian at best.

The Gators' passing attack has been extremely hit-or-miss in 2021 and has been limited with Emory Jones under center, as Dan Mullen has been reluctant to allow Jones the opportunity to throw down the field. Jones is averaging 1.2 interceptions per game, which has forced Mullen to be conservative with his passing play-calls. To give Jones credit, he's shown the ability to efficiently throw down the field on play-action concepts but Mullen has been reluctant to expand upon those play-calls.

And now, what Jones can and can not do is becoming less relevant, as the calls for Anthony Richardson to take over the starting role are rightfully piling up. Richardson is young and by no means perfect, but he's a simply more talented passer than Jones and fans want to see more of the freshman as such. 

Demetrius Harvey: B

This is kind of a conundrum of sorts, as can be expected with the program not having a clear starting quarterback seven games into the season. With both Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson unable to take a clear lead at the helm, the Gators will look for more answers on Oct. 30 against the Georgia Bulldogs.

However, due to the team’s running game, the offense gets a ‘B’ from me. The team has become one of the best rushing teams in the country, and certainly in the SEC. Aside from last week’s loss against LSU, Florida rushed for at least 171 yards in every game, though that number was regressing some following the team’s victory over Tennessee. Regardless, the team’s offense hasn’t been the primary issue for Florida this season outside of a couple of games.

In general, it’s been successful, though it cannot grade out at an ‘A’ due to its deficiencies throughout the year in its passing game.

Brandon Carroll: B-

Florida offense has completely changed its identity from a year ago. Effectively running the football behind an offensive line that has blown expectations out of the water, Florida has been able to score points in nearly every game that they have played.

With issues arising at the quarterback position between groomed starter Emory Jones and highly promising redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson and the lack of trust in both to have full control, the Gators offense hasn’t been able to reach its full potential.

There have been flashes that present promise for the offense to continue and elevate its success in the second half of the season, if the proper adjustments are made.

They’ve been decent, but haven’t been the Florida offense we have become accustomed to.

Defense

Zach Goodall: C-

Florida's defense has gotten its job done throughout the majority of the 2021 season, albeit against lesser talent for the most part. However, the unit was exposed against the likes of Alabama and LSU and continued to struggle with the fundamentals of tackling, which significantly lowers its grade.

And I don't mean it lightly when I mention Florida's issues with missing tackles - the Gators are averaging 11.7 misses per game this season, per Pro Football Focus. Florida has also failed to create turnovers throughout the year, tallying only six through seven games.

Todd Grantham should be embarrassed that the Tigers were able to run counter 14 times for 13 yards per carry and three touchdowns this past Saturday. Although his unit has improved this year compared to last, the performance against LSU could and probably should lose Grantham his job - keep in mind, his contract expires after the season, so it is a legitimate possibility.

Demetrius Harvey: C-

Before everyone gets up in arms for me not giving the Gators an ‘F’ in this category, it should be reminded that Florida allowed just one team – Alabama -, to score more than 20 points on the year before LSU’s explosive 49-point affair on Saturday. Still, Florida’s inability to get off the field on key downs, and its abysmal performance against the Tigers shouldn’t be discounted.

The program’s defense hasn’t been up to par for a while now, and last week’s performance was another indicator of such. But, with that being said, giving Florida a lesser score than a ‘C-’ would also not underscore the improvements the players themselves have made. Players such as Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence at the safety position should be praised.

Cornerback Kaiir Elam is one of the top defensive backs in the nation, and defensive lineman Zachary Carter has also been one of the top players in the SEC defensively. The team as a whole isn’t devoid of talent defensively, but it does need to re-evaluate how the players are used as it doesn’t seem to be working on a consistent level.

Brandon Carroll: C

Prior to Florida’s contest against LSU, my thought on the Gators' defense in 2021 was that they improved considerably from last season. Equipped with better play in the secondary and more in-sync communication at all three levels, Todd Grantham’s unit was bending but not breaking.

However, last week was a call back to 2020. It was a failed test against what should have been a maintainable rushing attack. Instead of halting an LSU offense ranked 127th nationally in rushing coming into the contest, Florida had their tackling and gap-filling struggles exposed as they were manhandled by the Tigers’ front.

That lowers their score considerably from what I viewed to be at least a B before last week.

Special teams

Zach Goodall: D

Every aspect of Florida's special teams has caused at least one headache this season, aside from the performance of punter Jeremy Crawshaw

Missed extra points, blocked field goal attempts, muffed punts and kickoffs, a lack of production on kick and punt returns, penalties, punt coverage teams struggling to contain returners, you name it - Florida has done it all and hasn't exactly found a way to fix these issues.

Crawshaw has averaged an impressive 45.8 yards per punt this season, has pinned eight of his 23 attempts inside the 20, and showed off impressive speed on a fake punt vs. Vanderbilt. He's the lone bright spot across UF's special teams units.

Demetrius Harvey: C

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Realistically, the Gators special teams haven’t really been a difference-maker in the team’s performance. In fact, if anything, the team hasn’t looked great as a collective unit all season, except for its punter. The kicking game hasn’t really made many mistakes, but they haven’t been put in a situation that calls for clutch kicks either. The one time they could have made a difference, Kentucky blocked the kick and returned it for a touchdown.

Even still, the team’s return game has also not done much at all during the season. There hasn’t been a marquee return on either the kick return or punt return units, and that’s part of the team that needs to make a difference considering the rest of the team’s play.

Brandon Carroll: D+

The plus is for Jeremy Crawshaw, who has been brilliant punting the football this season. However, the other aspects of Florida’s special teams have been concerning throughout the year.

Early in the season, Florida saw themselves fall to the perennial powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide due to a missed extra point early in the contest. In that same game, a muffed kickoff resulted in Florida starting a drive on their own one. 

Then, a blocked field goal against Kentucky changed the outlook of their contest in Lexington. Those monumental moments have changed the complexion of the season, all miscues by a lackluster special teams group.

Coaching

Zach Goodall: D+

You can specifically pin Florida's losses to Kentucky and LSU on the coaching staff. Against UK, Mullen ran a scared offensive gameplan that failed to utilize the offense's strengths and as a result, the Gators scored 13 points. And as I mentioned above vs. LSU, counter run plays are Todd Grantham's kryptonite - the defensive coordinator had no answer to the same play being run against his unit 14 times.

And now, in hindsight, it's fair to question Mullen's decision-making when it comes to his starting quarterback as Richardson has significantly outperformed Jones throughout the year, yet, he hadn't been given the opportunity to push for the starting role until the Gators had their SEC Championship hopes shattered.

With Jones at quarterback, the failure to expand upon play-action usage has been bewildering and serves as another ding to Mullen's coaching grade. By the numbers, Jones is completing more passes for substantially more yards and throwing fewer interceptions on play-action compared to standard dropbacks. And yet, Jones performs standard dropbacks twice as often as he does play-action.

The refusal to make adjustments, by Grantham against LSU and by Mullen in the passing game as a whole this season, weighs heavily on this grade. In general, so do two upset losses to unranked teams in a three-week stretch.

Demetrius Harvey: D

This is the team’s worst coached season in quite some time. Time and time again the program has made bizarre decisions, from refusing to utilize Richardson at key points, to not making the necessary adjustments on both sides of the football. These issues are top-down from head coach Dan Mullen to his coordinators and especially defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Truthfully, the reason why a lot of these grades are so negative is due to the coaching staff. This season was meant to be one that put Florida over the top, and now after three losses, including two to unranked (at the time) teams, the program doesn’t have a chance at reaching the SEC Championship game again this year, nor will it likely make a New Year’s Six bowl game.

There’s time for Florida to rebound a bit, close out the final games of the season to make up for the losses, but the window is closing quickly.

Brandon Carroll: D

In year four of the Mullen administration at the University of Florida, the Gators enter what is usually a battle for the SEC East crown in Jacksonville against Georgia with three losses on their record.

While there have been considerable bright spots from multiple position coaches this season — namely offensive line and safeties — the stubbornness at the top of the food chain has created glaring issues. The two inexcusable losses on Florida’s resume — Kentucky and LSU — fall on the shoulders of the head coach and defensive coordinator for failing to make the necessary adjustments schematically and to personnel.

For me, that doesn’t equate to a passing grade.

Recruiting

Zach Goodall: C-

I'll give UF credit for its recruiting on the offensive side of the ball, for the most part. Mullen and quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee discovered a stud quarterback in Nick Evers before he earned a high recruiting ranking, and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales has surrounded Evers with three excellent receiver prospects to target in orange and blue. In addition, UF has acquired a running back commit for the first time since the class of 2019.

Otherwise, recruiting is a mess right now. The team lost its highest-rated commit in linebacker Shemar James this week, another stud defender in cornerback Julio Humphrey has been visiting other schools despite his UF pledge, the offensive line is in shambles with only two long-term project prospects in the class, former tight end commit C.J. Hawkins flipped to Stanford earlier this month, and several priority recruitments are trending in the wrong direction after targets have visited elsewhere.

As a whole, Florida only possesses 14 commitments in this year's class. That could be due to bad planning on Mullen's part as UF hosted 29 official visits over the summer, as soon as in-person recruiting opened back up, compared to two in the regular season so far. 

Mullen and his staff have struggled with recruiting a good bit since their 2017 arrival at UF, but this year might be a new low.

Demetrius Harvey: C

The Gators haven’t ever been the bastion of recruiting under Mullen, and this year is no different. In fact, the program just lost one of its top recruits, linebacker Shemar James for the 2022 recruiting cycle. The Gators will need to pick up more steam before the recruits sign on the dotted lines in December and January, and it will be a ton of ground to keep up.

While Florida doesn’t have to have the expectations of overtaking Georgia or Alabama in recruiting – that would be nonsensical – the program should be higher than No. 17 in rankings, especially since Florida State is ranked ahead of them at the moment.

It hasn’t all been bad for Florida, however, as the team does currently hold commits from a couple of stud recruits in Isaiah Bond and Jayden Gibson, but it needs help over the next couple of months, certainty.

Brandon Carroll: D

The Florida Gators recruiting class in 2022 is looking bleak heading into the bye week. While the Gators staff has been unable to meet expectations when recruiting in recent years, this cycle has the potential to be the worst class UF has pieced together in recent memory.

The Gators coaching staff’s inability — or overall disinterest — to make splashes on the recruiting trail has finally caught up to the team in 2021, as the relatively high development rate has been overshadowed by the lack of blue-chip talent on the roster. They have already lost out on numerous top-tier recruits throughout the 2022 cycle, and have stacked up bad losses that could lead to an implosion of the already weak commitment list in the coming weeks.

That started with linebacker Shemar James announcing his decommitment on Wednesday.

Overall, outside of quarterback Nick Evers and Billy Gonzales’ remarkably fast wide receiver unit, there is an evident void of game-changing talent heading to UF next season. As a result, Florida finds itself in an unfavorable situation nearing the final stretch before signing day.

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