Notebook: Defense fed off of Mullen-Grantham dispute

Dec 2, 2020 | 0 comments

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Perhaps the biggest turning point in Florida’s win over Kentucky last week was when coach Dan Mullen lost his mind on defensive coordinator Todd Grantham as the Gators’ defense allowed Kentucky to chew up nearly half of the second quarter and kick a go-ahead field goal.

Grantham said there’s no malice between he and Mullen. They’re both extremely competitive people who have high standards of performance, and sometimes, that can lead to spirited debates like the one that played out in front of a worldwide audience on Saturday. That wasn’t the first confrontation between the two, and it probably won’t be the last.

“We're all in it for one goal: to go win,” Grantham said. “We've had a lot of success, and we have a lot of respect for each other and what we do, and, because of that respect, we're allowed to express our opinions on things and do what's best for the team.

“It's probably a part of a lot of staffs across the country. So, the great thing about us is we get to be in front of a camera working for like three-and-a-half, four hours. Nowadays with all the great media we have, everything you do gets looked at. So, it's just part of it. You live with it, and you move on.”

The players understand that it’s not personal between Mullen and Grantham and know that they both have their best interests in mind when they go at it like that.

“They’ve got their little battles that they have little arguments and whatnot, but it’s all for the team,” linebacker James Houston said. “It’s all about getting better. We all push each other to be great every day. I mean, that’s like one of our teammates arguing with each other. We’re all pushing each other to be great.”

Before Mullen admonished Grantham late in the second quarter, UF’s defense had given up 165 yards and 10 points. They gave up 56 yards, no points, and intercepted three passes afterward. While some fans want to believe that Mullen lit a fire under Grantham and made him call better plays in the second half, the reality is that they called the exact same plays, Grantham said. The players just executed them much better.

“I think our players did a great job of working the game, understanding this is the package we're going to see and being able to play those plays,” he said. “That’s part of it. There’s no perfect game; there’s no perfect player. You’ve just got to continue to work the game to be successful and to be hard to score on and to get stops as you move throughout the game. I think it’s a product of us working the game and handling the adjustments that we needed to.”

What the argument did do, however, was give the players some more energy. When players see how much a game means to their coaches, it’s hard for them to not try to match their passion and intensity. That played a role in the second-half resurgence.

“I learned this from Bill Cowher. If you coach with passion and play with passion and have that kind of drive, it can feed into your players,” Grantham said. “If you’re kind of not very passionate or kind of ho-hum, I think that can breed to your team, too. So, I’ve always been a guy that wanted the player to know I had their back, that I was going to coach my tail off to get them in position to make plays, and we’re going to find a way to do this together, and I think that’s the way you got to coach in practice, and I think that’s the way you got to coach in games because I think it does breed into your unit.”

Slow starts a recurring problem

Unfortunately for Florida’s defense, that wasn’t the first time that they’ve gotten off to a slow start this season. Five of their eight opponents have scored touchdowns on their opening possessions.

However, they looked dominant in the second halves against South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. The Gators believe those performances show that they’re capable of being a championship-level defense; it’s just a matter of playing like it for all four quarters.

“I think it starts from within,” cornerback Kaiir Elam said. “Every day of practice, just really coming out and executing on all cylinders from start to finish in practice, and hopefully that will translate to the game. I feel like as leaders, we need to do a better job of getting our teammates – if we see any slack or any lack of effort or any communication to lock guys in and make sure we focus. Because I feel like we’re super talented, we’re very talented, enough to go win a national championship or an SEC Championship, but now we need to start playing like it from first to last quarter.

“I think we’re the most talented team in the SEC, and I feel like we have the leadership, we have the keys to do it: We have pass-rushers, we have people who can cover, we have tacklers. So, I think we just need to lock in more and really prove to people that, show people we can play Florida Gator football.”

Grantham said it comes down to taking advantage of opportunities to make plays. They’ve put themselves in positions to get off the field on third down and force turnovers in the first halves, but they just haven’t executed at the level that they have in second halves.

Defensive tackle Kyree Campbell said communication has been an issue early in games, which has become a familiar refrain this season for the defense.

“We’re not communicating on the field, or somebody messed up from the call, or somebody not get the call, or somebody got the opposite call,” Campbell said. “Just being able to communicate with each other, making sure everybody got the same call, making sure everybody on the same page, and we all 11 going at the same time.”

Gators not taking Vols lightly

Tennessee’s offense has been just as hard on the eyes as their bright orange uniforms this season. They’ve been held to 17 or fewer points in each of their last five games, all losses. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has thrown just six touchdown passes all year and has been benched three times. The Volunteers rank next-to-last in the SEC in passing offense and 12th in total offense.

Given the Gators’ defensive inconsistencies, however, nothing is a given. Linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said Guarantano is someone they need to take seriously.

“I think he’s a respectable quarterback in this league,” Diabate said. “He’s won games. He has experience. Whatever people want to say about him doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s played multiple SEC games, he’s won multiple SEC games. This is the toughest conference in the nation, so we’ve got to give him his respect, and we’ve got to play him like we would play any other quarterback in the nation.”

Grantham thinks Tennessee’s offensive line that consists of four former five-star recruits combined with their skill at receiver makes them challenging to play against.

“I think they are a very physical O-Line,” he said. “I think if you look at the games over the last four weeks, they’ve been very physical. They get movement at the point of attack. I think they’re O-Line is coached really well. I think their O-Line is physical. I think their running back [Eric Gray] is dynamic. He’s a guy that can make you miss. He can hit a hole, and they got skill guys outside. So, the combination of the ability to run the ball and to take vertical shots down the field is something that you’ve got to honor and have an appreciation for. If not, they can hit those. We understand that we’re going to have to play physical and match their physicality because they have played physical, in my opinion.”

UF stays put in CFP rankings

As expected, with the top-7 teams in the initial rankings released by the College Football Playoff committee last week either winning or not playing over the weekend, the Gators remained at No. 6 in the committee’s latest rankings that were released on Tuesday evening.

The Gators are in the best position you could possibly ask for. They’ll likely control their own destiny. If they win their final two games of the regular season and knock off No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, they should make the four-team playoff, regardless of what the other teams ahead of them do.

Quick Hitters

  •  Todd Grantham says he and Mullen are cool with each other now. Their mutual respect has allowed them to grow this program together, and he looks forward to continuing to do so. If the coaches have that kind of passion and drive, it can trickle-down to the players. He always wants his players to know that he's going to work his tail off.
  • Defensive tackle Kyree Campbell says he was dealing with an injury the first few weeks of this season.
  •  Kaiir Elam says that the Gators are the most talented defense in the SEC, and it's on them to execute Grantham's calls and improve from week to week.
  • Everything that was said during today’s press-conferences is posted in the We Chomp Chat.

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