Florida vs. Samford score, takeaways: Gators hold on despite allowing 52 points in pathetic defensive effort

By Adam Silverstein
November 13, 2021
Florida vs. Samford score, takeaways: Gators hold on despite allowing 52 points in pathetic defensive effort
Football

Image Credit: GatorsFB on Twitter

All kinds of records were broken Saturday as the Florida Gators hosted the Samford Bulldogs in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, but while Florida was expected to pour on the points against its latest FCS opposition, Samford was not supposed to do the same. Ultimately, the Gators survived with a 70-52 win, improving to 5-5 on the season with a win needed in one of their two remaining games to become bowl eligible. But that was hardly the biggest headline from the game.

Rather, it was the Bulldogs absolutely running through an SEC defense that appeared completely disinterested in performing inside The Swamp. Florida allowed 42 points in the first half, the most in program history to any team through any half, though it did bounce back by outscoring Samford 42-10 over the final 31 minutes of the game. Still, the 52 total points allowed marked arguably the worst defensive performance in program history.

The simple truth of it is that the Gators were checked out defensively in the first half, and the team’s energy on the whole was disappointing given the circumstances. Head coach Dan Mullen’s hot seat certainly did not cool one iota despite the victory, and most will steadfastly say it has only heated up given his team’s performance at home.

Let’s take a look at the tumult or Florida vs. Samford with some post-game takeaways.

1. The defense somehow got worse: Mullen fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham after his unit allowed 40 points to a poor South Carolina team on the road just one week ago. Yet somehow, under interim defensive coordinator Christian Robinson, Florida put together an even more mind-boggling performance in giving up 52 to an even worse 4-5 FCS team at home. As mentioned, the 42 points allowed in the first half were a record-worst for the Gators, but the black eyes hardly stopped there.

  • The 52 points allowed tied for the most given up by an FBS team to an FCS team since Division I split in 1978.
  • The 52 points allowed were the most surrendered by Florida to a non-conference, non-Power Five opponent in program history dating back to 1906.
  • The 52 points allowed tied for the second-most given up in The Swamp to any opponent (52 vs. Tulane in 1917, 63 vs. Auburn in 1970).

Samford scored nearly every time it touched the ball. It opened a 42-28 lead on Florida late in the second quarter and had chunk plays of 58, 40, 39 and 38 yards in the game. The Bulldogs started by converting 7 of 8 third downs, though the Gators did hold the visitors to 0 of 7 on the money down over the remainder of the game.

UF also committed 12 penalties for 94 yards with a vast majority of them coming on defense, particularly on third and fourth down. There were a couple phantom pass interference penalties, sure, but almost all the rest were legitimate.

Florida allowed Samford (530) more total yards than South Carolina (459) last week, a game that appeared to be rock bottom for the Gators. But not only that, UF let Samford score more points in the first half (42) than Alabama (31) or Georgia (34) — both ranked No. 1 at the time — did in four quarters this season. It was also the third time the Gators defense allowed 52+ points in the last 12 games, though the other two occasions were to Alabama and Oklahoma last season.

None of this is on Robinson in particular. There’s no way he could have been expected to fix what ails this unit in a week. But it is an indictment of what the defense — and the team — has become under Mullen that something like this could even happen in the first place.

2. So did the special teams: As if the defensive performance was not bad enough, Florida’s special teams put it even further behind the eight ball in this game. The unit has struggled all season, particularly in the kicking game, but the Gators were simply atrocious on Saturday.

Florida not only allowed a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown in the second quarter, it coughed up an onside kick in the fourth quarter despite Mullen saying he told the unit to watch for the onside attempt ahead of the kickoff. Adding to the embarrassment was a stunning 14-yard punt by redshirt freshman Jeremy Crawshaw late in the fourth quarter after the Gators had retaken a two-score lead.

The special teams miscues were not the reason for the scoreboard showing 52 points; however, they did result in the only 10 points scored by Samford in the second half. If not for those mistakes, Florida may have pitched a shutout over the final 30 minutes of the game.

3. But the offense was spectacular: It’s like Chris Rock said when it comes to taking care of your kids: “You’re supposed to” pour on the points against a 4-5 FCS team. Still, the Gators were outstanding offensively on Saturday even beyond most expectations. Part of the reason for that is Florida needing to leave its starters in the game until late in the fourth quarter, but still, it basically got whatever it wanted. The 70 points were the most since Florida posted 82 vs. Central Michigan in 1997, while the 717 yards are the second-most in a single game in program history (774 vs. West Texas State in 1982).

Redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones had a career game, completing 28 of 34 passes for 464 yards and six touchdowns, adding a team-high 86 yards rushing and another score on the ground. Jones’ 550 total yards broke the program record previously established by Tim Tebow in the final game of his career (533 vs. Cincinnati, 2010 Sugar Bowl), and his seven total touchdowns tied a program record. It was a pleasant development for Florida’s embattled starter, who had as close to a mistake-free day as one could ask. Given the circumstances, Jones’ performance should not be taken for granted.

Also stellar was senior running back Dameon Pierce, who rumbled for 78 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries, adding 48 yards and another score as a receiver. Pierce’s 10 touches for 126 total yards came despite him not touching the ball until Florida was down 28-21 midway through the second quarter. Certainly an infuriating note for those who rightly believe Pierce is the Gators’ best offensive player.

Further standing out Saturday was redshirt senior tight end Kemore Gamble, who hauled in six passes for career-highs of 122 yards and two touchdowns. Gamble actually set his career-high yardage total in the first quarter but was a consistent weapon for Jones all afternoon. Redshirt senior RB Malik Davis (98 total yards, two touchdowns) and redshirt sophomore RB Nay’Quan Wright (100 total yards, touchdown) also got whatever they wanted.

4. What it means: Nothing good. Mullen can sing the praises of the win all he wants — he did just that in the post-game press conference — but it was not a positive look for the Gators or his future leading the program. Whether it’s a fired defensive coordinator, an entire first-string defense being injured, a flu ravaging the team, a hailstorm taking out communication devices or a zombie invasion distracting the players, Florida should not be allowing 42 points to any team in a half let alone Samford. And that’s not to disrespect the Bulldogs, which deserve a ton of credit for playing hard all game.

The simple fact is that the Gators are clearly on a downward trajectory under Mullen. The offense stalled over the last few weeks. The defense has completely given up. Recruiting is at an all-time low. Fan support has gone from strong to moderate to waining to almost non-existent in the span of a handful of weeks.

Whether Mullen survives the season is a decision that can only be made by athletic director Scott Stricklin and president Kent Fuchs. Florida does not necessarily need to win out for Mullen to stay aboard, but it simply cannot look incompetent like it has the last two weeks.

Despite potentially getting into the coaching carousel late with three straight failed hires and a lack of top-tier candidates available this go-around, the Gators may have no other choice but to act.

5. Odds and ends: The 122 points scored Saturday combined for the second-most in a game in program history … Florida is now 3-0 all-time against Samford and 5-0 vs. FCS teams under Mullen … Samford is the first FCS team that has scored against Florida since 2018 … under Mullen, the Gators are 30-2 when leading after the third quarter and 26-2 when outrushing their opponent … Florida is 26-6 against unranked teams and 13-1 against nonconference opponents under Mullen … the Gators have scored 24+ points in 33 of their last 39 games … Florida has now scored in 420 consecutive games, an NCAA record

6. What’s next? After a quick stop at home following five weeks without a game in The Swamp, it’s back on the road for Florida, which will travel to Missouri next week. The Gators and Tigers are 5-5 all-time against one another, though Florida has won the last two meetings by a combined 64-23. One more win makes the Gators bowl eligible, and they are hoping it will come on the road next Saturday.

7. Former players react on Twitter:

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