Florida Gators Fall to Missouri Tigers in Overtime 24-23, Head Coach Dan Mullen’s Future in Serious Doubt
By Scott Carter, Florida Gators // November 21, 2021
UP NEXT: Florida State at Florida - Saturday at 12 p.m.
ABOVE VIDEO: The Gators (5-6, 2-6) dropped their fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference game Saturday, this time on a two-point conversion in the first overtime that earned Missouri (6-5, 3-4) bowl eligibility and left the Gators needing a victory at home next weekend against Florida State to become bowl eligible.
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA (Florida Gators) – This is where the Gators are entering their final regular-season game of the season.
When the first attempt at his postgame press conference on Zoom was thwarted by technical difficulties after Saturday’s 24-23 overtime loss to Missouri, Gators head coach Dan Mullen went back to the locker room to take a shower. A few minutes later, Mullen returned to the cramped storage space underneath the stands at Memorial Stadium dressed in a suit instead of his sideline attire.
The business suit seemed appropriate considering the tone of questioning. Mullen could have been a CEO of a Fortune 500 company answering inquires from stockholders wondering why the returns on their shares were underperforming.
The Gators (5-6, 2-6) dropped their fourth consecutive Southeastern Conference game Saturday, this time on a two-point conversion in the first overtime that earned Missouri (6-5, 3-4) bowl eligibility and left the Gators needing a victory at home next weekend against Florida State to become bowl eligible.
On the final play, Tigers quarterback Conner Bazelak, backpedaling from pressure, lofted a pass to tight end Daniel Parker for the game-winning score. The two-point attempt followed a 13-yard touchdown run by tailback Tyler Badie that trimmed Florida’s lead to 23-22. The Gators went ahead on their first drive in overtime when Mullen dipped into his bag of tricks for a play that resulted in receiver Trent Whittemore tossing a 6-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Emory Jones.
Florida’s quest for its first SEC victory since early October turned to defeat when Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz went for the win instead of a potential second overtime period by kicking the extra point. Drinkwitz then rubbed salt in the Gators’ wound by performing his own “Star Wars” routine — a la Mullen following his team’s Halloween win over the Tigers in 2020 — at his postgame press conference.
First, the final play certainly came up afterward.
“We felt we’d have it defended,” Mullen said of not using a timeout after sideline conversations before the play. “We had a guy right in the quarterback’s face. Obviously weren’t able to make the play and then we blew the coverage.”
The final scene was one of dejection for the Gators. As Missouri players rushed the field to celebrate, the Gators trudged toward the locker room with their worst conference record since going 0-6 in the winless 1979 season.
For a taste of the postgame mood, here is a sampling of the questions Mullen faced in what has turned into a season of losses stacked upon losses.
Where do you guys go from here to try and salvage something?
The Florida football program’s going to be here for a long time. So it’s not about one game. It’s about getting the program better and go play next week,” Mullen said. “Go play seven days from now and finding a way to make the program better.”
Have you been told anything about your future?
“We had meetings last week about what direction we need to go in the future with assistant coaches and who we’re going to bring in here and what our candidates are looking for the future and changes we need to look to make,” Mullen said. “I’ve had those discussions with [AD Scott Stricklin].”
Has the fan base turned unfairly against you guys?
“They can do whatever they want. I don’t always see it. I’ll be perfectly honest with you. I know maybe you guys get it or you guys have a lot of that stuff. When I walk around, everybody I see is very, very supportive,” Mullen said. “We do that long walk to practice every day and everybody I see is extremely positive and supportive and I see that from a lot of our fans. I think they love the Gators. They want to win. We want to win. I think they see a team that goes out there and gives really good effort. It’s a little inconsistent with what we’ve been able to do.”
Those inconsistencies once again cost the Gators in a one-score game. The Gators have lost seven consecutive one-score games dating to last season and despite taking the lead four different times Saturday, they were unable to win.
Jones completed 20 of 32 passes for 261 yards and rushed 17 times for 45 yards. The Gators held Badie, the nation’s fourth-leading rusher, to 19 yards in the first half before he got going late to finish with 146 on 27 carries. For the 10th time in 11 games, the Gators finished with more yards (360 to 286), and at one point, Florida stopped the Tigers 10 consecutive times on third down.
How did they lose then?
The main culprit was costly penalties. The Gators committed nine penalties for 80 yards, with four of the flags giving the Tigers first downs. One that really hurt Florida’s bid at a victory was a holding call on cornerback Kaiir Elam that negated his interception. Five plays later, Bazelak hit Niko Hea for a 41-yard score to put Missouri up 16-13 early in the fourth quarter.
Later in the quarter, after Chris Howard’s third field goal of the game tied the score 16-16, pass interference on safety Trey Dean III on third down gave Missouri a first down. Four players later, Tigers kicker Harrison Mavis missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 1:04 remaining.
That gave the Gators extra life, but they ran out the clock to go to overtime.
Of course, Mullen was asked about UF’s final drive of regulation that started at the Gators’ 29 and opened with a 3-yard loss on a run by Nay’Quan Wright.
“We were [thinking field goal],” Mullen said. “We call a draw on the first play, and our running back slipped and fell backwards. So, at that point, you know, we had a great look for it. It looked like – you’re trying to go call a draw. You think they’re going to be back in coverage and get the drive kind of started right there. Where he slipped and fell, that kind of – at that point, you’re like, OK. That slowed us down there.”
Defensive lineman Antonio Valentino said despite what others may be saying, the Gators remain committed to Mullen and are determined to finish the season on a positive note.
“I wouldn’t have come to the University of Florida if I didn’t believe in Coach Mullen,” Valentino said. “I wasn’t perfect tonight. None of us were perfect. I’m going to do my best in the locker room and in all situations to echo his message. I’ve got his back.”
Based on the final scores and headlines, Mullen needs all the support he can get.
The Gators suffered another close defeat Saturday, and their head coach faced more difficult questions.
They have one regular-season game left to clinch a fourth consecutive bowl berth under Mullen.
“You put a lot of work in and another close game that we didn’t find a way to pull out here in the end,” Mullen said. “It’s obviously disappointing. We’ve got to be mentally tougher. That’s the coaches. We have to make sure that we are mentally tougher in that way with our preparation.”
In times like these, toughness is mandatory.