Whitley: Avoiding an FCS debacle saves Mullen's job — for now

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

Scott Stricklin is a patient man with religious convictions. He must have felt like Job as he watched Florida’s performance on Saturday afternoon.

Samford got a 58-yard touchdown pass.

Samford got a 40-yard touchdown pass.

Samford got a 98-yard kickoff return.

Samford stuffed Florida on fourth down and scored two plays later.

Samford recovers an onside kick, gets a field goal and cut Florida’s lead to four points in the fourth quarter.

Samford, Samford, Samford.

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How much more can an athletic director take before he cleans house?

Not much.

If Samford had beaten the Gators, Dan Mullen should have been cleaning out his desk Saturday night. As it was, scoring 70 points should keep Mullen employed for another week. Giving up 52 points should prompt Stricklin to call Mullen into his office for a stern talk.

“Look, Dan. You’re my guy. I think you can turn this thing around, but I can’t protect you much longer if this keeps up.”

You could call the final score a lot of things. Stunning, entertaining, baffling, disappointing.

“Calling a win ‘disappointing’ is disrespectful to the game,” Mullen said.

That’s one way to look at it. Another is that allowing an FCS team to score 52 points is disrespectful to every defensive player who’s ever put on a Florida uniform.

The Gators allowed 42 of those points in the first half. That was more than any opponent had scored in a half since Florida began playing football in 1906.

More than any Alabama team. More than any Miami team. More than that Nebraska monster scored in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

And those were teams in Florida’s league. Samford is not, at least according to current NCAA classifications.

The Bulldogs are an FCS team. They are supposed to come in, get their brains duly beaten in, pick up their sacrificial-lamb paycheck ($525,000 in this case) and go merrily on their way.

On rare occasions, they will up and beat an FBS team. When Georgia Southern did it to Florida in 2013, it was the first loss to an FCS or Division 1-AA team in Gator history.

But Georgia Southern was a good FCS team. And it scored a grand total of 26 points that afternoon.

Samford had that many with 10 minutes left in the first half.

No question, the Bulldogs have a nice, up-tempo passing attack, the kind that should give the Woffords and Western Carolinas of the world fits. But Samford came in as the No. 6 team in the Southern Conference.

Not the Southeastern Conference. The Southern Conference.

The talent discrepancy explains why Samford was 0-25 against FBS teams. It also explains the Gators racked up 10 touchdowns and Emory Jones looked like the Heisman Trophy frontrunner.

Nothing explains why Florida had to score like an NBA team in order to survive Samford. The 52 points tied for the most an FCS team has scored against an FBS team.

“We were playing tit-for-tat with a team we probably shouldn’t be playing tit-for-tat with,” Dameon Pierce said.

Somewhere, Todd Grantham had to be chuckling. He was fired from his defensive coordinator job last week, in the first phase of Mullen’s salvage operation.

It was definitely the right long-term move. Short-term, inserting Christian Robinson as interim coordinator was supposed to bring renewed pep and focus.

What we got was confusion and blown coverages. That’s not all on Robinson. It’s on Mullen for having to make a jolting staff change.

It’s on the players who aren’t making plays. It’s on everybody.

Fans have seen this movie before against LSU, Kentucky, Georgia and South Carolina. But the script was supposed to start flipping on Saturday.

It did slightly in the second half, when Florida held the Bulldogs to 10 points. Sheesh, since when did holding Samford to 10 points in a half qualify as a turning point?

“We’re enjoying the win,” Mullen said. “It’s hard to win in the game of football.”

It’s not supposed to be this hard. The win did buy Mullen a little more time, but the clock is definitely ticking now.

Next up are two FBS teams. If Florida can't handle them any better than it did Samford, Mullen’s time and Stricklin’s patience needs to run out.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhiley.