The good news for Florida fans is that the Gators are 8-1 and ranked #6 in the BCS, setting them up for a perfect opportunity to get a road win in Tallahassee and jump into the SEC’s at-large selection, assuming Alabama wins out. The defense, special teams and turnover margin have all been stellar, lifting this team to heights many thought wasn’t possible. The bad news, however, is that the offense is going in the wrong direction.
Let’s start by taking a statistical look at Florida 2011 compared to 2012 through nine games.
|Florida 2012||Florida 2011|
|Scoring Offense||26 ppg||25.5 ppg|
|Total Offense||332.8 ypg||328.7 ypg|
|Rushing Offense||192.67 ypg||143 ypg|
|Passing Offense||140.1 ypg||185.7 ypg|
|Scoring Defense||12.1 ppg||20.3 ppg|
|Total Defense||286.9 ypg||299.5 ppg|
|Rushing Defense||100.33 ypg||132.69 ypg|
|Passing Defense||186.6 ypg||166.8 ypg|
We talk about the mental and physical toughness and the running game as the main differences from ‘11 to ‘12. However, the biggest glaring difference is the turnover margin. Going from -12 to +11 in one season is crazy – just crazy enough to take a 7-6 team to 8-1. Defensively, it’s the same players, coaches and scheme, but there’s a year of maturity under the secondary’s belt and a better overall comfort level on defense. But the offensive numbers are pretty close to being the same as they were under Charlie Weis.
Florida started out the season iffy on offense against Bowling Green, but Jeff Driskel and company really started to evolve and gain an identity of toughness and improvement from weeks 1 to 7. But when looking at the last two games, the offense has gone backwards, partly due to Georgia’s gelling defense and costly turnovers. And even against South Carolina, the offensive struggles were apparent.
Here’s a breakdown of the offense in the first seven games versus the last two. And again, the offense wasn’t “firing on all cylinders” through the first seven, but better balance and less turnovers gave them a much better chance to win, as opposed to the last two games.
|Games 1-7||Games 8-9|
|Scoring Offense||30.14 ppg||11.5 ppg|
|Total Offense||350.43 ypg||271 ypg|
|Rushing Offense||212.71 ypg||122.5 ypg|
|Passing Offense||137.71 ypg||148.5 ypg|
|3rd Down Conv.||39-99 (39%)||9-29 (31%)|
You can point the finger at Jeff Driskel; you can point the finger at the receivers and the offensive line. The reality of the situation is that there is no one reason for the struggles, but it’s more of a combination of several factors.
1. Offensive Line: This group has just been getting mauled against better defensive lines. They were overwhelmed in the first half against LSU and South Carolina. They were overwhelmed the entire game against Georgia, and Mizzou’s Sheldon Richardson lived in the backfield last weekend. It’s not so much run blocking, but pass blocking has just been atrocious. A younger quarterback cannot develop correctly behind weak pass protection. Granted, this group has been banged up with injuries some this season, but they are still struggling as a unit nonetheless.
2. Wide Receivers: There is not one game-breaking receiver on this roster. The biggest play threat at receiver has been tight end Jordan Reed. And athlete Omarius Hines, who was a receiver turned tight end, turned running back, turned Uber back, has done a nice job. Florida doesn’t know what position he plays, but they don’t use him enough. True receivers Frankie Hammond and Quinton Dunbar have been adequate, but they struggle to get open against bigger physical corners in the SEC. The separation is simply not there, leaving Driskel to scan the entire field with no receivers open and large men wanting to rip him apart. Teams have loaded up the box and left their corners to play many one-on-one situations against the receivers. They still struggle to get open.
3. Jeff Driskel: Driskel has been a slow developer through the first nine weeks. He made a big jump from weeks one to four, but has not continued to develop the way everyone thought he would. He’s only recently learned to throw the ball away and not take a sack, again something he’s learned with experience. You can’t ask a quarterback to develop quickly with no pass blocking and receivers who simply can’t get open. Has he been a slow developer? Yes, but it may be attributed more to the lack of players around him than his own lack of progression as a quarterback.
4. Coaching: Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease is in a tough spot. He can’t be too aggressive with a young quarterback and limited receivers. But deep down, I truly think that Muschamp has his hands all over the offensive game plan and play calls week to week. While I think Pease can be more creative with his play calling, certainly on first down, Muschamp may be the one behind it all and the one to blame for the conservativeness of the offense. If not, Pease needs to be more creative with Driskel in the running game – more quarterback draws and screen passes to negate the porous offensive line. The play calling was very weak against Georgia, and it had no creativity against Missouri, either.
5. Opposing Defensive Schemes: Against better defenses – LSU, South Carolina and Georgia – Florida was held to an average of 229 yards per game and 129.3 yards per game on the ground. Naturally, good defenses and defensive coordinators will try and take away one thing the offense does well. In Florida’s case, it’s the running game. Pease’s offense involves motions and shifts, and coordinators are getting more and more tape on the Gators week-in and week-out. Perhaps the LSU game exploited weaknesses and other teams have capitalized on it.
Above all, Florida fans are just going to have to get over it and accept winning ugly under Will Muschamp. It’s not Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘N Gun offense; it’s not Urban Meyer’s electric jet sweep calls for the ‘Percy Position’. It’s Muschamp Ball – win at all costs with defense, special teams and the running game.
Photo Credit: Rob Foldy-US PRESSWIRE