Even with a whole offseason to digest the Florida Gators’ ultra-disappointing 2013-14 season, it still just doesn’t seem right. And it’s not because the team went 11-2 the previous season; it goes much deeper than that. Seeing a team filled with future NFL talent get molliwopped by the likes of Georgia Southern (among others) boils down the entire situation in a microcosm.
How could one of the most storied programs in college football look so inept on the field? Well, that’s the million-dollar question.
Some point to coaching. Those that do should contact me via email as I also have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. Head coach Will Muschamp has one of the finest defensive minds in the business, and Florida’s defenses have demonstrated that virtually for the duration of his tenure in Gainesville.
Others have still gone the route of pondering if the Gators have enough talent to compete in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference. Well that’s pretty much ridiculous and barely deserves any attention. But do know that any team that possesses Dante Fowler and Vernon Hargreaves III is nowhere near devoid of talent.
That’s not to mention the three-headed monster at running back: Matt Jones, Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown.
But let’s be honest; injuries and attrition should not be an excuse for a program the likes of Florida. But that’s what happened, nevertheless — most notably to quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken leg in the third of the season).
That’s why it’s very arguable that a healthy Driskel, in combination with the rest of the talented roster, makes Florida a viable contender for the SEC’s eastern division crown. And with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper bringing his up-tempo, no-huddle, pro-style attack to the Swamp, we may finally see Driskel live up to the hype that preceded his arrival.
- – - – - – - – -
As the No. 1-ranked dual-threat QB in the nation, following the now nostalgic Tim Tebow era, a lot was put on the broad shoulders of Driskel. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Driskel would somehow replicate Tebow’s accomplishments and accolades, under one of the best head coaches of this era in Urban Meyer, despite predominantly playing for new coach Will Muschamp and now former offensive coordinator Brent Pease and his traditional pro-style attack.
After a very successful 2012 season it seemed as though Muschamp-Driskel era may end up being similar to the Meyer-Tebow one after all. But those results were mostly derived from a stout defense and an effective run game over anything else.
Driskel’s statline: 1,646 yards passing for 12 touchdowns and five interceptions (another 408 yards and four TDs on the ground), was nothing to phone home about. But it was his first season as the unquestioned starter, and you just had a feeling that he would follow that up with a very special year.
Well it was special in a sense.
After a very disappointing showing in a loss against the University of Miami, which included two interceptions, Driskel seemed as though he was well on his way to duplicating that performance against Tennessee before that aforementioned injury to his leg.
But the overriding sentiment was that Driskel was having a hard time operating in Pease’s scheme — and it’s mostly due to his unique skill set.
Driskel was originally recruited to play in Meyer’s shotgun-positioned, spread-based, option-oriented attack — which takes advantage of a QB’s legs as much as his arm. At 6’4″, 230 pounds, running a reported 4.5 40-yard dash, it’s in a coordinator’s best interest to take advantage of the totality of his skill set.
Roper’s offense meets that requirement.
Here we see Roper’s offense being quarterbacked by Duke’s Anthony Boone (6’0″, 225 lbs). While Boone may be a decent player, he has nowhere near the size — or skills — of a Driskel. But the former did throw for over 2,000 yards with 13 TDs — albeit in the inferior ACC (yes I’m talking to you, FSU) — despite missing three games due to injury.
If you take notice of how spread out the receivers are, it forces “man up” action in the box. It’s hard for defenses to drop an extra defender near the line of scrimmage because of the different options derived off this set: running back dive, QB keeper or a pop pass to any of the three receivers.
In this sequence the QB keeps the ball after the defender crashes the handoff. Boone gets a first down here, but with Driskel’s skill set he could easily turn this into a 50-yard explosive play — which is something that was missing from the Gators’ offense the past couple of seasons.
Here’s the very next play. Still operating out of “10 personnel,” this time with one of the receivers parked in the backfield, Boone initially performs it just like the read-option. Only this time he has short-to-intermediate crossing patterns to work with.
He ends up going with his intermediate outlet, once again converting a first down. This offense is more like Meyer’s as the QB is handed the keys to the bus. These type of offenses require dynamic athletes; it doesn’t get much more dynamic than Driskel.
Another aspect of Roper’s offense that’ll work well for Driskel is having the ability to attack the middle of the defense downfield. By spreading out the receivers, there’s often a void left in the middle of zone coverages.
When you own an arm as powerful as Driskel’s, making throws to the deep post should be a joy. Additionally, Roper’s offense is predicated on short timing passes, many of which go to running backs.
The trio of Jones, Brown and Taylor are all efficient in the pass game. And all are equally effective in the between-the-tackles game as well as the outside-zone game. The personnel sets up well with what Roper is trying to accomplish — which is a fact that’s not lost on Muschamp.
“I went back and looked at our numbers from 2012 when we were in the shotgun as opposed to being under center. When Jeff was in the shotgun our yards were better, our explosive plays were better in both the run and pass game,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said at SEC Media Days (h/t to Andrew Gribble of AL.com).
“He was recruited to Florida to be a gun quarterback. In making that change, I felt like Kurt Roper was a great hire for us from a standpoint of a guy that philosophically is on the same page with me as what we want to be, that’s a balanced offense.”
We already know Florida will be good on defense, if the offense gets up to snuff we may very well see Florida right back in the driver’s seat in the SEC’s eastern division.
The combination of Roper and Driskel will undoubtedly be one to watch.