Gators still look for more offensive consistency as bigger games loom ahead
It won’t be this week’s overmatched opponent that Florida coach Jim McElwain will have entirely in mind as he tries to work out the wrinkles in a Florida offense that has sputtered as of late.
The eighth-ranked Gators figure to breeze past Florida Atlantic on Saturday, but McElwain is acutely aware that his offense will need to play considerably better by the time it faces rival Florida State in the following week’s regular-season finale, and then possibly surging Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
Things could get ugly in a hurry for the Gators against either of those two powerhouses if they continue making the kinds of mistakes that they’ve been prone to make the last few weeks.
Turnovers have been the most obvious of the mistakes, with Florida committing six (three interceptions, three fumbles) over the past two games alone after yielding just two turnovers in the previous five contests.
Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris threw two more interceptions in Saturday’s 24-14 win at South Carolina, giving him three in the past two games after going the entire season previously without one.
Harris, who also fumbled against Vanderbilt the week before, has struggled to hit open receivers in recent games and paid dearly with some shaky decision-making that has resulted in the turnovers.
He’s completed just 51 percent (39 of 76) of his pass attempts over the past three games, with more interceptions (3) than touchdown passes (2), to further stymie McElwain’s offense.
Addressing the turnover problem by stressing the importance of concentration shouldn’t be that difficult, but Harris will need to make better reads to shake off the turnover bug that has afflicted him as of late.
However, he’ll first need to regain confidence in his offensive line for that to happen. After entering the season as a major question mark, the offensive line played much better than anybody might have believed during Florida’s fast start to the season only to struggle as of late.
Harris was sacked three times and harassed all day against Vanderbilt as the Commodores consistently manhandled the Gators up front. More disconcerting to McElwain was the fact that it was less about blown assignments than simply just subpar execution in both pass protection and run blocking.
Harris was left scrambling for his life and too often pressing to try to make something happen as a result.
The O-line fared better against the Gamecocks last weekend, paving the way for running back Kelvin Taylor to rush for 105 yards while allowing Harris the time to complete 19 of 33 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown.
But the Gators managed just 148 rushing yards and surrendered three sacks to a sieve Gamecocks defense that entered the game ranked 91st nationally in total defense.
McElwain has said the running backs aren’t blameless either as they must improve in reading their zone running schemes and be quicker to attack the holes as they appear. Florida’s running game has lacked in big plays all season.
McElwain knows he’ll have to come up with something quickly because the defenses awaiting the Gators from Florida State and Alabama will pose considerably tougher challenges.
Consistency as a unit is what he hopes to see, but time is quickly running short.