The Offense

Okay, enough of being a homer. Let’s face it – Florida is somewhat fortunate to be 7-1 with an offense that sometimes lacks cohesion, and absolutely lucky to be ranked 4th in the BCS under those circumstances. Every week it’s something different; sometimes the scheme is good but the execution is not there, other times the execution is pretty good but the scheme is puzzling at best. In the case of the Georgia game, both execution and scheme were bad.

In some ways, it seems like the coaches get stuck up on things that are good in theory rather than focusing on what goes on in the games. For instance, they are very big on getting players “touches.” I’ve always hated that term because it subtly implies that a player will excel simply by placing his hands on the ball. Just get this guy X number of touches per game, and things will be great. A case in point was the one play the coaches ran for Jarred Fayson on Saturday. He came in on one play and had a pass underthrown to him, as if the coaches suddenly thought “Oh no, we need to get Fayson a couple of touches this game,” and threw him in to catch a screen. He then disappeared for the rest of the game.

I prefer more of a basketball style approach – find the open man, and feed the hot hand. Just run good plays and let the fourth-year starter at quarterback decide who gets the ball. It’s like Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen are micromanaging the offense rather than letting it flow. There’s more to it than throwing either the occasion deep bomb to placate the fans and sideways screen passes. Georgia played a lot of zone, and as anyone who knows football well knows, you attack the zone with someone, usually the tight end, going over the middle. Andre Caldwell got his 40-yard touchdown doing just that. Why they didn’t “feed the hot hand” by going back over the middle in the 10 – 15 yard range is beyond me.

Part of micromanaging also is overthinking things. According to a quote from Meyer in today’s Alligator, it took DeShawn Wynn getting in Meyer’s face in the third quarter in order to get him carries. Urban said that did change his mind. Why he decided in the first place that a guy who ran for more than 100 yards on Tennessee was not fit for carries against Georgia raises plenty questions. Meyer spent some of his post game comments talking about how displeased he is with the drop back passing game since Chris Leak doesn’t get enough protection. I would think that using Wynn early to open up the pass would be a good way to buy Leak more time. I’m not advocating the Auburn game offense of Wynn up the middle nearly ever down, but Wynn is a better option between the tackles than Percy Harvin is (and yes, they did run Harvin up the middle in the first quarter). It’s about balance.

Now, part of the offensive struggles may have had to do with Leak and his not-concussion/headache/whatever it was that plagued him from late in the second quarter. Urban said Leak used three unnecessary timeouts after getting a particularly bad hit. It also seemed that some of the penalties could have come from miscommunications dealing with that. I don’t know, but I do know that the penalties need to stop. They kill momentum and disrupt the offensive game plan. Turning third-and-shorts into third-and-longs has been a specialty for the Gators this year, and they will not beat Auburn or Arkansas in the SEC title game if they get penalized as much in that game as they have all season.

One interesting thing I gathered from the morning and midday talk shows today is that there is somewhat of a Tim Tebow backlash starting up. I never thought I’d even get a hint of that this year, but it’s starting. I think his key fumble that led to a Georgia touchdown and his general ineffectiveness (aside from a couple of plays) has reminded people that he is fact a freshman and that he is not Superman. The St. Timothy image I talked about early in the season is fading. Some complain that using Tebow disrupts Leak’s rhythm and that the switching of quarterbacks leads to some of the false start penalties. They decide that for those reasons, Tebow may be better off left on the bench, almost that he’s more trouble than he’s worth now that defenses know that he’s going to run off-tackle left nearly every time.

I think that’s a fascinating development. Even the hits for this site from people searching for Tebow’s name have fallen off and nearly disappeared in the past three days. I think people are realizing that Tebow cannot yet run the offense, that trying to run two different offenses concurrently won’t always work, and that Chris Leak really is the best option for winning this year after all. Now, all it probably will take is a 30-yard run against Vanderbilt for the Tebow madness to start again, but for now there are at least a few fans who are deciding that picking Chris Leak as the quarterback and sticking with him is the best option for success.

It also may be that, just like with Leak and th booing nonsense earlier in the season, that they are not upset with Tebow as much as they are with the coaching staff. The coaches definitely deserve some criticism after that game since Georgia is clearly rebuilding this year and Florida can be an elite team when it wants to be. That game should not have been close. I wonder if the players slipped back into a Zook-era trademark move of relaxing when they get a big lead. Not only is the Meyer regime trying to get by with players recruited for a different scheme, it also has to deal with the culture of complacency that grew up in Ron Zook’s three years. Losses were bad and “not acceptable,” but there were never any consequences really, since they were “getting better and better every week.”

Do not get me wrong here, I am not blaming Ron Zook for anything. His direct influence doesn’t pass the limits of Champagne, Illinois these days. However, even Steve Spurrier in his last couple of years tended to whine a lot more than he did when he first started. I do question the mental toughness of Florida football, and that includes the fans too. We were all spoiled in the ’90s, and it seemed like Florida could do whatever it wanted to simply by showing up. The Tennessee loss in 2001 ended for good any thought of that since Spurrier owned Phil Fulmer, the SEC East was on the line, and Florida still lost.

This year, a lot of good fortune and bad turnovers by opponents in critical times has propelled Florida to where it is now. As I mentioned before, Florida has yet to put together a full game, but neither has any of UF’s opponents. Auburn’s second half was the best half of football played against the Gators, and if not for two uncharacteristic and costly turnovers by Chris Leak late, it still might not have been enough to beat the Gators. There is something about this team that is a double-edged sword – it keeps them from playing sharply, but also keeps the opponents from doing so either.

In the end, the Gator defense has been winning the games week in and week out. The front seven has been excellent in stopping the run outside of the Auburn game, and the secondary has getting a lot of big plays (once again, except for the Auburn game) while letting the smaller plays go. Reggie Nelson in particular has saved the secondary many times, at least when the coaches don’t have him playing 30 yards off of the line of scrimmage (just like in – get this – the Auburn game). Florida has the luxury of playing around with all sorts of things on offense since the defense has been so adept at keeping opponents out of the end zone. They haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been tremendous.

So what about this week? It’s just Vandy right? Well, Vanderbilt beat Georgia and has been very well-coached under Bobby Johnson. Using well-coached and Vanderbilt is not a common occurrence, so that should tell you something. Sure, Jay Cutler is gone, but there were plenty of other guys besides Cutler working to take Florida to double overtime in a game that Florida very well could have lost in regulation if not for a suspect celebration penalty on the Commodores. Florida has better size, speed, and talent all over the field, so the Gators should absolutely win.

As we know, though, Vandy doesn’t make things easy for anyone. They played Michigan to a closer final score than Notre Dame did. Florida should win, but it won’t be a cakewalk.

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