A Detailed Analysis of the 2007 Offensive Drives

The 2007 Florida offense was a great one. In terms of points per game, it was the fourth-best in school history behind 1996, 2001, and 1995 respectively.

It was almost a surprise to see the Gator O not score at the end of a drive, considering it finished first in my estimation of scoring drive percentage. Florida scored on over 57% of its drives, good for first in the nation.

I was curious though–what kept the Gators from scoring? What caused drives to end unsuccessfully? And in particular, what kept them from scoring touchdowns? After all, scoring touchdowns is the most important thing an offense can do.

I went through all of my recordings of the 2007 Gator games to see what caused drives to end. I kept it to just the games against BCS-level competition–the SEC schedule plus FSU and Michigan–because the gaudy point totals in the games against Troy and FAU and the weather-shortened game against Western Kentucky don’t really tell us a lot.

Scoring drive percentage against BCS opponents

As you would expect, the scoring drive percentage was down against BCS competition, but how down was it? Well, I’ll let this lovely little pie chart tell the story:

The answer? Not that much, as the Gator offense still scored on 53.77% of its drives despite the stiffer defenses.

The fact they scored more often than they didn’t score is remarkable. In fact, it was equally likely that they would score a touchdown as it was that they would not score at all. Not many teams can say they do that every year, and the fact that the Gators did that and still lost four games says a lot about the defense. This is not about defense though; let’s dig into these offensive numbers.

Of those 49 times they did not score, six involved a penalty on the final set of downs. Four involved tackles for loss and two more had snaps go over someone’s head.

In total, the Gators had just 18 three-and-outs, meaning drives where they did not get a first down and punted. Three of those came on the first drive of the game (Tennessee, Auburn, and Kentucky).

Speaking of the first drives of the game, Florida scored on four of them (LSU, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and FSU). Three ended in punts, as I mentioned above. Two more ended in missed field goals (Ole Miss, Michigan) and the last one ended in a fumble (Georgia).

Touchdown preventers

Let’s delve a little deeper. What were the specific things that caused Florida to not score a touchdown? To answer that question, I categorized those things. Excluding turnovers or the end of a half, which themselves end drives, these are things that happened on the final play before a punt or field goal try.

“Good defense” indicates that no one was open causing a fruitless QB scramble, a pass was broken up, or there was a tackle for loss. “Poor execution” means a dropped pass or a bad throw. “Play not enough” indicates the play went as planned but it didn’t gain enough yards to extend the drive. “Other” contained two entries that don’t fit elsewhere.

The legend on the chart starts with good defense (17) and goes around clockwise.

As we see, good defense was the number one preventer of touchdowns. Poor execution and turnovers were next with 12 occurrences apiece. Next was the ineffective offensive plays category with 10, followed by sacks with four and other with two.

The turnovers break down like this. Five were caused by poor execution, such as a receiver running a different route than the quarterback was expecting or bad snaps. Four were caused by defenders just making a good play like stripping the ball or jumping a route. The final three were fumbles caused by a defender’s helmet hitting the ball in a carrier’s arm, a relatively freak occurrence that results in a fumble nearly every time.

The poor execution category broke down two ways. Seven of them were bad passes, either two low or ahead or behind a target. The other five were drops by receivers.

One of the “other” plays was the final down before the half in the Ole Miss game in Oxford. The Gators got a first down in field goal range with two seconds to go in the half. Tim Tebow spiked the ball as soon as the refs signaled the play live, which should have left one second left and a stopped clock, but the operator let it run and the half expired.

The other play was when Tebow threw it away when no one was open. For most quarterbacks, that is not a unique thing that would warrant mention. Chris Leak routinely threw balls into the fifth row when no one was open. Tebow did that only once on a third down, a consequence of his mobility and unwillingness to let a drive die by an intentional incompletion. I would expect to see that number go up as he progresses as a quarterback and minimizes the number of risks he takes.

Drive outcomes

The non-scoring drive outcomes broke down as follows:

Eight of them still turned into points as field goals. Five more would have been points too if the field goal try had been made or had not been blocked. Twelve ended in turnovers as documented above, five of which could have been prevented with better execution.

Three were failed fourth down conversions that resulted in turnovers on downs. Two more were instances where the Gators were trying to score but got prevented by the end of the half–the first half against Ole Miss mentioned above, and the second half of the LSU game.

Looking ahead to 2008

This little study doesn’t really have predictive power for 2008, but it does highlight some areas that the Gators need to work on.

There’s not much they can do about the good defense category of touchdown preventers, because there will always be defenders who will beat the offense on a given play. The schedule helps with that some by rotating out Auburn for Arkansas.

The poor execution plays on third downs only made up about 16% of total drives against BCS opponents, a reasonably low number. Some of that can be remedied by Tebow’s maturation as a passer. Four of the five drops happened to have been by guys who won’t be playing this season–the graduated Andre Caldwell and the injured Cornelius Ingram–however they’ll still come from elsewhere. Drops happen, but as long as they stay at or below five percent of non-TD drives, that’s tolerable.

Minimizing penalties and plays that go for a loss before third down will help too. That is an obvious statement, sure. However, some of the penalties were obvious personal fouls committed by young guys right in front of a ref. Just getting a year older and a year savvier should reduce those sorts of things. I have a feeling, for instance, that we won’t see Maurkice Pouncey clocking a defender five seconds after the whistle again.

As for the plays that aren’t enough on third down or that get stopped before third down, gaining experience will help with that too. Dan Mullen is the guy calling the plays for Florida, a fact that can be easy to forget given how much people talk about the Urban Meyer Offense. Mullen has only been an offensive coordinator for three seasons now, so he’s still getting better at the job too.

Even with the loss of Ingram on top of the graduations of Caldwell, Drew Miller and Carlton Medder, the Florida offense should be even better. The return of fifth-year senior Phil Trautwein to left tackle (injured all last season) helps with the offensive line. Mike Pouncey returning to the offensive line should also mean good things, and there’s depth despite losing Jim Barrie for the year.

The losses of Ingram and Caldwell will more than be made up by the increased roles or additions of Louis Murphy, Brandon James, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody, Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson, and Aaron Hernandez. That doesn’t even factor in that Meyer is calling Kestahn Moore “dynamic” for the first time ever, Riley Cooper has yet to spend a season healthy, David Nelson is tall and still around, and the two most impressive freshmen from fall practice, Jeffrey Demps and Frankie Hammond, could also see playing time.

Few teams across the country can boast two players at the level of Tebow and Percy Harvin. Few can boast of the amount of depth the Gators have at the skill positions. No one in my estimation has both, which is why a lot of the issues I’ve detailed about the 2007 offense will be ironed out in 2008.

After this fall, the record book at Florida may never be the same.

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