I sat down with my recording of the game today and took a good long look at Florida’s offensive drives. I only looked at the first six of the seven, since Urban Meyer deemed the final drive as not having any “competitive plays” in his Monday press conference.
Before we get too far into this, let’s first consider some quotes from Tim Tebow after the game:
“I don’t think our offense scheme is exactly how it was in 2006, but we are focused on controlling the ball, controlling the clock, our turnovers, good defensive position; all things we’ve done pretty well so far.”
“The playbook is all there, thankfully we haven’t had to use.We’ve tried to run some different things, which have worked for us. We haven’t felt the need to open up with the leads we’ve had early on in games.”
One more: “We didn’t really feel the need to build it up and try to big-play them to death.”
That said, let’s get into it.
This game was all about rushing on offense. When he’s on the road, Meyer likes to establish the run early and win with defense and special teams. That is precisely what happened.
The past two seasons Meyer used a fullback for some blocking, whether Billy Latsko or Eric Rutledge, but this season he’s using a tight end as an H-back to fulfill that purpose. Aaron Hernandez’s blocking in this game was noticeably better than it was against Miami, so that’s a good sign if that’s what the strategy will be from here on out.
Of the 18 first down plays the Gators had, 13 of them were runs. Of the 30 running plays in those first six drives, 18 of them were runs up the middle. That relates with Meyer’s desire to establish his team as being tough, something he did almost to the ruin of the 2006 team early in conference play. He was beaming about having a tough team again at the beginning of his coach show, so it still matters deeply to him.
The passing game was not used much and it didn’t feel all that crisp. I think that’s because passing games feel good when you hit several completions in a row. The most passes in a row on a single drive that the Gators threw was three, on all of the second drive’s plays, and the first two were either incomplete or for a loss.
Long passing plays also help, but they were used that much. Only four passes in the “competitive” drives were intended for receivers who were more than 10 yards down the field.
The first was complete to Percy Harvin for 34 yards, one of just two passes on the 11-play third drive. The second was sort of a wobbly duck that came out of Tebow’s hand wrong as he was being hit while throwing and was dropped. The third was the touchdown pass to Percy Harvin. The fourth was a deep pass in the end zone to Riley Cooper that was incomplete due to pass interference by Tennessee.
These drives had only 14 throws total, and one was a penalty as I just mentioned. Two more were dropped and on a third the intended receiver fell down. Three were bad passes and a fourth was a screen pass for a loss. Yet another was an ugly desperation shovel pass that Tebow completed on a third down to set up the first field goal.
That means just five passes that were successful as a normal part of the offense. One was an inside shovel pass, and another was the jump pass. Two more were the long passes described above and the last was a standard screen pass.
With all that disjointedness, it’s not hard to see how it seemed like the passing game lacked rhythm. That would be, of course, because it did.
Of the six competitive drives, Florida came away with points on five of them. The 2/3 touchdown to field goal ratio is not that great but it was enough to get the job done.
Thanks to two long returns and a fumble recovery, three drives started in Tennessee territory. Two resulted in TDs and one in a field goal. The field goal “drive” was the three-play, all-passing drive that gained seven yards before handing the work on to Jonathan Phillips.
Of the three that began in Florida territory, two began inside the Gators’ 10. The first was a 74-yard drive ending in a field goal and the other was a three-and-out. The final drive began on the UF 38 and traveled to Tennessee’s 9 before having to settle for a field goal.
As I reported before, Florida is scoring on 51% of its drives on the year, slightly off last season’s 54% pace. For all the complaining about the production against Miami, and considering there were a couple drives against Hawai’i where the backups didn’t do squat, that’s pretty good. That 54% mark from last season led the nation, so being close to that means you’re not doing bad at all.
Tim Tebow’s quotes above, as well as something Chris Low reported today, indicate that the Gators haven’t opened up the full playbook yet. Last season they had no choice but to drive at full throttle from the get-go thanks to the awful defense, but timely turnovers and long returns have afforded the Gators the luxury hold some things back.
The Hawai’i game was about getting everyone involved and giving the running backs a showcase game. The Miami game was about beating a rival and figuring out a way to defeat the blitz. This Tennessee game was about establishing the Gators as a tough team who can win on the road by pounding the rock, and also giving Emmanuel Moody a full test drive.
The lack of long pass plays (meaning calling them, because execution has been fine), the relatively low number of touches by Percy Harvin, and some strategies with a bigger scope than just the game they’re employed in have kept things on the quiet side on offense so far. They have been able to do that because Hawai’i is terrible, Miami’s offense barely even tried to score, and Tennessee looks capable of finishing fifth in the division.
This weekend’s game against Ole Miss could very well be the wakeup game for the offense. Jevan Snead is a mobile quarterback, and signal callers of that breed tend to give Florida fits, so the defense might not look quite so dominant. The Rebel defense has given up 24 points to Memphis, 30 to Wake Forest, and 23 to Vanderbilt, none of whom have the potential for fireworks that the Gators have.
I think 40 points is the threshold to watch for on Saturday. Depending on how many plays and drives the Gators get, and of course conditional on any more defensive or special teams scores, the offense should be able to get there by itself. If there are non-offensive scores, the foot will be eased off of the accelerator before the offense can get there, but it’s time to get some practice for the extended playbook to make sure it’s not rusting.
If the team cannot get close to 40 points all together, then I think there’s reason for concern. It’s a home game, and it is against an up and coming, yet still inferior team. Putting this one away by the end of the third quarter with a healthy number on the scoreboard should be the signal that things are fine after all in Gainesville.