Orange and Blue Game Wrapup

April 20, 2009

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the Orange and Blue Game. That’s one of the few sucky things about living in Charlotte (besides all the ACC fans): I can’t just go to Gainesville whenever I want.

Anyway, my parents and brother did make the game. Rather than give a rundown of all the media coverage of the game, I’ll instead tell you what they told me.

My brother was very disappointed that Tim Tebow didn’t do any downfield throwing. He said Timmy mostly was tossing swing passes, though he did run around a bit. That is, of course, until he got tagged by a defender. Ultimately though, this day wasn’t really about him.

It was John Brantley’s day. Urban Meyer has raved about Brantley’s performance in recent weeks, and for the most part he came through. My parents said his favorite target was Frankie Hammond, who had no trouble getting behind the reserve DBs according to my brother.

They also said that Tebow was conversing with Meyer the whole time while Brantley was playing, almost as though he was an assistant coach. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, and there’s precendent for it. Meyer made Chris Leak a big part of game planning in 2006, even letting Leak script the first 10 or 15 plays of the national title game himself.

My brother said one thing that stood out to him that few of the media reports mentioned was that there were some issues with shotgun snaps. Redshirt freshman Sam Robey is said to have won the starting center role not so much because he outplayed Maurkice Pouncey (because he didn’t), but because he played well enough to move Maurkice back to guard where the coaches want him. Robey apparently had issues with snapping it right into Tebow’s hands, but theoretically an off season’s worth of practice ought to straighten that out by the fall.

Walk on RB Christopher Scott ran hard and was productive, they said. Whether he’ll play much in the fall remains to be seen, but think about this for a second. The Gators now have a walk on who is behind three or four (depending on incoming freshman Mike Gillislee) other guys who is able to be a productive back against the defense. Compare that to the situation in 2005-06 (run it Wynnside!) and be grateful. Oh, and Chris Rainey still has the best moves on the team.

With all of the defensive starters injured or taking the day off, the offense was able to move nicely. Even so, there were still starter-caliber guys like Dorian Munroe available and playing. My guess is the backups are probably still a top-50 defense in the country, so it does at least give an indication that the offense progressed through the spring.

My parents are going to Meyer’s upcoming speaking engagement in Orlando, so if he says anything interesting I’ll pass it along.

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Rainey Honored by SEC

November 25, 2008

Chris Rainey was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his ridiculous rushing numbers against the Citadel. As improbable as it was going to be given that Florida was playing a I-AA opponent, the Gators extended their streak of having at least one player name All-SEC after every win. I guess it helped that Julio Jones had the week off.

In injury news, Matt Patchan is out but Lawrence Marsh could play against FSU. I think Florida would still win without either, but I’d prefer to have Marsh playing.


The Difference in Gator Football is All About Pressure

November 6, 2008

Call me Bernoulli, because today I’m talking pressure differential.

The Florida offense spent much of the first four games struggling to fulfill offseason expectations. It flowed freely against Hawai’i and Tennessee for the most part, but it did not do all that well against Miami and Ole Miss. In fact, the Gators turned it over three times in the loss to Ole Miss, equal to the number of lost turnovers in the rest of their games.

Tim Tebow’s play had a lot to do with it. He was not executing well at the beginning of the year, often slinging medium passes low and overthrowing all his deep balls. Something clicked in the fifth game though; I mean, look at this:

Tim Tebow, Games 1-4
Comp % 60.78%
Pass Yards/Att 7.92
TD/INT 6/0
Rush Yards/Att 2.55
Rush TDs 2
Sacks Taken 6
Tim Tebow, Games 5-8
Comp % 69.33%
Pass Yards/Att 10.15
TD/INT 8/2
Rush Yards/Att 3.13
Rush TDs 6
Sacks Taken 5

That’s a huge difference. Some of it had to do with different play calling, and some of it had to do with the emergence of running threats in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. Most of it, I’d say, had to do with pressure.

The Guy Who Made the Difference

One substitution made a lot of the difference: putting Carl Johnson at left guard. The coaches were grooming to be a tackle next season, as both starting tackles are fifth-year seniors, but injuries led the coaches to try him out at guard.

Jim Tartt has been injury-plagued, and Marcus Gilbert did not get the job done and eventually also got injured. Johnson stepped in, and it took about three quarters before things fully came together. Once it did though, the difference was dramatic.

You can see the difference in the passing game above. Tebow has only taken one fewer sack in the last four as opposed to the first four, but the timing of those sacks is different. Nearly all of those five sacks in the second four games came when Florida had a 20-point lead or more; in the first four games he was taking sacks when games were very much in doubt still.

The Running Game

Thanks to injuries to Percy Harvin and Emmanuel Moody, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps played a lot in the game against Hawai’i. They did not do a whole lot more in those first four games because Harvin carried the load in games two and four and Moody was the primary back in game three. The re-injury of Moody and the loss to Ole Miss prompted the coaching staff to try out the little guys again.

They instantly made an impact. Running behind the revamped line with Johnson, Rainey and Demps became the first pair of backs to rush for over 100 yards in the same game under Meyer.

It wasn’t that they were suddenly calling a bunch of different plays; Demps’ first big run came on a basic read option play and Demps’ second long run along with Rainey’s 75-yard run came on basic handoffs up the middle. There was no trickeration going on, there simply were holes to run through finally.

Holes were difficult to come by against Miami, Tennessee, and Ole Miss. Florida averaged no more than 3.77 yards per carry against those teams. The Gators relied primarily on rushing against the Vols since they got up big so early in the game, but the inability for the line to create holes against Miami and Ole Miss led UF to pass a lot.

In those games, Florida ran the ball just 43.55% and 47.95% of the time, respectively. The next lowest mix was against Hawai’i, when Florida ran 69.09% of the time. Compare that to when Tebow threw just five passes in the first half against Georgia, for instance, and only 13 times all game. In the last four games, Florida has averaged over 5 yards per carry in three of them and no less than 4.87 yards per carry.

It’s not just than Demps and Rainey have been used more because you can see above that Tebow’s rush average has increased too. Rainey also got as many carries against Tennessee as Moody did and was not as effective as the USC transfer was. On top of that, Tebow and Harvin were the most successful runners against Georgia before Moody took over in garbage time.

The difference in the play calling has been subtle with the extra running threats in the backfield. They use fewer empty sets, although that also has to do with what I will describe later. They run a little more triple option, and they run pass plays for Demps out of the backfield, where Harvin used to be the only one with designed pass plays out of the backfield.

It’s not like the play calling is fully, drastically different than the beginning of the year or last year though. After all, on Florida’s only scoring drive against Georgia that went for more than 56 yards, the most effective plays were either carries or receptions by Percy Harvin and a triple option carry by Tebow. The handoffs to Rainey and Demps never went for more than five yards.

Make no mistake; Rainey and Demps are a big reason why the rushing game has improved. Don’t assume though that they are the only reason. The guys paving the way for all ball carriers have gotten much, much better as the season has gone along.

Defenses

Opposing defenses do have a say in the matter too. No matter how good an offense is, the opposing defenses always play a role in performance.

The two worst games by the Gator offense were the games against Miami and Ole Miss. It should come as no surprise that those were games where the opposing defenses blitzed more than half of the time. Those teams sold out on stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback, and they were able to do it. Miami backed off on the blitzing in the fourth quarter though, and we all know what happened then.

Hawai’i was not a good team, but they got a surprisingly large amount of pressure. Which is to say, they actually did get some pressure occasionally. Tennessee chose not to blitz as much, and the Gator offense basically did whatever they wanted to. Arkansas and Georgia also did not blitz over half the time, and the Gator offense did well in those games. I didn’t analyze the LSU or Kentucky games for blitzing patterns since they were such large blowouts and because the UK defense was so banged up, but I don’t remember much pressure being applied in those games.

Part of the difference in blitzing patterns have to do with the philosophy of the opposing defensive coordinators, but the fact is that from the Arkansas game on, Florida did more things to combat blitzes. Johnson being in helped for sure. Keeping a running back in more often (as alluded to above) helped too. Beginning games with quick passes, running more standard instead of read option, and rolling the quarterback out all contributed as well.

With more blitz-busting techniques being employed, the incentive for defenses to blitz lessened. Without them blitzing as much, the offense could run longer pass plays more effectively since Tebow had time to throw. He had more time to work through his progressions as well. The real threat of passing opened up the run more, which opened up the pass more, and it became a positive feedback loop.

The Rest of the Season

It will be interesting to see how things go from here on out. Meyer seemed pleased with Moody at the end of the Georgia game, so he may see more meaningful carries. Florida has often had issues winning comfortably in Nashville, and you can make the case that South Carolina field the best defense Florida will have faced all year. On top of that, FSU doesn’t look hopeless anymore.

With the Gators in the thick of the BCS race, which is always a beauty contest, there will be pressure on them to keep the big wins coming. I haven’t even mentioned the defense and special teams, which have been giving the offense short fields. I mean, only three of Florida’s seven scoring drives started in UF territory, and two of the others were 56 and 66 yards. Sure it’s up to the offense to convert those to points, but they’ve been a big help.

Ultimately, this could go down as one of the four or five best offenses in Florida history. It certainly didn’t look that way early in the season, but the changes they made to take the pressure off of the quarterback and running game have made all the difference.


Rainey Says Good Things a Comin’

October 10, 2008

Chris Rainey says we can expect to see some good things this weekend, and that fans will be happy about seeing an exciting offense again.

“We’ve all been waiting to see this. We’ve got a lot of plays coming for LSU, a lot of new ones, too.”

Florida unveiled the jump pass and Tebow’s self-play action against LSU in 2006, so there’s precedent here. I hope Rainey is right and not just making another interesting quote.


Florida’s Running Game Against LSU

October 10, 2008

If you’re a Gator fan, you probably already know all this. It was done by request for someone at Bleacher Report, so I figured I’d go ahead and post it here. Just skip to the end for an interesting stat on LSU. If you’re not a Gator, by all means, have at it.

Tebow and Harvin

Any discussion of Florida’s offense, rushing or passing, begins with these guys.

Tim Tebow’s rushing numbers are down since he’s carrying the ball about five fewer times a game than he did last year. The coaches have made a concerted effort to get him to do less freelancing, and that has been the case so far. Even so, he has had a few long runs on scrambles when no one is open.  He will do most designed runs on read option plays, and he’s still the short yardage back.

Percy Harvin has played only one game this season where he was fully healthy: the Ole Miss game where he racked up 82 yards on 10 carries. First he was recovering from his offseason heel surgery, and then he sprained his ankle at Arkansas. He put on some strength in the offseason, moving up to around 205 pounds from about 185 last year, and that has allowed him to fight through defenses and break tackles.

It will be difficult for Tebow to get much on the read option plays thanks to LSU’s great defensive line. His ability to scramble will largely be determined by how LSU uses their linebackers; if they’re blitzing and Tebow gets away, he could have some nice gains.

Harvin will get as many carries as his ankle will allow him to. He will likely be effective because, well, he’s always effective. There’s a reason he averages an absurd amount of yards per touch: the guy is good. He won’t run wild like he did against the Rebels, but he’ll get his yards.

Rainey and Demps

Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are a couple of small backs who are lightning quick.

Rainey is a shifty type. He can spin and juke his way to large gains on nearly every play if he can find a hole. The offensive staff has used him in some puzzling ways though. Three times in the past two games they’ve sent him up the middle on 3rd-and-1, and all three times it has not worked.

Demps is a track star as many know, the holder of the national high school record in the 100 meters. He doesn’t do the fancy things that Rainey does; he hits the hole and speeds away. Demps is always all by himself at the end of his big plays because he almost always runs vertically. In terms of straight line speed, no one can catch him.

These two have a chance to be real difference makers. The trick will be getting them into space, because they will not find success between the tackles thanks to their small stature. Even on their long runs against Arkansas, they first bounced out to the outside rather than going through a hole in the middle.

If Florida can find a way to get them in running lanes, they’ll play a huge part against LSU.

Moore

Kestahn Moore is the only power back on the roster available. Emmanuel Moody is out with a sprained ankle, and Mon Williams is still experimenting at linebacker full time. If the Gators want tough running from someone other than a quarterback, Moore’s the man for the job.

Given his past history with fumbling, especially against LSU, it’s doubtful we’ll see him carry the ball too many times. However he is the best guy on the roster at protecting the quarterback, so we could see him more as a blocker than a runner.

Overall

LSU sports the No. 8 ranked rushing defense in the country, but it also has the No. 44 ranked pass defense. Florida has established itself as a “use the run to set up the pass” team, but that may need to be reversed given the Tiger D’s performance so far.

Regardless, if Florida can’t run the ball, it won’t win the game. These are the guys who will be called upon to make it happen.


Analyzing the Offense Against Arkansas

October 8, 2008

A reporter called it mundane at times. The head coach called it awful at times. “It” was the Florida offense against Arkansas.

A glance at the box score and news might lead you to think that “it” wasn’t that bad. You’d see 38 points scored on over 500 yards of offense, and two members of it earned All-SEC honors for the week. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Well, “it” didn’t pass the smell test for most of the first half, and it had a more difficult time getting into a true rhythm than it did even in the loss to Ole Miss. There was some sputtering, there were a lot of hankies on the field, but ultimately the game ended in a break through.

Florida’s Game Plan

For the first time all season, I could definitely tell that Florida had a well-defined game plan. Even against Tennessee, they of the squad that’s ranked 5th in the country in total defense, the offense kind of did whatever it wanted to almost aimlessly. It poked and prodded but never settled on something.

In this game against Arkansas, the objective was clear: use the run to set up the pass. I have a feeling that was always the plan, but in previous games there was a bent on finding out whether this is a “tough” Florida team or not. It’s something that Urban Meyer has done every year except last year (for whatever reason), and best as I can tell the main test is whether or not they can run up the middle.

There was still some gratuitous running up the middle, but for the most part it was part of a coherent offensive attack. They still tried to run microback Chris Rainey up the middle on 3rd-and-1 twice, something they did once last week, and it has yet to work any of the times.

However Tim Tebow brought back the self-play action, what the voice of the Gators Mic Hubert calls the “rocker step,” where he leans forward faking a run to set up passes. For some reason, that was mysteriously missing from the other games. Its return shows a conscious effort from the offensive staff to actually use the threat of running to set up passing.

Arkansas’ Game Plan

The Razorbacks’ strategy was not as cut-and-dried as Miami’s and Ole Miss’ blitz-heavy schemes. Arkansas did do some blitzing, but it was not overly successful and more often the Razorbacks left their linebackers up in pressure. They did not send them in quickly, but they didn’t drop them in coverage much either.

One new thing they did was a delayed blitz, where someone would wait a second before blitzing. That is something that no one else has tried on the Gators yet. They only did it twice; the first time Tebow was hit as he threw, resulting in an incompletion, and the second time was a short quick pass to Jeff Demps, not leaving enough time for the linebacker to get to Tebow first.

Arkansas clearly is challenged on that side of the ball, but for the first half they did well for their standards.

First Half

The Gators set the tone of the game with the first three plays. First was a triple option, second was a handoff to Percy Harvin up the middle, and the third was a self-play action pass by Tebow complete to Carl Moore over the middle. Just when it looked like another game of “are we tough?” nonsense, they shook things up.

Tebow didn’t start off at his best level. He only had two incompletions on the first two drives, one due to good coverage and one due to a bad throw, but he made two uncharacteristically bad decisions on read option plays. On one he should have pitched to Harvin, and the other he should have kept it instead of handing it off to Brandon James. I know making those reads quickly can’t be easy, but usually he’s better than that.

The second drive was the only three-and-out for the Gators on the day, with the improper handoff to James resulting in a six-yard loss on first down. On third down, Louis Murphy’s route was two yards from the line and he couldn’t shake tacklers once he caught it.

The third series was the one with all the penalties. It began with a pass interference call on Arkansas, but four of the next six snaps were flags on UF. One was an illegal formation penalty, something that has been called on Florida four times in the past two weeks. The coaches need to do something about that.

That was also the drive where Harvin rolled his ankle and was seen getting it taped on the sideline. It is fairly symbolic then that, after Arkansas RB Michael Smith’s fumbled punt reception and two more offensive line penalties, Demps ran 36 yards for a score. It was the first big contribution of several from guys who had been lost as part of the Tebow and Harvin show. Plus as the Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley pointed out, it’s rare that you cap off a 16-yard drive with a 36-yard touchdown run.

The final drive of the first half began well, but three bad pass plays caused it to end in a punt. One was Tebow being hit as he threw from a delayed blitz, one was where Riley Cooper inexplicably stopped running on his crossing route, and the final one was a low throw by Tebow. The Gators were up 14-0, but penalties and bad execution prevented that score from being higher.

Second Half

The second half was one of the more productive halves Florida has had this year.

The first drive ultimately stalled out because of a sack, Arkansas’ only one of the game, but it didn’t exactly flow well. It started off great, with four effective plays among the first five, but spotty blocking from LG Carl Johnson, C Maurkice Pouney, and LT Phil Trautwein kept plays from maximizing their potential. They still did well enough to kick a field goal.

The second drive ended in an interception, a lazy throw that would have been complete if Tebow had put some arc on it. Plays were either effective or would have been with proper blocking. Aaron Hernandez couldn’t get through the line to make his block on the first play, Johnson missed one on the third play, RG Mike Pouncey missed one on the fifth play, and RT Jason Watkins missed a second level block on the eighth play.

The defense stopped the Razorbacks on the ensuing drive, making the third second half possession a chance to crush Arkansas’ hopes for good. Florida did that with five of the drive’s six plays being effective. Tebow was 4-4 with 76 yards, and the only play that didn’t work was a read option handoff that the defense played correctly. It was the perfect answer, and it put the game away for good.

The next drive was capped by Rainey’s 75-yard touchdown run on the fourth play, so there’s not much to analyze. It was another rough one for the offensive line though. Trautwein fell down while trying to block on the first play, a handoff left to Harvin, and the pulling RG Mike Pouncey couldn’t get there in time for backup. Mike would then let a guy go by him on 3rd-and-1, a barely successful Tebow smash play, in order to double team someone in the second level. Why he thought the second level mattered on a Tebow smash is beyond me.

The final drive was our first chance to see John Brantley at quarterback, and overall he looked good. He picked up a first down on 3rd-and-8 with a sharp pass to Carl Moore. His only incompletion was a pass too high, but it had to be high so as not to be batted down by a blitzer.

Overall

I suppose I kind of get why Meyer said it was the offensive line’s best game of the year penalties aside, because the guys definitely looked physical. They did manage to open some holes, and Florida had two 100-yard rushers for the first time since 1997. Neither of them were Tim Tebow, a remarkable occurrence in post-2006 Gator football.

You knew there were going to be some issues with the top three options at left guard out hurt and a converted tackle playing the spot. Still, you can read the second half synopsis above. Florida could have had even more success without guys missing blocks and without the parade on penalties in the first half. Of course, no one is perfect.

I don’t expect to see a ton of penalties from the line against LSU, just as we didn’t see the Ole Miss game’s fumble flurry return. We’ll see a couple, but nothing like what we saw last Saturday. We know LG Marcus Gilbert will be back, though he didn’t seem like a huge upgrade over Johnson when you compare the Arkansas game to the Miami and Ole Miss games. Even if starting LG Jim Tartt tries to go he won’t play the whole game.

What was big was Rainey and Demps getting to remind Meyer about how good they are in space. It almost seemed as though he forgot about them for a little bit there. To be clear though, they must get into space: Rainey and Demps averaged 3.1 and 3.8 yards per carry when you subtract out their 35+ yard carries. They cannot live on running up the middle in a crowd, something that should be the domain of Tebow, Harvin, and Kestahn Moore exclusively against LSU’s fearsome defensive line.

With the return of good special teams play as well as a budding offensive identity, Florida fans can feel better about this upcoming game against LSU than they did after the Ole Miss loss. Things are still not perfect, and the defense’s regression of the past two weeks is a whole other story, but the point-scoring faculties are on their way up.


Funny Moment from Meyer’s Call In Show

September 5, 2008

There was a funny moment on Urban Meyer’s call in radio show last night.

Someone named Sandy called in saying she heard Herbstreit and Corso naming Florida the future SEC champs, but she wanted to hear it from “the chief.” Did he think they’d win the conference?

His response: “Beat Miami. Repeat that: beat Miami.”

After saying “I know” over and over, she finally said it. She then said that after beating Miami, did he think they could win the conference?

His response: “Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, Sandy. Beat Miami. Say it: beat Miami. Have a good night.”

I’d say Meyer is completely focused on playing Miami, wouldn’t you?

He also mentioned we’d see someone besides Tim Tebow take direct snaps similar to Arkansas. I think he meant what Arkansas used to do under Houston Nutt with Darren McFadden in the Wildcat/Wild Hawg/now Wild Rebel formation. He refused to say who it was, but it’s something to look forward to Saturday.

My guess is that it will be Percy Harvin since he’s experienced and the coaches trust him. Perhaps we’ll see Rainey do it too. We did see Jarred Fayson do this some the past two season, so it’s not entirely new, but it’s interesting to note that he revealed it.