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.
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.
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.
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.