The Florida-Era Steve Spurrier is Officially Gone

March 24, 2009

The Florida-era Steve Spurrier is completely gone.

I don’t say that lightly, especially because of how big a part of my childhood he was. My first time at the Swamp was the ’89 Florida-Kentucky game when I was four. I’ve been to at least one game there every year since.

On fall Sundays while I was growing up, my family had a custom of eating lunch while watching the Steve Spurrier Show with lunch after church. It was jarring to go from that to Ron Zook’s show, and it never did quite feel right.

I inherited a lot of my attitudes about football from that Steve Spurrier: it’s okay to throw for the endzone late in a blowout if it’s the backup doing it, there’s a certain elegance about getting receivers wide open over and over, he who’s on top gets to talk, etc.

When I saw that he is going to implement a Wildcat formation, I realized that the Spurrier I once knew is gone. I should have known this moment was coming given the state of the South Carolina offense the past couple years, but I figured it was what would happen if he got stuck with only quarterbacks at Noah Brindise-level and below.

I simply cannot fathom the Florida-era Spurrier ever deciding to run many plays without a quarterback on the field. He was a quarterback, loved to teach quarterbacks, and acted like a quarterback from the sideline as he still could read defenses better than most collegiate signal callers. That Spurrier would never have considered the Wildcat because he could get just as many yards on a fade route.

What started in Washington has completed in South Carolina. I am with those who think he thought he could walk into Columbia and win almost as quickly as he did at Florida. It worked before, why can’t it work now?

For one thing, the situations are completely different. Bear Bryant famously called Florida a sleeping giant of a program. Charley Pell and Galen Hall built it up to the point where it could take off, and they brought on the same probation that other big time programs had in the ‘80s while doing it. The cupboards were stocked, and Spurrier was the right guy in the right place at the right time for UF.

The talent level at South Carolina in 2005 was not comparable to that of Florida in 1990. It was comparable to that of Florida in 2005 though, and the Gamecocks’ win that year (in a game that Spurrier outcoached Urban Meyer, no less) showed it.

Three seasons later, the gap between Spurrier’s old program and his current one seems like it could scarcely be wider. Florida has added two more SEC and national titles, and it handed him his worst defeat ever last season to the tune of 56-6. Whatever he’s doing has caused him to fall behind the conference leaders, the opposite direction he wants to go.

Now to help catch up, Spurrier, a guy with six SEC titles, is essentially taking a page out of the playbook of Houston Nutt, a guy with no SEC titles. I can tell you that I would never have expected to see that happen when he took the job four years ago.

I have no doubt that his competitive fire is still burning; I doubt anything will ever extinguish that. The witticisms will still come, as they have periodically through his time in Columbia.

The trend-setting Spurrier though is gone, replaced by a more pragmatic and, yes, trend-following Spurrier. It’s time for all of us to stop expecting to see anything different.


Percy Harvin’s Signature Play: The Counter

November 17, 2008

The counter play is a general term for a misdirection running play where everything appears geared to having the ball carrier go in one direction, but he ends up running the other direction. In other words, the runner goes counter to the expected direction.

It is a play that Percy Harvin is absolutely lethal on. Both his first quarter and third quarter touchdown runs against South Carolina came on the brand of counter play that Urban Meyer likes to use. I will diagram the latter since it was longer, but the other would have been a touchdown from any distance away from the end zone as well.

The Third Quarter Run

Here is the formation:

formation-presnap

Florida begins in a three-wide set with Kestahn Moore as a running back next to Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez lined up as an H-back behind RT Jason Watkins. Louis Murphy is wide to the right, Riley Cooper is wide to the left, and Harvin is in the slot.

Here you can see Tebow signaling to Harvin to go in motion. Harvin will come in close on the other side of Tebow to create a symmetrical two-back set.

The South Carolina defense begins in a nickel set, named as such because there are five defensive backs. The defense recognizes that this will probably be a running play with Harvin moving to the backfield, so the corner that was on Harvin slides behind the linebackers to add another layer of run protection. One of the safeties moves up by the linebackers to create a de facto 3-4 set.

Here is what will happen once the ball is snapped:

readytosnap

This is a bit busy, so let’s take it one piece at a time.

Four of the five offensive linemen will block to the right. Moore will come out of the backfield to the right as well. When Harvin takes the hand off, his first couple steps will be to the right. This is the setup, preparing the misdirection of the counter.

RG Mike Pouncey is a pulling guard on this play, called that because instead of going straight ahead, he will pull away from the rest of the line and run around back of it. He will pick up the blitzing outside linebacker on that side. Hernandez will also come around in that direction and shoot between Pouncey and LT Phil Trautwein like a blocking fullback. Harvin, after faking to the right, will cut back to the left and follow Hernandez through the hole.

Something that I didn’t diagram above because it would have made everything too messy is that after the handoff, Tebow rolls right and fakes a throw to Murphy to give the defense one more thing to think about. Murphy will run down field to block, and Cooper at the top will battle his covering cornerback.

downfield

The actual outside linebacker on the left went in after Tebow’s fake. The middle linebacker No. 40 you see there initially went forward to pick up Moore coming out of the backfield, but when he recognized that Moore did not have the ball, he turned around to go after Harvin. The safety who had come up to become the fourth linebacker also got frozen by Moore’s fake run, and he also reversed course to go for Harvin. Both were too late though; Harvin is too fast for either to catch him.

Harvin’s original covering cornerback was Hernandez’s blocking target, but the corner began running back up the field before Hernandez could get a clean block. It didn’t matter though; Hernandez got enough of him to slow him up, and that’s all Harvin needed.

Cooper has the next important block, and it’s no surprise he’s up there as he has become Florida’s best blocker among the receivers. The corner will eventually release from the block, but once again, he was slowed up enough for Harvin to speed past him. The other safety (not pictured) will come in to try to make a play shortly after this frame, but he underestimates Harvin’s speed and takes the wrong angle.

Harvin splits that corner and the safety, and his raw speed helps him pull away. Here’s the video of both the first quarter run and the third quarter run, and you will see the same thing in both: a fake to the right and run to the left.

That Looks Awfully Familiar…

If you’re thinking to yourself that those runs looked familiar, then you are right. Let me paint the scene.

It’s the 2006 SEC Championship Game. Florida led 17-7 at halftime, but a mostly disastrous third quarter allowed Arkansas back in the game. The Razorbacks took a 21-17 lead, but a muffed punt by Reggie Fish that the Gators recovered gave them a 24-21 lead.

It was still close, and Arkansas still had a slight edge of momentum. That is, until Percy Harvin ran a counter play.

formation1

Here we see more of a spread formation. Jemalle Cornelius is at the top, with Bubba Caldwell next to him. Dallas Baker is the tall receiver at the bottom, with Harvin inside of him. FB Billy Latsko is lined up in the H-back position that Hernandez was in above.

Harvin goes in motion towards Chris Leak, and the linebacker who had been on him also slides back behind the other linebackers. It’s the same move we saw the South Carolina cornerback make. This time though, Harvin does not come to a stop, but instead he slows down and his shoulders are still parallel to the sideline when the ball is snapped.

presnap

As with last time it’s a bit busy, but again let’s take it a piece at a time.

The play is going the opposite direction as before, so four of the five offensive linemen block to the left. LG Jim Tartt pulls this time, and he takes on the right defensive end. Latsko will come around and pick up the middle linebacker who is following the DE.

Harvin takes the handoff facing the left sideline, so his original covering linebacker will continue in that direction. I didn’t diagram the quarterback again this time to keep the messiness down, but Leak will run to the left as though he had the ball after handing it off. In response, the outside linebacker on the left will crash the left side of the line as you would expect him to.

After taking the hand off though, Harvin catches the defense off guard by immediately turning around and running between Tartt and Latsko. Upon seeing this, Harvin’s linebacker will turn on a dime and head the other way.

Let’s go to the wide shot for the final part.

downfield1

Harvin is now in the open field, and that’s always a bad thing for opponents. Only two players have a chance to get him now: Harvin’s linebacker and the sole safety on the play.

The linebacker is trying to make up for being fooled, so he is slightly off balance and running as hard as he can towards Harvin. The safety who is playing center field apparently doesn’t think his teammate can make the tackle, so he also runs as hard as he can towards Harvin’s projected running path instead of hanging back to be the last line of defense.

In other words, both guys overpursue on the play. Harvin sees this happening, so he cuts it back to the left and sails down the field for an easy score. Here is the play in real time:

On the first play after a punt, Harvin takes it to the house to give Florida a 31-21 lead and the momentum back. Each team would tack on another score for the final margin of 38-28.

In Final

Urban Meyer will tell anyone willing to listen that Percy Harvin has the best first step in college football. These plays make it easy to see why.

The 2006 edition of the play also illustrates one of the reasons why Meyer, a guy who loves running it up the middle as much as anyone, will spread the field often. By having two receivers at the top, Arkansas was forced to cover them both with corners. That meant there was only one safety instead of two for Harvin to have to deal with. Removing defenders from the middle was the goal, and it worked.

Chris Fowler’s column last week went over how Florida has become a lot more of a power team instead of a spread team this year. That was reflected in 2008’s play above where there were three guys in the backfield instead of two. However, Kestahn Moore coming out wide to the right from the backfield drew both a linebacker and a safety, effectively accomplishing the same goal.

Harvin has had many highlight reel plays in his time at Florida. No play appears more frequently on it than the counter.


Spurrier is in Good Company

November 17, 2008

A lot was made this weekend about Florida giving Steve Spurrier his worst lost of his career in terms of margin of victory. He’s not alone.

The 51-21 win over LSU stands as Les Miles’ worst loss as a head coach. The 49-10 win over Georgia was Mark Richt’s worst loss as a head coach. That makes three worst losses ever for three coaches with 2 national titles and a 13-1 season between them. In the same season. Wow.

As for Spurrier, he told Urban Meyer to go on a four-game winning streak at the end of the game. Once a Gator, always a Gator.


A Couple Quick Notes

November 15, 2008

The 21-0 lead is nice, but it has nothing to do with the offense. I’m not sure if that is encouraging or discouraging, but the generosity of the rest of the team is preventing the South Carolina defense’s good play from mattering.

Also, Tim Tebow was not guilty of a horse collar tackle after the fumbled pitch to Rainey. I looked up some information on the rule change from the offseason, and I give you this:

Rogers Redding, NCAA football secretary-rules editor and coordinator of football officials for the Southeastern Conference, said the horse-collar ban may result in fewer back injuries.

“What we’re hearing from trainers and physicians is we’re getting some back injuries when the ball carrier is immediately snapped to the ground by being jerked quickly,” he said. “If the ball carrier is grabbed by the shoulder or jersey and just ridden to the ground over a couple of yards, that’s not going to be a foul.” (emphasis mine)

Tebow grabbed the shoulder and rode Norwood to the ground over several yards. That was a correct non-call.


South Carolina’s A-Comin’

November 14, 2008

The biggest football-related storyline with the game this Saturday has to do with the quality of the South Carolina’s defense. Specifically, it is statistically the best Florida has played so far. Ellis Johnson has made a big difference, they’ve got a 4-2-5 scheme, and so on and so forth.

Not so fast my friends, many Florida fans have said. Their response is that of course South Carolina has better stats than the teams UF has faced so far. The reason? They haven’t played the Gators yet, so their numbers haven’t been diminished by a Florida offensive outburst yet.

Well, let’s examine that one for a second:

SEC Defenses & the Florida Effect
Team Yds/Game Points/Game Yds/Game net UF Pts/Game net UF
LSU 303.44 24.2 282.00 20.9
Kentucky 324.50 20.1 311.00 15.3
Georgia 308.90 24.9 301.78 22.2
Vanderbilt 334.33 19.3 323.37 16.5
South Carolina 256.50 15.6 ??? ???

As you can see, if you take away the Florida game from these opponents then no one is doing as well as the Gamecocks at total defense. Kentucky would be slightly better at scoring defense than South Carolina without the 63-point shelling the Gators delivered to them in Gainesville. Vanderbilt is right there with them without the 42 the Gators just scored in Nashville.

So South Carolina is clearly the best team at total defense of those Florida has faced in its post-Ole Miss reign of terror. They’re about 30 yards a game stingier than LSU (net Florida) is. The Gamecocks are about five points a game better than LSU (net Florida) and almost a touchdown a game better than Georgia (net Florida). How much does that really matter though when Florida hasn’t won by fewer than 28 points against any of them?

UF has been making pretty good defenses look bad lately. No one has been able to get pressure on Tim Tebow as Miami and Ole Miss did, and Florida has been doing a better job of spreading the ball around to all of its playmakers. In addition, the Gators have become more of a power offensive team instead of spreading it out and tossing it to the edges. Opposing coaches have told that to EPSN’s Chris Fowler, and Urban Meyer confirmed that it’s true.

The catch is that South Carolina’s defense is pretty powerful too. Meyer has mentioned that as a concern: “Their linebackers…270 (pounds), 260. Then they have that 300 pound inside guy. This is the most difficult week we’ve had getting ready.” Those guys he mentioned are linebackers Eric Norwood and Jasper Brinkley along with DT Nathan Pepper, if you’re counting along at home.

Norwood, for his part, has said that Florida won’t get to 40 points on Saturday. He’s hoping the game goes a lot like his first contest with the Gators, when Florida got a mere 17 points, as opposed to last year when Tebow accounted for seven (!) touchdowns on the way to 51 team points. Of course, he also says it will be “a different story” in that the Gators won’t win.

As a reminder, this is the end of the story that Norwood wants to make different.

He was doing so well, but then he said he will get a sack and it “definitely [is] going to hurt” Tebow. Last season Geno Hayes made a similar promise about taking Tebow down, and Tim led the way to a 45-12 win. Earlier this year Tennessee’s Demonte Bolden trash talked Tebow, and the Gators scored on six of their seven drives (that didn’t involve running out the clock at the end) to win comfortably 30-6. It’s one thing to think it, it’s another to say it.

So yes, South Carolina has a great defense, but don’t forget, so does Florida.

Defenses
Team Total Defense Scoring Defense
Florida 286.22 11.9
South Carolina 256.50 15.6

These Gator guys can stop an offense too. Though the Gamecocks hold a lead in total defense, Florida holds a lead in scoring defense by over a field goal. I think in this series, we all know what a difference a field goal can make.

One more time for the folks in the back.

It should go without saying that Florida’s offensive numbers are better than South Carolina’s. SC is averaging 24 points a game, and the Gators’ lowest point total for the whole season is 26. The Gamecocks lost to Vanderbilt, Georgia, and LSU and scored 17, 7, and 17 points in the process. Florida defeated those teams and scored 42, 49, and 51 points in the process.

So you can see pretty clearly why I am having a hard time making a case for a South Carolina upset. The amount of effort the Gamecocks must make in order to win is pretty large. If each team holds the other to half their normal offensive output, the Gators win 24-12. If the Gamecocks hold Florida to its lowest offensive output of the year, they’ll still need to overachieve their scoring average by a field goal to win against a defense that has given up more than 14 points twice and more than 21 points once.

South Carolina will have to get turnovers like Ole Miss did to win, and here’s why. Florida will probably intercept a pass or two, since Miami is the only team not to throw one to the orange and blue this year, and Gamecock quarterbacks have yet to go a full game without an interception all year. Florida will probably get a big special teams play or three. Plus, Florida’s offense will probably score several touchdowns.

The Gamecocks must force turnovers to give its ugly offense short fields and good opportunities. They must do their best to minimize giveaways. They will probably try to shorten the game and keep the Gator offense off the field, but be warned: Tennessee attempted that same thing but they got down and ended up not having enough time to mount a comeback in the end.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether Florida can cover the 21-point spread. A 38-14 score would do it, and it is plausible with the way the Gators have often pulled away late in games.

Excluding points off turnovers, no one has scored more than 21 on Florida all season. Even then, Ole Miss needed a couple of staggering defensive breakdowns to get 14 of those. If the Gator offense continues to take care of the ball as it has all season and the defense doesn’t give up huge plays as it has generally avoided all season, then there’s no way Florida loses.

The Gators will not be napping. It’s not a 12:30 Raycom game. Florida is in the thick of the national title race. Meyer is raving about the chemistry and professionalism of the team at every opportunity. Oh yeah, and that former coach whose name is up in the stadium twice is coming to town too.

It probably won’t be pretty, but I expect Florida to get a businesslike win.


Tuesday Morning Gator Bites

November 11, 2008

Happy Veterans’ Day to all. Today was originally marked to honor the vets of the Great War (better known as World War I) but has become a day to honor all those who serve in the armed forces. If you know someone who is or has been in the service, tell them you appreciate it often, but especially today.

Tickets to the SEC Title Game are going to be difficult to get, but GatorZone has the info on getting them through the school. Chances are though that if you are getting them from UF, you probably know by now.

Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun thinks we are going to face Steve Spurrier’s best South Carolina team yet on Saturday. I think he may be right. Even if he doesn’t beat Florida, Spurrier can still beat the Ghost of Clemson Past and win a bowl to get to nine wins, the most of his tenure in Columbia.

They easily could have beaten Georgia at the beginning of the year if not for some late mental mistakes, and that would have put them in position for the Citrus Bowl. For now, they look like a lock for the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

Tim Tebow won SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his work against Vanderbilt. It took him long enough, but he has clearly rounded back into his dominant form from last season. The Orlando Sentinel‘s Jeremy Fowler reminds us that Tebow played through a bum ankle early and a hyperextended knee later, and he cites some quotes from Dan Mullen about how much pressure Tebow felt early in the year. Tebow’s loosening up is as much as anything a reason for the Gators’ renaissance this season.

It also continues the streak of Florida having someone named all-SEC after every win this season.


South Carolina Game to be on CBS

November 10, 2008

It has been announced that this Saturday’s Florida-South Carolina game will be the 3:30 CBS game. It is not surprising considering the other games that CBS reserved for telecast were Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Mississippi State. UGA-AU will go to Raycom, while I would assume Bama-Miss St. will head over to some flavor of ESPN network.

It will be Steve Spurrier’s second trip back to Gainesville as the Gamecocks’ head coach, and Urban Meyer is calling it a rivalry game. I’m not sure why he calls it a rivalry, but I guess it comes from Spurrier’s presence and the fact he lost this game his first year. It’ll be interesting to see if he still calls it a rivalry after Steve heads to the golf course for good.

Either way, this is good for viewers but bad for those attending the game as they will have to sit through CBS’s soul devouring TV timeouts, the longest in the industry.