Posted: 12:36 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013
As you've heard a thousand times by now, hurry up/uptempo offenses are taking over football. Some coaches want to hit 80 plays per game, but you can even find some who want to run 90 a game. They're even taking over the SEC, with half of the teams intending to push the pace at least some of the time. It's the fastest growing trend since the rise of spread offenses, and it's even seeping into the NFL. It's the cutting edge of football right now.
And then, you have Will Muschamp's Florida Gators.
Against Toledo on Saturday, the team ran 70 offensive plays. That's not a bad number; it's just shy of the 71.3 plays per game that was the national average in 2012. However, it did it in just short of 40 minutes of possession. The Gators ran 16 more plays than Toledo did, but they did it in twice as much time.
Florida's offense is not a rejection of modernity. It uses zone read and features plenty of Dana Holgorsen's diamond formation. It is, however, a rejection of high speed offenses. It will take its time, thank you, and that's how it's going to be. It feels a bit odd seeing Florida, of all places, choosing not to keep up with the latest offensive trends, does it not?
That's not all, however. Muschamp and Brent Pease are hamstrung by an offensive roster that is still lacking. The team's receiver recruiting from 2008-12 stunk, quite frankly. Everyone from '08 is gone, of course, but they weren't playmakers anyway. The sole guy left from 2009, Andre Debose, never lived up to his star rating and is out with an ACL tear. Two of the four from 2010 transferred out, and the other two, Quinton Dunbar and Solomon Patton, are OK but not great. Both signees in 2011 transferred out before playing a snap for the team, and one of the two from '12 is buried on the depth chart. The rotation consists of Dunbar, Patton, 2012's Latroy Pittman (who's suspended a few games to begin the season), omniback Trey Burton, and freshmen.
The wide open offense that's so expected from Florida ain't happening this year whether the coaches want it or not. It probably won't next year either. Still, fans crave it, and the beat reporters ask questions as though anything else is an aberration. So, we got a pretty epic rant from Pease yesterday. I won't quote the whole thing, but you need to read it to understand where the coaches are coming from.
That offensive performance that led to "only" 24 points and pessimism from fans and media? Pease thought it was great:
"I look at it, compared to what we did last year… We controlled the ball for 40 minutes, finished the game with the last 6:38 on the clock. We rushed for 262 [yards]; we passed for 77 percent. We had one turnover we need to improve on. We had nine explosives. We were 6-of-12 on third downs, which last year at this same thing, we were asking each other what we got to do on third downs. We were 3-for-3 on 3rd-and-1s, which last year that was a concern in our first [press] conference.
"OK, yeah, do we need to improve on sacks? Yeah, we had two sacks. Our protection, our scheme got us. Happy for Mack Brown, happy for Trey Burton how they kind of stepped up with their opportunity.
"We threw the ball down field seven times. Coverage takes some things away. Do you ask a quarterback not into coverage deep? Yeah, you do. We hit Trey Burton on two, we had two check downs, we got a protection issue on one. We’re stretching the field. We can stretch the field if we want to stretch the field. Did we have to stretch the field at a certain part in time? No. Did we have it in the game plan to do it? Yes. I’m not sure what everybody wants.
To paraphrase: What's wrong with us? What's wrong with you? Sacks aside, it was fine!
This attitude shows what Florida's coaches want. They want to win. They won, so what's the problem? Style points? Forget them. They could've called timeouts at the end to help the backups and freshmen get a touchdown under their belts. They did not use any of those timeouts. At the end of his rant, Pease basically said he's to old to care about racking up gratuitous yards and points. Get off his lawn, please.
This mindset is something you must get in order to understand the current era of Florida football. You can make a case as to why trying to do more on offense would be useful, and you wouldn't be wrong. The coaches just don't care. They. Just. Don't. Care. It's the purest distillation of the cliché that a win is a win.
The philosophy that Muschamp and Pease are using is not only dissonant with the trends in modern football, it also runs against the grain of Florida's football heritage. Yes, the program really came of age in the 1990s with Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n Gun, but a brief dalliance with the wishbone in the '70s aside, a relatively aggressive passing offense had been the program's signature for 50 years. And that wishbone offense, by the way, produced the SEC Player of the Year in 1975 and a two-time All-American at receiver.
Ray Graves, hired in 1960, instituted a passing offense that Spurrier would employ to win the Heisman. In 1971, the team executed the (in)famous Florida Flop to help QB John Reaves set the NCAA's career passing mark. QB Wayne Peace made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1982, and his successor Kerwin Bell is still beloved for his great play and occasional heroics. The Zook years weren't a work of art, but they did include Chris Leak's most prolific season in 2004. The Meyer years were known for lots of running and option, of course, but Tim Tebow is one of two quarterback since 2000 to post a passing efficiency above 160 for three years in a row (Kellen Moore was the other).
The current strategy is a break with basically a half-century of history. Only those college football fans and observers who remember the Bob Woodruff era in the 1950s have experienced a situation like today where the plan in Gainesville is to win with a crushing defense and just enough offense.
This is what Florida football is now. It's not anything like what you remember. That 24-6 win over Toledo that you were underwhelmed by? It was totally fine by the coaching staff. There are things to work on, yes, but the team is ahead of where it was last year through one game. If you don't like it, they don't care. If you think they should do something different, they don't care.
It's a new era of Gator football. Get used to it.