It was the first President of the United States of America George Washington that started (about war, but whatever, I am sure he would love football), “offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defense.” In other words, some times the best defense is a good offense.
There is no doubt that Florida has produced one of the best defenses in their history, ranking in the top-10 nationally in 18 of the 37 categories that are tracked, however, the Florida Gators have produced, over the last five weeks, one of the worst offenses in the history of Florida football and the numbers back that up.
Strangely, despite an offense that has managed just 35 points in their last three games against power five teams, the Gators will head to Atlanta on Saturday to play the Alabama Crimson Tide for the SEC Championship – so there is a silver lining.
Let’s take a look back to see where the Gators faltered this past Saturday, where they are currently statistically, and what the Gators should look forward to on Saturday when they jog out of the tunnel at the Georgia Dome.
This article may have some conflicting statements in it because statistics do not always tell a story and I want to help draw the clearest picture possible of everything that is happening with the Florida Gators – particularly on offense and special teams. You may read an opinion and then the next paragraph may refute that exact opinion because I cannot possible describe this team in a linear, black/white fashion. Feel free to criticize this approach, but just keep an open mind.
Where, oh where, do I begin?
If you are reading this article, you have watched this “offense” led by Jim McElwain, Doug Nussmeier, and Treon Harris.
With a head coach that said he could win with his dog playing quarterback, the Gators are struggling to even move the ball a few yards in three plays, let alone get a first down. A second year quarterback that, yes, has limited physical tools and is vertically challenged, has regressed in every game he has played in this year despite an offensive line that has played pretty well. He has a set of tight ends and wide receivers that have shown that they can break routes, get open, and make plays, yet, Florida cannot seem to figure out how to get the ball to said players.
- C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby have disappeared. In the first six games of the season, the two combined for 15 catches (despite Lewis not playing in four of those games), since they have a combined for five. They combined for 234 yards in the first six games and have 103 since.
- Brandon Powell had 16 catches in his first six games and only 12 catches in the last six. May not seem like a big difference, but he had 252 yards in his first six games and 112 in the second half of the season with three touchdowns compared to zero.
- Ahmad Fulwood has had zero catches with Treon Harris at quarterback and had six in the first six games of the season – where he averaged just over 10 yards per catch.
I don’t think I need to keep going — you all get the point.
Now here is one of those contradiction moments. I think two parties are of equal blame for the Gators offense at this moment.
- The Gators coaching staff is handcuffed using Treon Harris – I get that. He is your best option because the other two options are a walk-on and a former Vanderbilt quarterback that has three career completions with one interception, who was brought in to play wide receiver/be another warm body.
- However, that is no excuse for the lack of change of playbook/play calling. The Gators are running a very similar offense scheme wise for a player who cannot play in that scheme. Harris cannot thread the ball through the seam to a tight end cutting up the middle, nor does he do a good job of leading receivers in middle distance routes, nor does he do a good job of picking up his hot route, or reading his progressions – basically, everything Will Grier was good at, Harris is not. So, what have the coaches done to help him be successful? ::crickets:: What about swing passes, bubble screens, inside curls, and other quarterback-deficient friendly passes?
- The Gator coaching staff has two all-world quarterback coaches on the roster and Treon Harris has regressed, drastically, this season. His spiral is sloppier, his throwing arm height is lower, and he is pushing the ball – all things, that yes he did last season, but seemed to improve on as the year went on. This year, he has gotten worse in every game. In the first seven games of the season, the Gators had 1,747 yards passing and 14 touchdowns and three interceptions – since the LSU game, the Gators have thrown for 832 yards for four touchdowns and four interceptions. Further, they completed greater than 50% of their passes just once since LSU. That tells me that yes the quarterback is at fault, but so is the staff for not creating the opportunity for him to be more successful in making those passes.
- Ultimately, the staff has a responsibility of developing players and Treon has not. You may disagree, but just like at your job, the CEO is responsible for company growth, and if you are going to say you can win with your dog, then gosh darn, you better be able to develop a former four-star quarterback.
- Treon has got to be able to hit his passes of open receivers. More than a dozen times I spotted open receivers against FSU that were in his comfort zone as a passer.
- Why does Treon always rollout? They were a number of plays that I saw Treon rollout, instead of step into the pocket and make a pass. I am sure he is more comfortable rolling out because of his background in high school, but he has to know that teams are spying a linebacker, which limits the amount of time he has to make a play. While the offensive line has not played great all season, they have done a decent job at creating a long enough pocket for Treon to get rid of the ball, because the offensive line falters when Treon rolls out because they aren’t quite good enough to engage blockers for long enough to run around all day in the backfield.
- Treon has got to learn who his hot route is and read his progressions. There is no simpler way of saying it.
I do think Kelvin Taylor deserves praise. He played, in my opinion, his best game as a Florida Gator. He ran with energy, speed, passion, and grit and against a great run defense amassed 136 yards with a 5.67 yard per carry average, which is his second highest of the season.
Finally, I have been critical of the offensive line in the past, but they played a darn good game on Saturday and deserve praise. They opened holes and gave enough protection for Harris to have the ability to make a pass. Mike Summers has done a great job putting this patchwork offensive line, that started two freshmen this past week, together and keeping them together. Sure, Thurman had two bad snaps, but other than that, you have to commend them for their play.
A few stats for you all:
- The Gators are averaging 16 less yards per game than last season
- The Gators are scoring nearly five points less per game than last season
- The Gators dropped 112 spots (11 to 123) in red zone offense success
What more can you say about this defense?
This defense held Dalvin Cook to 33 net yards by the end of the third quarter. They kept arguably a top-three college running back to just 33 yards and a per carry average of less than two.
Sure, FSU scored two touchdowns late in the game when the game was out of hand, but do not let that cloud how well Florida played on defense.
The Gators will end the season with one of their best defenses of all time.
A few statistics will prove that to you:
- 5th in the country in percentage of plays that resulted in a turnover, sack, or tackle for loss
- After playing Jalen Hurd, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, the Gators still rank 9th in the country in rushing yards per carry average defense
- 5th in sacks and 5th in sacks per opponent pass attempt
- 5th in scoring defense – 15.5 points per game
While in a vacuum these stats are great, but when you consider that Florida’s offense struggled drastically.
When we do our year in review numbers we will show just how incredible this defense was this season.
Since Caleb Sturgis has left Gainesville, the Gators have hit 31-of-62 field goals. Exactly 50%…
Looking Forward to Game 13
Raise your hand if you ever expected that phrase this season to mean the SEC Championship and not a Bowl Game…no one?
The Gators did it. They accomplished their first goal – win the SEC East and head to Atlanta to play the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Las Vegas has Alabama as 17 point favorites and to be frank, looking at the numbers that sounds about right.
Alabama has just as stout of a defense as Florida, ranking just below or just above Florida in nearly every important statistical category, including yards/rush attempt (2nd), percentage of opponent plays that result in a turnover, sack, or tackle for loss (6th), scoring defense (3rd), and total yards allow (2nd). Ergo, Florida will have to figure out a way to get some offense going. I think they do it with Treon Harris designed delayed runs, hurry up offense, and a set of non-complicated plays that involve the tight end.
On offense, Alabama is slightly better than average in nearly every category and when you have a defense as stout as theirs, that’s about all you can muster. Alabama does struggle on third down, so if Florida can force a lot of third downs, they could hang in longer than expected. Florida also should be able to contain Alabama’s pass offense. However, Florida could struggle with Derrick Henry. While Florida did a good job with Dalvin Cook, they struggled with Leonard Fournette, and Derrick Henry is a bigger, badder Fournette. The probable Heisman trophy winner is built like a linebacker and tough to break down. I expect him to have a 125+ yard game.
Score Prediction: Alabama 27 | Florida 10 (I don’t know how they get these three points, but I don’t expect it to be a field goal)