By Kevin Camp:
As the offensive landscape changes in college football the emphasis on scoring points and creating big plays is at an all time high. At the University of Florida the standard for offensive production was established at the turn of the 20th century when Steve Spurrier walked the sidelines. Between 1990 and 2009 the Florida Gators football offense was feared and, even during the Zook era, the offense was respectable and possessed quality quarterbacks and playmakers. The last four years have not been the case and Florida cannot seem to get out of its own way.
As we start game week, new Florida head coach Jim McElwain is out to change the narrative about the Florida offense and get it back to what we are accustomed to seeing. In his first press conference for the 2015 season he knows his team and fans are hungry for explosive plays and consistency on offense.
“As hungry as they (fans) are, I am twice as hungry to see them go out there and get after it.” Said McElwain
Florida is not only hungry for offensive consistency, but also a dependable star to rally around. In 2012 Florida focused the offense around Mike Gillislee who rushed for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns. As we know that season ended with 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl appearance. If Florida is to return back to being a true contender in the SEC Eastern division and contend annually for a spot in Atlanta, they will need to find playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.
Since his hire, McElwain has placed an emphasis on finding playmakers and Florida is still discovering who those guys are, saying “For us going in, to discover some explosive playmakers; guys who can stretch the field and picking our time to take those shots.” Florida is looking to restore that reputation of an explosive offense with a plethora of game changers.
Come Saturday night Florida will enter the Swamp looking for explosive players and clearly, the depth of playmakers is limited, but one player McElwain is hoping will take his game to the next level is junior Ahmad Fulwood.
“He has shown glimpses of it. We have talked about it before; I would like to see that he plays 6’3 rather than 5’8 at times. Go up and get the ball. Be aggressive in the air. Don’t take no for an answer. “
Fulwood showed that glimpse in the Birmingham Bowl last year, taking a quick screen 86 yards for a touchdown. Fulwood will have plenty of chances this year as more teams focus on Demarcus Robinson.
Another change in philosophy that will also benefit Fulwood and the Gator offense is an increased effort on stretching the field.
“One of the things that we stress is putting the ball down the field vertically and not worry as much horizontally and to do that consistency and performance is something that we have got to find out,” said McElwain. “We will definitely take our shots there is no doubt about that.”
A major complaint of the previous staff was the inability to consistently get the ball down field. A lack of talent on the outside could be to blame, but many felt the effort was not there even though you had players like Robinson and former receiver Andre Debose who had shown the ability to stretch the field. With a somewhat stubborn commitment to running the ball, the opportunities were there at times to create big plays. Creating balancing and big plays will be key for Florida to contend in the SEC east race.
While Florida searches for playmakers on the outside, finding the one under center is still yet to be decided. In the last five years the quarterback position has been severely underwhelming despite the multiple high school All-Americans that were recruited. Entering into Saturday night McElwain will play two quarterbacks, sophomore incumbent Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier. Neither has separated himself in the race, and like so many across the country, the decision will be made under the lights. McElwain knows a lot will be riding on their performance this weekend and understands the difference between practice reps and the challenge of live game reps.
“I don’t think that idea is going to be really uncovered until we get in the game situation,” McElwain said. “As much as you try to simulate it, there’s no experience for doing it, so I think it’s going to tell us a lot, when we get down and watch this video of this game.”
When the lights come on and there is a different color jersey across from them, we all will be hungry to see success on offense. Many questions have yet to be answered concerning this offense and a positive showing this week will be a great start to answering them. Until Saturday evening comes we won’t know how the presentation will look, but the hope is that McElwain and this staff will be able to ease the growling stomachs of starving Florida Gators fans.