It’s Carolina Week and the stakes are enormous for our football program. Our chances of making the SEC Championship game are technically slim as of this writing but our odds might be significantly improved by Sunday morning. There are many reasons for this but the emergence of a calm and competent Treon Harris at the quarterback position for the Florida Gators is allowing Gator Nation to contemplate the recently unthinkable: an unbeaten closing campaign to the post-Mizzou 2014 regular season. Thank you, Treon.
The key to any closing run for the Florida Gators (beyond Treon Harris, of course) now rests in the hands of the emerging Thunder and Lightning running back duo of Matt Jones (Thunder) and Kelvin Taylor (lightning). Their continued success in the 2014 football season has the very real potential of flipping an absolutely disastrous campaign into one of both tremendous memories when we look back on the 2014 season and genuine hope for the campaigns of 2015 and well into the future.
Thunder and Lightning, the Phrase
Thunder and Lightning is a well-used football phrase that most often refers to a running back tandem (Ron Dayne & Tiki Barber for the New York Giants; Ricky Watters and Charlie Garner for the Philadelphia Eagles; James Davis and C.J. Spiller for Clemson; etc.) but may also be used for other position tandems (for example, Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith for the Jacksonville Jaguars at wide receiver).
It is at running back, however, that the term is most applicable. Florida has a long history of fantastic running backs. The gold standard, of course, is Emmitt Smith for individual excellence. As a group, however, few college football running back groups would top our phenomenal 1980s collection of Lorenzo Hampton (lightning), John L. Williams (thunder) and Neal Anderson (thunder and lightning).
For a quick trip down memory lane, think about these three once again (my brief online check turned up no usable video on Lorenzo Hampton, unfortunately).
Lorenzo Hampton, 5’11″ inches, and 205 pounds; first round draft pick (1985; 27th) Miami Dolphins;
John L. Williams, 5’11″ inches, and 231 pounds; first round draft pick (1986; 15th) Seattle Seahawks;
Neal Anderson, 5’11″ inches, and 210 pounds; first round draft pick (1986; 27th) Chicago Bears.
Three incredible running backs for a national championship (New York Times) football team.
Fast forward to today. The Gators have a coach with an old-school approach to football that is at odds with the preferences of many of the fans today. And we happen to have two running backs who are more than capable of accepting the major load of offensive production and effectively carrying that load, and the team, on their backs.
Highlights for Matt Jones (Thunder) during this very uneven season, per UF Sports Information:
Leads team with 698 yards on the season…Gained 82 yards on 17 carries at Vandy…Third 100-yard game of the season (192) and fourth of career in win over UGA…First career multi-TD game vs. the Bulldogs…12 carries for 41 yards vs. MU and reached the 1,000 career-yards rushing mark Career: Has appeared in 25 games, starting 12…1,312 yds rushing and 10 TDs on 261 carries with a career-long 67-yd rush.
Highlights for Kelvin Taylor (Lightning) during this very uneven season, per UF Sports Information:
13 carries for 55 yards and a 13-yd TD at Vandy…Rushed for career-high 197 yards vs. Georgia…Recorded personal best 65-yard run for a touchdown against the Bulldogs…Scored two rushing TDs vs. UGA in third career multi-TD game…15 carries for 64 yds vs. UK…Ran for 68 yards and two TDs against EMU Career: Appeared in 17 games, starting five…Has 960 yards rushing and 9 TDs on 193 carries with a career-long 65-yd run.
Yes, we live in the era of the over-emphasized forward pass but a dynamic running game is an exciting thing, too. It also has the extra-added benefit of being a huge boost to all-around team effectiveness. It is this truth that Will Muschamp refuses to disrespect.
Complementarity, the Concept
The word in Gator Nation for Carolina Week is complementary. Not complimentary (meaning, praising or approving) but complementary (meaning, combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another).
One reason why the term Thunder and Lightning is fairly often utilized is because of its centrality to a traditional understanding of complementarity. The concept implicates cooperation and reciprocity between the two primary units of a football team, offense and defense. Here’s Rey Ryan, head coach of the New York Jets, prior to his game last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers:
“I think it’s on the entire football team, including the offense,” Rex countered. “It’s complementary football. If you want to stack up against Pittsburgh, the way they’re rolling right now, it has to be about complementary football. That means we have to possess the football, we need to sustain drives.”
Writing this week, Christopher Price made a similar complementarity point when discussing the New England Patriots upcoming game against the Indianapolis Colts – a game many believe involves the best old quarterback phenom in professional football versus the best new quarterback phenom:
Like most teams, the Colts are at their best when they are able to get a quick lead (they have allowed 13 points in the first quarter this season, the smallest number in the league) and play good complementary football, leaning on running back Ahmad Bradshaw and the ground game to make them complete. From a New England perspective, if you can make them a one-dimensional team — that is, force them to throw the ball in the second half to try and get back into the game like Denver and Pittsburgh — you have a recipe for success. In the two games against the Patriots, most of Luck’s picks have come after the Colts fell behind in the early going and were forced to try and throw the ball to get back into it. Five of his seven career interceptions against New England have come when the Colts have been behind (the two others have come early when the game has been tied).
On a certain level, football is football, and discussions of complementarity define the foundation of Will Muschamp’s comprehension of football. It is an old-school understanding of football, as is the widespread acknowledgment of the Southeastern Conference as not simply a line-of-scrimmage college football conference but the line-of-scrimmage college football conference.
It has taken a much longer time for us to get there than anticipated, but we are clearly on the precipice right now of getting where Will has been desperately trying to place us since his arrival.
Summers and the O-Line
Here’s Will Muschamp this week on the offensive line that suffered multiple injuries in the Vanderbilt game yet still effectively functioned as a cohesive unit:
“We were make-shift. I have to see where we are at but I think we’re OK. Chaz Green had a little banged up knee but I think he’s fine. Tyler Moore had an ankle and couldn’t come back. We did have some guys banged up here and there. Roderick Johnson just got a little bit of a shoulder there in field goal PAT but he’ll be fine. We had to move things around but hats off to our offensive staff that we were able to stay productive.”
The single most impressive thing to me about our line play in the Vanderbilt game is that they (the Commodores) zeroed in on stopping the run, they played with great enthusiasm, and we suffered multiple injuries, but . . . our line play did not fall apart.
No concept of complementary football can be successful without a minimally effective offensive line. I remember this article from the summer, and it stuck with me. A former Kentucky Wildcat football player coached by Summers (Trevino Woods) said this about a sign Summers put up in the offensive line meeting room on his second day on the job:
“It said, ‘Everything matters,’ ” Woods recalled. “He explained it, and basically it’s self-explanatory. From the smallest of things, like taking the right step when you’re coming off the line to giving your teammates some love when they score a touchdown. Everything matters. He just put a real emphasis on that. It was amazing to think that way. Nothing is left out and no stone is unturned.”
Woods said Summers’ best attribute is his attention to detail, and there’s never a moment in practice when he’s not coaching, evaluating or teaching someone. He also goes extra lengths to prepare his players for their opponents.
“He played defense in college, and that was one of the most surprising things about him,” Woods said. “One of the things he had us do that I never experienced before was to learn the defense and what they do. It goes back to that saying — everything matters. The average O-lineman can look at the defensive lineman in front of him and see what he’s going to do, but coach Summers takes it to the next level.
That’s a coach we need to keep in our program.
I’ve probably posted earlier in the year how impressed I was with Coach Summers in his presentation to UF alumni in Tallahassee back in May.
His professionalism was absolutely clear, so was his expertise and his love for coaching. It was his obvious excitement about coaching up these Gators, however, that struck me the most. That’s what I kept coming back to in my mind as I watched a replay of the Florida-Georgia game. That kind of game, that kind of offensive line execution of responsibilities, simply can’t happen without a superior offensive line coach who has tapped into his players psyche and effectively challenged them to meet the moment.
This game against the Gamecocks is enormously important. There is still much noise in the system that is Gator Nation. Many are still soured on the tenure of Will Muschamp and are looking for any negativity to start beating the drums of change again, loudly. They have legitimate reasons to do so, admittedly. I, however, desperately want to avoid enduring another change in leadership of our football program.
It would help things tremendously if we’re able to frustrate Steve, keep the ball away from his offense and when he does get the ball, make him dink and dunk the ball when he passes rather than give up a few throws over the top. We can best do that by resorting to complementary football: Thunder and Lightning running the ball with conviction (and if Mack Brown and Brandon Powell get in on the party, cool!), allowing Treon a bit more flexibility in the passing game while giving him the green light to run if the pass isn’t there, and calling on a raucous, Swamptastic crowd to make things very difficult for Carolina at all times. A win in this game, even if it’s an ugly and perhaps uninspiring win, sets us up for a tremendously positive finish to the season.
Go Gators !!!