For as impressive as Florida’s 14-6 win against LSU was — impressive enough to catapult the Gators six spots to No. 4 in the AP Poll — it was clear the offense has not reached its full potential.
There is still room for growth.
Beginning with Mike Gillislee’s first touchdown, the Gators ran the ball 25 consecutive times to end the game. While that is impressive for its own set of reasons, it is not an offensive strategy that can be expected to be successful every week.
Florida must develop a passing game. Jeff Driskel must get better.
Going against one of the nation’s top defensive fronts, one that featured a litany of future NFL playmakers, Florida’s offensive line had trouble protecting Driskel in the first half. He was sacked five times and faced pressure with nearly every drop back.
Early in the second quarter, the Florida offense was given field position on the LSU side of the ball following a Jaylen Watkins interception. However, the Gators lost 11 yards after Tigers linebacker Kevin Minter sacked Driskel on second and third down.
The second-down sack was particularly ugly for the Florida offensive line as Driskel was grabbed from behind before he was able to even finish a play-fake.
Eventually, Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease scrapped the passing game, as shown by how the game ended. Driskel finished with just 61 yards passing on 12 attempts.
For one game, it was enough. The offensive line regrouped during halftime and began punishing the LSU front seven in the second half. Gillislee was the beneficiary, finishing with 34 carries for 146 yards.
However, if the passing game continues to struggle, defenses will stack the box with more and more defenders. For as talented as Gillislee is, expecting him to consistently carry the load against nine-man fronts is not an effective strategy.
Moving forward, a key in the development of the passing game could be Omarius Hines. Though he had just two total touches against LSU — a run for 14 yards and a reception for 14 more — his set of skills is just what Florida needs offensively.
Will Muschamp spoke highly of Hines on Monday, saying his biggest asset is the headache he can give opposing defenses.
“I’ve always said it’s difficult to count him from a defensive perspective,” Muschamp said. “What is he? Is he a running back? Is he a slot receiver? We’ve used him in tight end situations, we’ve used him as a fullback, so week to week, we change out.
“It’s very difficult to identify from a defensive perspective, what exactly does he fit into what we might try to do with him.”
Driskel had a similar assessment, saying, ”He’s a matchup problem. We stick him inside in the slot and they have to cover him with either a ‘backer or a safety. For a ‘backer or safety, it’s tough to cover him.
For the season, Hines has just seven receptions for 106 yards and six carries for 30 yards. Despite the limited touches, his explosiveness has been evident when he does have the ball in his hands. His 15.1 yards per reception are second most on the team of those who have at least five receptions.
“When he gets the ball in his hands he can really make big plays,” Driskel said.
In a 20-17 win against Texas A&M, Hines hauled in a critical 39-yard fourth-quarter reception on Florida’s game-winning drive. Two weeks later, Hines caught a 52-yard reception, his season-long, helping Florida clobber Kentucky.
In the past, Hines has dealt with injuries issues, but he has been able to stay healthy and productive this season. The Gators have a weapon in Hines, one they need to exploit as much as possible moving forward.
“He’s definitely a mismatch problem,” Driskel said. “We’ve got to get him some touches.”