In-Depth Analysis: Key 2nd-half plays

After breaking down each of the game-changing plays in the first half of Florida’s 20-17 win at Texas A&M on Saturday, we not take a look at the key second-half plays heading into this Saturday’s 6 p.m. game at Tennessee.

It’s interesting to see the progression of the Gators’ play calling throughout the game. Many of the first-half plays, even the ones that weren’t successful, set up plays for big gains in the second half. It’s clearly a constant chess match against the defense, when Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease slowly breaking down the defense with each move.

As we learn, Florida had several key blocks that sprung open key plays as well as the athleticism of players such as quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Mike Gillislee and speedster Solomon Patton.

In case you missed it, we also broke down the pass protection breakdowns on each of the eight sacks UF allowed.

Let’s break down each of those plays in detail to learn why they worked so well:

Gillislee Gimpy?

Despite tweaking his groin early, Florida running back Mike Gillislee showed his speed on his longest run of the game. It wasn’t his most impressive run, but we’ll get to that one in a bit.

On the second play of the opening drive of the second half, Gillislee breaks away on a 24-yard run on second and 10. Gillislee is at tailback about eight yards off of the line of scrimmage with fullback Hunter Joyer lined up behind the right tackle and tight end Jordan Reed in tight but standing up a yard off of the ball.

The initial run appears to be inside the tackle, and Reed gets an excellent kick out block on the outside linebacker who had walked up. In fact, what makes this run the most impressive is the Aggies put eight players in the box and the Gators still turned it into a big gain. Joyer blows up the defender that right tackle Chaz Green was blocking, basically taking up two blockers on one guy. That put Gillislee in a one-on-one situation vs. an inside linebacker, but Gillislee gives him a quick stiff arm before bouncing to the outside to elude the tackle.

The rest of the run is mostly Gillislee’s speed, although he gets a nice block about 11 yards downfield by receiver Frankie Hammond Jr., who gets low to take out the legs of the cornerback who was covering him. This doubles the yards gained on this play that got the Gators off on the right foot with a first down to start the drive.

Jet Patton

The next play of the opening drive is impressive. This play is one defenses will need to prepare for and serves its purpose by forcing defenders to stay home. Solomon Patton comes like a lightning bolt from right to left on a jet sweep just behind the offensive linemen, about two yards off the line of scrimmage before taking the handoff from Driskel, who does a nice job by continuing his fake handoff to Gillislee on a similar looking play as the previous run.

Interestingly enough, there isn’t a lineman pulling to help seal the edge or anything like that. However, left tackle Xavier Nixon gets a little wide with his first step with his outside foot to help accomplish the same thing. The only other blocker for Patton is fellow receiver Quinton Dunbar, who takes his man out and gives Patton just enough space for a 13-yard gain.

Why this play was important, other than keeping the drive alive with a first down, was because the Aggies’ defense has to respect Patton of the jet sweep the rest of the way. It basically ended up taking one of those eight or nine defenders out of the box each time he came around, even on a fake, the rest of the game.

It also put the Gators in Caleb Sturgus range, and even though the offense worked its way down to the six-yard line with a pass and runs by Driskel, it still settled for a field goal in a game that would end up being won by a field goal.

Nimble Driskel

With under three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Florida found itself in a key third-and-five situation from its own 35-yard line. Driskel, who takes a shotgun snap out of a no-back set, does it all with his legs.

After feeling pressure form up the middle — there is excellent protection on this play by the linemen — Driskel slides to his right to buy time. The middle linebacker spying on Driskel sees it, and blitzes full speed ahead with a direct, open path to Driskel. However, he underestimates Driskel’s athleticism and over-pursues. He appears like he’s wanting to take Driskel’s head off instead of breaking down to make the sure tackle.

Driskel, who does a nice job keeping his eyes downfield, has enough awareness to step quickly to his right to sidestep the blitzing linebacker. He then keeps his head looking downfield for another second or two as he scrambles to his left before finally deciding to run. He uses his strength and speed to break away from two tackles and gets a huge crack-back type block by Xavier Nixon, who ends up taking out two defenders, to turn a busted pass play into a 13-yard gain.

Even though this drive doesn’t end in points, what this play does is make that spying linebacker honor Driskel’s scrambling skills the rest of the way instead of trying to take his head off. Again, the pass protection across the front was superb on this play.

SEC Speed

Credit Kirk Herbstreit for applauding the speed of the SEC on this play because that’s exactly what it is. Buck linebacker/end Lerentee McCray lines up with his hand in the dirt at end in a 4-3 defense here. He’s lined up on Aggies left tackle Luke Joeckel, who’ll likely end up being a high NFL draft pick.

It’s third and three by the way and this is the first play of the fourth quarter. McCray punches Joeckel with his right forearm to knock him back, creating just enough separation for McCray to slide under the block attempt. McCray then turns on his jets to race down Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel from behind before spinning him to the ground for a four-yard loss.

In a game that featured many great defensive plays, this was one of the best because of the timing as well as who McCray beat to make the sack.

Hines Wards Off D

On second and five on the Gators’ first possession of the fourth quarterback, Driskel takes the shotgun snap with the offense in a one-back spread with Gillislee to his left. Driskel fakes the handoff before setting up in the pocket.

Driskel shuffle steps forward before lofting a tight spiral to Hines, who had beaten his man on a deep post route for a 39-yard reception, UF’s second longest of the season. Hines begins the play in the slot to the left of the line. He begins the route by pressing up the field 8-10 yards and appears to make a double move to create the initial separation.

Hines is covered by a linebacker on this play, and will be often, but this is an excellent mismatch Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease will continue to create and exploit. Hines lines up like a tight end, but has the speed of a running back/receiver, so he’s able to deceive defenses.

Joyer Hunts Down 3 for TD

While Mike Gillislee’s agility, balance and speed deserve a lot of credit for the game-winning touchdown, it’s all made possible because of fullback Hunter Joyer’s block, which ends up taking out three defenders to pave the way.

Joyer actually began the play by kicking the outside linebacker to the outside, and Gillislee’s initial cut is to the inside. But then Gillislee bounces outside around the block, allowing Joyer to push his defender back to the inside where his block is sustained long enough to get in the way of two more defenders.

Credit Kyle Koehne with a pancake block here as well as a nice block by tight end Tevin Westbrook to establish the edge. Then there’s a downfield block by receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. that allowed Gillislee to tight rope along the sideline after accelerating around the outside of Joyer’s block.

There was nothing too fancy about this play, just a simple quick pitch to Gillislee to the right side and several individuals winning blocking battles along the way.

Not This Time

On third and 13 with Texas A&M threatening to score just outside of field goal range at the UF 41-yard line, the Florida defense comes up with perhaps its biggest stop of the game.

Johnny Manziel, the Aggies quarterback, had made many plays with his feet up to this point, but not this time. Lerentee McCray bull rushes to push left tackle Luke Joeckel several yards into the backfield before outhustling and outmuscling him to the ground. He then wraps up Manziel, but is unable to get the sack as Manziel spins out of his grasp.

Earl Okine had gotten off of the block of the right tackle by this time, and forces Manziel to run straight ahead thanks to Okine’s outside contain. Mike linebacker Jon Bostic continues playing his spy role on Manziel perfectly by chasing him down in the open field before tackling Manziel after a short gain.

Still out of field goal range and well short of a first down, Texas A&M is forced to punt it away with 3:24 remaining in regulation.

One Last Jet

On second and seven with a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation, Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease dials up one more timely jet sweep to speedster Solomon Patton.

This play is made possible because of Patton’s speed, previous fakes to Patton and, more importantly, a pancake, crack-back block by receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. that allows Patton all the room he needs to race for a first down.

What’s just as important is Patton’s awareness here. Instead of running out of bounds as he had on previous jet sweeps, he instead stays in bounds to keep the clock ticking down below the two-minute mark.

Start The Bus

As he had done all game long, Driskel successfully sells a fake handoff before running a naked bootleg on second and 10. Out of a Power-I formation, Driskel fakes the handoff over the left side and then steps away from a tackle on his bootleg over the right side. Jordan Reed gets just enough of the cornerback and Jon Harrison makes a big block about five yards downfield to spring Driskel free.

Driskel does the rest on his own, using speed to eliminate tackling angles along the way. He also does a nice job of covering up the ball with both hands as he’s finally corralled after a 21-yard run, Driskel’s second longest of the season.

This play takes so long to develop that it alone eats about 15 seconds off of the clock. By the time the next play is snapped, there’s just 53 seconds remaining. After a run by Mack Brown, Florida then gets to line up in the touchdown formation with Driskel taking a knee to end the game.

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Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.