In Part II of this two-part series, GatorCountry.com columnist Dan Thompson explores three names on the offensive and defensive side of the football that, as the title suggests, may not be household names, but will be by the end of the season. In case you missed it, here is Thompson’s column on defense.
The Florida Gators football team entered the 2011 football season with high hopes.
New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was installing his prolific pro-style offense that helped him garner a few Superbowl wins with the New England Patriots.
With the new pro-style offense, quarterback John Brantley could finally step into the drop-back system that would accentuate his skill set. The Gators had two speedsters that could turn the field in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. And the Gators’ receivers began to show flashes that they could step up.
However, seemingly the exact opposite happened. The Gators finished 105th in total offense, 71st in scoring offense, 73rd in rushing offense and 89th in passing offense.
To be fair, the Gators started the season 4-0, scoring 41, 39, 33 and 48 points, respectively, and played well in the first one and a half quarters of the Alabama game until Brantley was injured.
However, in the next nine games the Gators would only score 10, 11, 6, 20, 26, 12, 54 (Furman), 7 and 24 points. Replacing Brantley was tough for the Gators, with Jacoby Brissett only completing 46.2 percent of his passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Jeff Driskel only completed 47.1 percent of his passes for 148 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Moreover, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps only combined for 1,430 yards on the season, and Mike Gillislee was only given 56 rushes, totaling 328 yards.
The anemic offense was one of the statistically worst performing offenses in Gators history.
Enter 2012. Enter Brent Pease. Exit John Brantley, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. The 2012 Gators’ offense will have a new identity, a new strategic plan, and have new major players.
Pease comes to Florida after six seasons at offensive juggernaut Boise State (one season as offense coordinator) that has had a top-20 offense for the past six seasons. Moreover, Gators fans are looking forward to Gillislee getting the opportunity to be the starting running back as a senior after averaging 5.89 yards per carry last season.
Finally, the Gators are returning seven starters on offense, including 50 starts on the offensive line, which should allow the Gators’ offense to perform better.
The Gators are going to rely on some freshmen to step up, such as receiver Latroy Pittman and tight end Kent Taylor. They are going to need consistency from the offensive line. Lastly, they are going to need one quarterback to step up and lead the team.
Easier said than done.
Brent Pease: Pease has eight seasons under his belt as an offensive coordinator (Montana (1996-98), Northern Arizona (1999-2000), Kentucky (2001-02), Baylor (2003-05), Boise State (2011). So why is he on this list? Because the average fan can only associate a system (Boise State) to Brent Pease’s name, and has not delved into the intricacies that could make Pease a top offensive coordinator.
Pease has found success at many of his stops. At Kentucky, after a disappointed 2-9 first season, Kentucky improved to 7-5 in the second season, leading the SEC in socring offense and finishing 23rd nationally in total offense. After to moving to Baylor in 2003, the Bears had their first 1,000 yard rusher in eight years. In 2004, the Bears broke the single-season completion percentage mark.
After moving to Boise State in 2006, the Broncos went 73-6 and averaged more than 480 yards per game during his one season as offensive coordinator, averaging more than 44 points per game. Quarterback Kellen Moore threw for 3,800 yards and had 43 touchdowns and running back Doug Martin rushed for 1,299 yards and 16 touchdowns.
What will make Pease successful at Florida? His balanced attack. Pease has two main focuses on the offense: north-south running and a balanced passing game. The Gators have struggled to have a north-south running back since Kehstan Moore in 2006. Starting running back Mike Gillislee is a north-south runner who prefers between-the-tackle plays, rather than the scat-back, outside-the-tackle runs that Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were known for.
Pease will be calling more pro-set, open set and I-formation plays that will allow for a lead blocker (tight end, fullback or H-back) to block up the middle for the running back. The Gators have struggled with Demps and Rainey over the past three seasons, because the running back had to run an additional nine-to-13 yards around the tackles before moving north-south. A pro-style running attack only requires six yards to get back to the line of scrimmage, allowing for a high-percentage chance of positive yards.
Furthermore, Pease is known for his balanced passing attack. In 2011, Boise State had seven players with 20 or more catches. The Gators? Three. Pease comes from a West Coast offense, which focuses on high-percentage, short, quick passes to receivers. It spreads the ball to create mismatches, while using all three-to-five receivers on the field because quicker routes require less blocking.
Time will tell how Pease’s offense will transfer from Boise State to Florida, but the Gators have reason to be excited.
Chris Johnson: The safety turned linebacker turned running back in just eight months is poised to make a difference this year. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound sophomore played special teams last season, garnering 13 tackles.
What makes Johnson special is his mixture of size and strength. Although a bit too slow to play safety and a bit small to play linebacker, Johnson should excel in a north-south running attack. His size allows him to play behind linemen and move through creases with more ease than a taller running back.
Moreover, as we saw on special teams, Johnson is not afraid to go after the big hit and lower his head into an opposing player. While Johnson is new to the position, he has the opportunity to be a physical, downhill runner that Muschamp and Pease are looking for to backup Mike Gillislee along with Mack Brown.
Kent Taylor: To those that follow recruiting, Kent Taylor is not an unknown name, but to the rest of the country, Kent Taylor is a true freshman tight end. While we don’t know exactly how Taylor will transition into college football, one thing is certain: he has the skillset to set records.
Taylor will be asked to do a lot next season. The Gators only have one (slightly) proven threat at the position in Jordan Reed. However, Reed has been inconsistent at catching the football, struggling to be a go-to threat. Taylor, however, has proven that he has the necessary speed and receiving ability to be an immediate threat, while having sufficient blocking skills.
Taylor, along with Jordan Reed and freshman Colin Thompson, will create a unique mix of blocking and pass-catching tight ends that will thrive in Pease’s West Coast offense.