Written By: Kevin J. Camps
Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
This has been the recent sentiment of Gator Nation when assessing the Florida Gators offense. Saying the Gator offense has struggled would be an understatement. The numbers 105, 105, 113 and 97 have defined the suffering; they are the national rankings of the Florida offense the past four years. This offense made three yards and a cloud of dust look like an Oregon offense.
We can state many theories for the shortcomings offensively. Some would blame a lack of talent and others the coach who lacked conviction on an offensive philosophy, which hindered three offensive coordinator’s ability to bring success on the field. Whatever reason you believe to be true, one thing we can all agree on is that Florida’s offensive identity needs to be restored to what we all have come to know. 2015 is not just about scoring in bunches or building a reputable unit. New head coach Jim McElwain has to resurrect the confidence of a program buried under four years of poor coaching, unmet expectations and inept offensive game plans. The previous four years under Muschamp have damaged the minds of those in and around the program and left Gator fans longing for an offensive juggernaut to rule The Swamp again.
In addition to a rejuvenation of confidence, a philosophy overhaul may be just as critical. One major indictment of the past was getting players in space and off the sideline to make plays. With talents like wide receivers Demarcus Robinson and Brandon Powell, tight end Jake McGee and hopefully an improved and more explosive Kelvin Taylor, the Gators have a group that McElwain can build around. Other than McGee, who was lost to a season ending knee injury, we have seen flashes of excellence from each. Demarcus Robinson should be drooling at this new opportunity. Jim McElwain has made former Alabama receiver Julio Jones and current Colorado State receiver Rashard Higgins amongst the best in the nation. Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier schemed ways for then freshman Amari Cooper to amass 1,000 yards. Robinson has shown that, when focused, he can be an explosive playmaker. Getting Robinson in one-on-one situations and maximize his ability to take the top off defenses could benefit the likes of Powell, who is versatile, shifty, and a potential nightmare for defenses. Working Powell in the slot presents a matchup that will favor the Gators. Brandon Powell can also be used in the run game to give defenses another challenge to game plan for. Going into this year Powell is definitely an X-factor and important cog in the Gators success.
Another missing piece to the passing attack was the tight end. In 2012 Jordan Reed gave Florida opportunities in the passing game when the playmakers on the outside were not present. Florida is hoping former Virginia tight end Jake McGee can revitalize the position and provide a threat up the middle to grab the attention of linebackers and safeties, opening the field for Robinson and Powell. The potential versatility in the passing game gives Florida a chance to become less predictable, break trends and bring the creativity we are used to seeing in The Swamp.
While we all miss the vertical pass, the running game will be just as important under McElwain. During his time at Alabama and Colorado State, McElwain produced effective and dominate run games. When McElwain was hired, running back Kelvin Taylor should have been grinning from ear to ear. The new one back attack will benefit him, as he finally becomes the feature back in the Florida Gators offense. Taylor must show that he can handle the load and develop into a more consistent overall player, which was a knock on him in the past. When relief is needed, True Freshmen Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite will be next in line. Scarlett has the ability to come in and contribute from day one. Cronkrite, who was not as highly touted as Scarlett, is capable of becoming a major contributor in the running and passing games as well. With the transfer of Adam Lane, depth is a concern and those two young freshmen will be counted on in critical moments. The running backs will also play an essential role in the passing game. Former Alabama and Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram caught 60 passes for 670 yards while McElwain was offensive coordinator and last year at Colorado State Dee Hart averaged 10.5 yards per reception.
For the offense to be consistent over the course of the season, other playmakers must emerge. The depth of playmakers is a concern, but here’s hoping McElwain and Nussmeier can find alternate ways to compliment current proven commodities. Look for the development of junior Ahmad Fulwood, sophomore C.J. Worton and true freshman Antonio Callaway to spark the Gator offense at some point during the season.
The lack of explosiveness is not typical of a Florida roster. In 2012 Florida was fortunate enough to win 11 games playing offense in a phone booth, but when your biggest available recruiting asset in state is speed, a coach must make adjustments in his scheme to take advantage of the available talent. The failure by the previous staff to do so, showed a level of incompetence that became frustrating over the years. McElwain must properly merge his philosophy with the current personnel and wealth of talent produced in the state every year. Although Florida does not have the quality and depth of playmakers we have become accustomed to, the proper scheme and game plan can overcome some of the existing personnel shortages.
The biggest most obvious shortages come on the offensive line and under center. The million dollar question surrounding the program is who will be the quarterback leading Florida this year and into the future. Florida has lacked consistent and reliable QB play since 2009. This will be the 6th year going into a season there has not been a quarterback fans can actually believe in. The two front-runners are incumbent sophomore Treon Harris and former Parade Magazine Player of the Year, redshirt freshman Will Grier. Grier seems poised to become the starter and appears to be the fit for what McElwain wants to install offensively. Treon Harris is an athletic quarterback who will have to rework his game to fit into this pro-style system.
Regardless of who is chosen, the position needs to be solidified. In Alabama’s 2011 season, the first of back-to-back national championships, McElwain played two quarterbacks AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims until McCarron took over. By the time he graduated McCarron was 36-4 as a starter and two-time national champion. Do not be surprised if we see both quarterbacks early in the year, but I am confident Coach McElwain will choose the right guy. For five seasons, Florida has started multiple quarterbacks at some point during the season — this inconsistency effects every position on the field and is the primary reason the offense has struggled over the years.
The offensive line has been just as inconsistent as the quarterback play. Florida will be relying on a mixture of veterans, true freshman and transfers to solidify this area. Some concerns over depth have been alleviated because of the hard work by the staff to bring in some bodies over the summer. One name to watch is freshman tackle and Florida native Martez Ivey. He will be counted on for depth and many are expecting him to start before seasons end. Because of depth concerns, Florida will cross train linemen to learn multiple positions. Whoever McElwain chooses to play under center, the offensive line has to improve for this season to be a success.
On September 5th a new era begins in The Swamp. Not every question will be answered that night, but I believe what McElwain and Nussmeier will present, will be a refreshing sight. 2015 will be the beginning stages of a process to restore the offensive reputation in Gainesville. Edison and Muschamp may have found 10,000 ways that didn’t work, but Gator Nation is trusting McElwain to find at least one way to light up the scoreboard in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.