After three straight tumultuous seasons on the offensive side of the ball with two different offensive coordinators, Will Muschamp may just be changing his offensive philosophy.
For the past three seasons, Florida has been known for their smash mouth, time of possession game that tried to look similar to a modern day Woody Hayes’ “Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust” offense, but often looked much more inept. The Gators offense, which was one of the most prolific in college football prior to Will Muschamp, has struggled mightily and cannot seem to find an identity, and once again the Gators will have to make a move to bring in a new offensive coordinator.
With a fourth year guaranteed and his job on the line, Muschamp has been telling recruits to expect a change in philosophy.
With his expected change in offense, Florida fans have been clamoring over what that idea of a new offensive philosophy really means. Fans have been saying spread, spread, spread with more vertical passing, adding in other buzz words like option runs, screen passes, up-tempo and gutsier.
After the firing of offensive coordinator Brent Pease, writers, pundits and fans have thrown around quite a few names to replace him. Some of the names have Gator faithful excited, some appalled, and some apathetic, but at the end of the day, no matter who is hired, they will have almost carte blanche when creating a new offense.
Many fans are demanding of Muschamp, “we need an up-tempo, spread offense period.” However, keep in mind a spread offense can resemble the Air Raid offense of Hal Mumme, or the spread-option of Urban Meyer, or the Pistol offense of Brian Polian, or the balanced spread of Larry Fedora, or the many variations in between.
But is the spread offense successful in college football this season? If so, what kind of spread offense? What offense puts Florida in the best opportunity to be successful next season? Let’s see if we can answer those questions below.
As a quick football lesson, the spread offense has a few basic tendencies – a shotgun quarterback, a no-huddle approach, the use of four-to-five wide receivers and horizontally stretches the field.
When you analyze the top-10 offenses in college football, all 10 (Baylor, Fresno State, Oregon, Texas A&M, Northern Illinois, Ohio State, Florida State, Washington, Marshall, Texas Tech) all employ the spread offense. Of those teams, Baylor, Fresno, Texas A&M, Florida State, Washington, Marshall and Texas Tech employ more of the Air Raid attack. Each of those teams threw for more than 3,200 yards (Florida had 2,051) and all topped more than 6,000 yards of offense on the season (Florida had 3,800). Of the remaining teams, Oregon, Northern Illinois, and Ohio State utilize the spread option, which is predicated on having a mobile quarterback and the ability to run the zone read. Each of those teams rushed for more than 3,300 yards and threw for more than 2,500 yards.
Other notable teams that are running spread offenses: SEC east champion Missouri (17th ranked offense), SEC West champion Auburn (15th), Arizona (35th), Mississippi (22nd), Clemson (12th).
Ergo, of the final regular season standings after week 15, of the top six teams of the BCS, four of them were using spread offenses with only Alabama and Florida State using their own brand of offense.
As Florida Gator fans have been scouting out every potential offensive coordinator possibility, quite a few fit this mold. Former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and University of North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson all run spread offenses.
However, Will Muschamp never said anything about a spread offense necessarily, just mentioned that it would be up-tempo. Florida State, Alabama, and Southern California all run up-tempo offenses, but are not particularly spread offenses – they run pro-style offenses, something Will Muschamp tried to duplicate.
With that in mind, Muschamp is said to be looking at University of Southern California interim head coach Clay Helton, former Southern Cal head coach Lane Kiffin and Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite who run more up-tempo offenses, while still focusing on pro-style tendencies – between the tackle running, zone blocking, and heavy use of tight ends.
Evaluating Florida’s offensive personnel next season, Florida must play to its strengths and not try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Jeff Driskel can be a mobile quarterback and should not be relegated to pocket passing. The Gators do not have adequate tight ends that can both block and catch. Further, the Gators wide receiving corp struggles in offensive blocking at times and also struggle getting open past the 10-yard line. The Gators have running backs that are built to run through the tackles, not bounce the ball outside. Finally, the Gators offensive line proved to be better in run protection than pass protection.
That aforementioned amalgamation of characteristics leave the Gators in a precarious situation moving forward on offense and what identity they want to take. If I were to guess, the Gators are more likely going down the route of the up-tempo pro-style offenses of Clay Helton, Lane Kiffin, and Major Applewhite rather than a spread. The difference from these candidates and Pease, will be a lack of focus on time of possession, no-huddle packages, and more vertical passes.
No matter how Will Muschamp decides to take his offense, he has one opportunity to get the hire right and it is the most important decision of his career.