While doing a close rewatch of the Florida-South Carolina game, a single theme didn’t arise for me as usually happens. Florida’s play was uneven, and once it got better, the Gators pulled away. The things that went right were mostly always there but just lacked execution. The mishaps weren’t always part of a larger story line.
So, here are a few atomized things I found in the film from the game.
Offense: scheming guys open
Georgia lost to South Carolina in part because offensive coordinator James Coley was not able to scheme his receivers open. Dan Mullen has no such problems.
The first example comes from the second play of the second drive. To this point in the game, Florida has only gone with passes no more than four yards past the line of scrimmage. On first down, Kyle Trask hit Lamical Perine on a swing pass for a five yard gain.
The Gators line up three receivers (including Kyle Pitts) to the right with Jacob Copeland to the short side on the left. Will Muschamp has his standard 3-4 lineup in with seven in the box and single coverage outside. Mullen is known to like to run, and 2nd & 5 is a common run situation for a lot of offenses.
Greg McElroy called the play an RPO on the telecast, but it might as well be simple play action. A run fake is all that’s needed to make sure the linebackers on the left stay up, putting Israel Mukuamu on a true island. Copeland beats Mukuamu to the inside, and Trask puts it right on the money where the corner who had three picks against Georgia couldn’t get to it. With no safety help on that side, Copeland gets almost 20 yards after the catch.
Another thing UF did a few times, perhaps not all of them on purpose, was use double moves. Specifically, they had guys go upfield, turn to the sideline like they’re merely running an out route, and then turn upfield down the sideline.
The first example I have for you is the clearest. Perine is running this kind of route as planned, and he beats linebacker Ernest Jones easily with it. Unfortunately, the wet football slips out of Trask’s hand during the delivery and it sails out of bounds.
More happily for Florida, Freddie Swain got loose with this kind of move on his improbable-looking touchdown grab. There isn’t a good camera angle for it, but you can piece it together. He lines up inside and runs straight forward out of the frame. The next time we see him, he’s by the sideline having run an out and is turning upfield. This may have been some improvising by him as Trask too extra time moving the pocket, but the path he took is basically the same kind of thing Perine did only at a different depth.
Finally, Pitts did the same thing on his touchdown grab. He was supposed to get the ball right away on a quick out route behind the line of scrimmage; had he done so, then Josh Hammond’s uncalled pass interference would’ve been completely kosher. Trask doesn’t deliver it on time, so Pitts turns upfield at the sideline. There’s no one there because of Hammond’s block, so Pitts gets an easy grab before looking confusedly to the ref expecting a flag that never came.
I find the pattern of successful double moves funny, because this kind of out-n-up is what South Carolina itself employed to get a long touchdown reception against UGA.
Defense: blitzing and star
Florida’s run defense has been degraded the past couple of weeks with some key injuries on the defensive front. The plan this year has largely been to rush four and let them handle things without too much blitzing, but that’s not sufficient when there are guys out.
Against the Gamecocks, Todd Grantham was able to put in some effective blitzes against the run — though not as many as you’d like, given the final South Carolina rushing totals. The ones I’ll highlight are defensive backs coming in and disrupting things.
The first one has Trey Dean blitzing from the star spot. He had a bad game against LSU and was eventually benched, but he bounced back and played better against South Carolina.
This play shows a drawback of going quickly with an inexperienced quarterback like Ryan Hilinski. A receiver goes in motion across the formation, but Dean doesn’t go with him. He stays up on his original side, which is a strong hint that he could be blitzing. Carolina either can’t or just doesn’t change the play, and the blocking scheme doesn’t account for Dean even though a tight end is on that side. He is able to bring Tavien Feaster down for a rare tackle for loss against him.
A couple of drives later, South Carolina has three receivers wide left to the long side of the field. There is no one wide to the short side, but both CJ Henderson and Jeawon Taylor are over there ostensibly to handle the in-line tight end on that side and any runs to the right.
South Carolina goes with a slow developing counter, where it pulls the right tackle to the left. Running back Mon Denson fakes going right and then tries to follow the pulling tackle. Henderson blitzes off the edge — turns out only Taylor was there to worry about the tight end, something a more experienced quarterback might’ve been able to anticipate — and he gets Denson from behind for only a one-yard gain.
The most memorable example comes late when Florida got a strip-sack on Hilinski. The Gators put four on the line but only one linebacker in the box, essentially asking for South Carolina to run the draw play that’s been working so well all day. Five blockers for five box defenders and dropback motion from the quarterback: the draw should be perfect, right?
Well, Henderson blitzes off the left side. That is also the side of Hilinski that Feaster is on, not to mention Hilinski’s blind side. The young signal caller doesn’t see it coming until it’s too late. Feaster picks up Henderson to keep his quarterback from getting creamed, but it’s a futile gesture. Kyree Campbell and Zach Carter have blown past the right guard and right tackle, and they converge as Hilinski is trying to throw to the receiver Henderson vacated. The ball pops out, Campbell jumps on it, and the Gators are in the end zone three plays later.
Though Dean had a better time at star against South Carolina than he did against LSU, Grantham still switched things up there at times. Instead of moving Marco Wilson there as was the adjustment against the Tigers, he went with Amari Burney instead.
Burney has been playing linebacker since the Peach Bowl against Michigan, but don’t forget that he was formerly a defensive back. One of the reserves at star, in fact.
I noticed a couple of occasions in which Burney was able to keep up with receiver Shi Smith on deep routes. The latter instance earned Burney a pass breakup and made the general public notice that Burney was again working as a defensive back. On the former, it looked like Smith wanted to go inside for a post but Hilinski threw outside on a corner for a bad miss.
In each case, Burney started five yards off the line of scrimmage and backpedaled immediately after the snap. His transition to linebacker probably has left him unable to match a guy as fast as Smith stride-for-stride in press coverage right off the line.
However, he clearly hasn’t lost all of his speed. It’s preposterous to expect anyone else labeled “linebacker” to shadow Smith that well. We’re only just beginning to see what dividends Burney’s versatility can offer.