There was a lot to like in the Gators’ 63-35 win over Arkansas. As the latter number in the score indicates, there were some things not to like as well. I’m going to dwell on the positive here, though, and not necessarily the things you might be thinking of.
The highlight reel is impressive, and it’s not hard to find where a lot the breakdowns occurred for both sides. So here instead, I will take a look at some less obvious things to add some depth to the game.
Run Gators Run
Saturday was the first time UF recorded more carries than pass attempts, and that’s even before you take sacks out of the rushing figures. It was like that from the jump, with nine of the opening drive’s 15 plays being called run plays. Why now all of a sudden?
The reason is because Arkansas plays a lot of dime defense. A nickel defense is one with five defensive backs. A nickel is five cents, five DBs, you get it. Well, there is no six cent piece, so going up to six defensive backs gets called dime.
It’s tempting to run against dime because it means a lot of five-man boxes, and if there are more than five, the extra box defenders mathematically must be DBs. Dan Mullen knows all this, so he drew up a lot of runs. It’s critical for the LBs and DBs in run support to get off blocks to make dime work against the run. Arkansas is good at getting off blocks, so while it allowed efficiency, it didn’t allow much explosiveness on the ground.
I highlighted a couple of run plays from early on. The first one was the first run play of the game, and it’s representative of how things went. Arkansas has five in the box, but a DB is hanging around nearby to kind of make it six. Florida pulls both guards and all six close up defenders get blocked, but Dameon Pierce gets to the hole before Richard Gouraige does. A safety comes flying downhill to stop Pierce for three yards. That’s the tradeoff: UF gets positive yardage, but there wasn’t much shot for a big gain.
UF is using a bunch set on the second highlighted play, giving Pierce eight blockers against a five-man box with two nearby DBs. If an eight-on-seven matchup sounds favorable to you, it should. Pierce runs behind the bunched skill guys to the left to get eight yards on 2nd & 5.
The final example is the first run of the second half, and the Gators did have some better running success then. I think some of the blocking issues I’ll touch on later got cleaned up.
Helping things out is maybe a misalignment from the Arkansas defense. The DB who is functioning like a sixth box defender is on the left side of the defense, but UF has Kemore Gamble as an in-line tight end to the right. A pistol formation doesn’t completely tip their hand that it’s going to the strong side, so the defense doesn’t adjust to the numbers. Every defender to the right is accounted for and blocked properly, so Pierce is able to get ten yards instead of three.
Next up are some examples from the passing game. The first two are back-to-back plays from the Gators’ second drive of the game.
On both the Razorbacks are dropping back into a deep zone. I can’t tell from the broadcast whether they’re dropping three deep or four because there’s a Florida player and Arkansas defender behind the unnecessarily large score display on the bottom of the screen, but whatever. I’ve given up on ESPN’s productions for this year by now.
The first play has Keon Zipperer splitting two of the deep defenders by running up the hash. Ever wondered where the name “seam” route comes from? It’s this. He’s hitting the seam between the defensive backs.
Arkansas is showing the same defense on the next play, though slightly modified to account for Florida’s new formation. The Hogs will blitz the corner on the short side, and the linebacker on that side comes on a delayed blitz. Those choices guarantee single coverage on the receiver on that side, Xzavier Henderson. He beats the corner on a stop-and-go route, but this was the throw where Trask sails it a bit and overthrows his open man.
Now, you may remember from the beginning of the game that the Gators threw quickly to the edges a lot, often to Kadarius Toney. Like, suspiciously a lot. I can’t say exactly why that was, other than part of the point was to set up things later. Those throws were boring and plagued by iffy receiver blocking, so I just skipped ahead to the payoff.
One such payoff involved deception from Trevon Grimes when UF had three receivers to the right. He pretends that he’s going to block for Toney, who’s drifting to the sideline behind him, before exploding up the field. A third receiver I can’t identify from the camera shot is even farther out wide and will run a deep vertical to clear out the safety on that side. Double play action — a fake handoff and a rocker step forward from Trask — bring the linebackers up to ensure no one drops back in coverage. Grimes beats his defender, who thought it was another quick screen, for an easy big gain.
The other example capped off that drive down in the red zone. The plan is to have Zipperer split the deep zones again like on the seam route. They have to freeze the linebacker on that side to make it happen, so Trask pump fakes to Nay’Quan Wright lined up outside. The early screens plus the success of running backs as receivers against Georgia made it believable, so Bumper Pool stays put. Trask easily lofts one over him and between the deep zones for the score.
Sometimes Mullen will try something new for a particular game, and in this one it was a tight formation with two guys bunched on either side of the line and one running back. I don’t know what Florida calls it, but it’s definitely not “spread” offense.
“Spread” offense pic.twitter.com/NNVT02EvQp
— David Wunderlich (@Year2) November 15, 2020
Florida tried to run using the formation the first three times it used it, and they went for modest gains. The blocking was not particularly sharp, and I show how that went down. The third example from this formation is a toss play to Malik Davis from the second half. The blocking was far better in that play, and indeed across the board in most rushing attempts after the break, so I assume the staff went over how to better combat what the defense was doing.
The second example is a play action pass. You knew Mullen would run play action from this formation at some point, and Arkansas seemed ready. It only had three defenders right on the line of scrimmage and no one bit on the play fake. It didn’t end up mattering. It was the play where Trask directed Jacob Copeland to come off his route and go to the corner of the end zone for another wide open touchdown.
For the defensive portion, I outlined a couple of delayed blitzes from the offense. Feleipe Franks gets a lot of slow-developing pass plays because of his strong arm, doesn’t like to throw it away, and doesn’t have a high level of pocket awareness. For those reasons, delayed blitzes make a lot of sense. The main rushers just need to keep him hemmed in, and a late rusher can shoot through any available gap and get a sack.
The first of them is a very basic example. UF rushes its normal four, and Ventrell Miller and Mohamoud Diabate have to keep track of the H-back and running back. Diabate tracks the running back after a play fake into the flat. Miller watches the H-back fulfill an assignment to block Brenton Cox, so he’s free. Once it’s clear the H-back is no threat to do anything, Miller speeds through the gap between the H-back and left tackle and sacks Franks for a big loss. He gets an assist from Zachary Carter, who beat the right tackle around the end.
The other one is more complicated. Florida has three down linemen and three stand up linebackers around the line. You figure some of the stand up guys are coming, but it’s impossible to tell at the start.
Miller and Khris Bogle start by acting like they’re dropping into coverage, but Miller ends up rushing straight up the middle. Both the left guard and tackle take Miller, which leaves an opening for the final stand up linebacker, Amari Burney. He goes straight through a wide lane and takes Franks down himself. In both cases, the quarterback doesn’t seem to notice the blitzing linebacker until it’s far too late.
Delayed blitzes won’t work on everyone, but they were the right call in that game.