Dan Mullen said that his offense needs to improve on the details following the big win over UT-Martin. Even as the 45-0 romp mirrored the blowout win over Idaho last year in a lot of ways, the biggest difference is that the ’18 offense was great out of the gate against the Vandals while this year’s needed a little time to get going against the SkyHawks.
I went through the game to find those details, and I’ll go over a few of them for you here.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, I want to start with the customary overview of the player usage.
In the opener against Miami (FL), the Gators went with 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) for most of the game. They also mixed in some 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends).
Against UT-Martin, 11 was again the most common. The next-most common, however, was 10 personnel. That’s a package with one running back, no tight ends, and four receivers. UF kind of does that in 11 when Kyle Pitts is the tight end, as he has receiver-like skills out wide.
However last weekend, there were plenty of sets with Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Trevon Grimes all on the field together. Given the depth at receiver, it was only a matter of time before that kind of package got a look. I’m a little surprised the coaches first deployed it against an FCS team instead of holding it for, say, an SEC defense this coming weekend, but it really was like a practice last weekend.
I’ll also mention that on four occasions Florida motioned a receiver into the backfield to create something like a two-back set. Each time they did something different.
On the first, Kadarius Toney motioned into the backfield and took a handoff on what I believe was an outside zone run. The next was the play where UTM’s defense completely lost track of Tyrie Cleveland, not the least because the defense bit hard on jet sweep motion with Hammond. The third time was Jacob Copeland actually taking the jet sweep and going 15 yards with it. The final was on Emory Jones’s touchdown run. The last one is a little funny because the defense sold out on the quarterback draw and ignored Jaylin Jackson on the motion, but the blocking was good enough to spring Jones anyway.
The details of blocking
There was a bit of discussion about route running and Swain after Feleipe Franks’s first interception against Miami, but I don’t think that kind of detail is what Mullen was talking about after the UT-Martin game. I personally thought at first that some of the details might’ve been Franks making some iffy decisions on RPOs early. However, a close rewatch showed Lamical Perine doing exaggerated handoff-receiving motions on those plays that clearly demonstrated they were play fakes on straight up passes.
I made up a video of details, and only in the first segment did I find something to complain about for Franks. Even there, where he dumped it off to Pitts instead of hitting Grimes on the opening play of the game, you can’t complain too much. The throw kept the team on schedule with a five-yard gain, and it’s hard to fault a quarterback for choosing not to throw across his body into the middle of the field no matter how open the receiver is. In one other instance, I think Perine read the defense incorrectly and went left when he should’ve gone right.
The rest all comes down to blocking. Mostly it’s about getting to the correct blocks sooner.
I didn’t find much to ding Stone Forsythe and Nick Buchanan on, but Brett Heggie (uncharacteristically so), Chris Bleich, and Jean Delance missed on too many details. The line’s issue is mainly them getting to their blocks too slowly.
It could be that they’re still thinking too much, and that would explain some things. Buchanan had all of last year’s experience, and Forsythe was a top backup who got to play a few pre-garbage time drives here and there. Delance was not as far along, Heggie missed a lot of practice to injury, and Bleich is young.
The tight ends also have struggled with blocking this year. I mentioned last week that Pitts and Lucas Krull were the offenders while Kemore Gamble, in admittedly only a few plays, looked good. Well, after Mullen emptied the bench in the fourth quarter, Gamble missed his assignment on an edge linebacker while pulling no differently than Pitts did in one of the clips in my video.
The tight ends’ issue is more finding and engaging with the defenders they’re supposed to block. They have generally been in the right place at the right time, but actually getting hands on a guy and preventing him from making the play has been lacking.
To be clear, I don’t think this year’s offense can be as good as the 2008 team’s offense, but it’s worth looking back to see that the ’08 unit also struggled at first. After breezing by Hawaii, that year’s team disappointed some by only scoring 24 offensive points against Miami. The next week they gained just 243 yards and scored 23 offensive points (three of them gifted by a turnover) against Tennessee.
The game after that was the loss to Ole Miss, and then the offense didn’t get going until the second half against Arkansas. When asked why his offense sometimes looked “mundane”, Urban Meyer replaced the questioner’s word with “awful”. Remember that this team ended up with either the second or third-best offense in school history depending on how you rank it against the 2001 team.
It turned out that the offense had already figured it out by the time Meyer termed it awful. The Gators smoked LSU 51-21 the following week and never looked back. It can take an offense, even a spectacularly good one loaded with NFL talent and coordinated by Mullen, some time to put all the pieces together.
This year’s Florida offense is not at its ceiling. It’s not even close, I’d say. If it can iron out the little blocking details — and it’s an “if” until proven otherwise — there are a lot of big gains to be had.