Having taken care of the defense already, it’s time to turn to the offense.
Based on what I saw people on Twitter complaining about during the game, the top concerns were offensive line blocking, Feleipe Franks’s progression or lack thereof as a quarterback, and the run/pass mix. I can tell you from the close rewatch for this piece that the first two are real concerns, and one of them plays into the third.
Here are the things that stood out to me most.
I almost was able to use the singular rather than plural on “groupings” because Florida used 11 personnel — meaning one running back and one tight end — almost exclusively throughout the game.
The second drive began with three plays with 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends), and the second drive after halftime included one play each with 12 and 13 personnel. The latter was interesting, employing three tight ends on 2nd & 10 to try to get a good run for Jordan Scarlett, but a missed block forced Scarlett to improvise heavily to get even four yards out of the play.
The core of Dan Mullen’s offense comes from 11 personnel. That’s the bedrock on which everything else is built.
We didn’t see any two-back sets against UK. Dan Mullen said at the beginning of August that he’d use some this year, and it makes sense that they wouldn’t show any against Charleston Southern. Kentucky, a conference opponent, is a different story, and there still weren’t any.
Nor were there any four-wide receiver sets. Even during the fourth quarter drives when circumstances dictated passing nearly every down, there was always a tight end in the game. Franks didn’t target a tight end in any of the final three drives, and on none of the pass plays did the tight end appear to be even the secondary option. Despite having better depth and hands at receiver, Mullen never traded the tight end for another wideout.
That alone tells me that they’re almost certainly still working on the base offense. If they won’t employ four receivers when they need to go 94 yards in 29 seconds, that strongly implies they haven’t practiced four receiver sets much if at all. We will have to wait until later in the season to start seeing more wrinkles from the offense, if we see them at all this year.
Here’s the nicest thing I can say about the offensive line: Jawaan Taylor and Martez Ivey had fairly good games. Taylor had the best night of any lineman as far as I could tell, and the hold he had in the second half came in part because the quarterback didn’t make a decision fast enough and put Taylor in a bad position with the way he scrambled. Ivey wasn’t quite as sharp as Taylor, but the player Ivey struggled most with, OLB Josh Allen, is a top NFL prospect this year.
That leaves the middle of the line. It was not pretty.
Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic spent time early on in the telecast getting on Fred Johnson for his execution of slide protections, but Nick Buchanan and Tyler Jordan had rough games as well. I counted at least 14 different plays where at least one of the three guys in the middle missed a block or simply got beaten. No offense can operate well when that is happening.
It will be a boost once Brett Heggie is back to 100%, because he has starting experience and played well at times last year. I don’t know when that will be, however. There may be a point at which T.J. McCoy gets a shot back at center thanks to his extensive starting experience, but the fact that a seldom-used backup passed him up this offseason suggests that Mullen really didn’t like what he saw from McCoy in this offense.
I believe that because the middle of the line is so shaky, Mullen went away from the run and leaned on the pass in the second half. That strategy had limited success thanks to four of the team’s five drops coming after the break in addition to Franks losing some accuracy for a bit in the third quarter. There also is the matter of the quarterback’s inconsistency with reading the defense.
Florida’s offense went at a really slow pace because the coaches don’t trust their quarterback. Is that sentence from 2015, 2016, 2017, or 2018? Yes.
I know it’s frustrating to see the lack of tempo from the offense, but it’s hard to go quickly when the quarterback can’t make quick decisions. Franks appears to be thinking rather than reacting, and there just isn’t enough time in the college game for thinking during plays.
Here are two plays where I believe he didn’t make the correct read based on what the safety or safeties were doing. On the second one especially, he seems to be thinking too much rather than reacting. Though he’s slow to look at the right place, he hesitates and then flees the pocket instead of making the right throw at the last moment he could have.
It would be nice to have seen a faster pace, especially since the one touchdown drive came with good tempo. It also was a drive with simple plays. The first and third were essentially the same thing, where a guy lined up the widest ran out four yards against soft coverage and turned around to catch the ball. In between was a staple counter run play where a blown coverage by Tyler Jordan led to a facemask on the tackle for loss.
After the third play was a Wildcat run for Kadarius Toney. The score then came on a wide open seam route for Moral Stephens against a pair of UK linebackers who’d already blown seam responsibilities on a pass to Scarlett on the prior drive. There were three basic plays to start, another where Franks wasn’t even involved, and finally a last one where Mullen exploited a weakness that the defense had already shown.
I know that it seemed to a lot of fans that Kentucky players were faking cramps to slow the offense down. I can report that four of the six times a Wildcat went down with cramps came after third down conversions. I also know that it was hot and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson went down with a cramp at one point. I can’t make a final ruling on how much was fake and how much was real, but whatever the case, those delays did slow the offense down as well.
However, when they had to go hurry-up at the end, it wasn’t pretty. On the second play of the final drive, they were rushing so much that the line somehow left one of only four rushers completely unblocked.
The bottom line is that the players are still learning the offense. They haven’t incorporated much outside the offense’s basic tenants, the line holds them back with its mediocre play, and the quarterback is unable to do what he needs to do fast enough. Those are the challenges that Mullen must work to solve going forward.