The Florida win over Tennessee is a hard one to evaluate from a big picture view because of how much help the Vols gave to the Gators. That’s where film study can help, isolating individual plays to see how things went without getting too caught up in what the scoreboard said.
I am focusing on the first half since the game wasn’t really ever that close after intermission. Here is what I found during that time.
Last week, we finally saw the debut of the two-running back personnel set. There were only three plays of it before Dan Mullen moved on, but it was a glimpse at what Florida could do by using multiple of its good running backs at a time.
Against Tennessee, those sets disappeared. I think there are two reasons for it.
One, Malik Davis is out with a broken foot. The two-back sets against Colorado State used him and Jordan Scarlett, so with Davis out, that spiked those plays.
Two, I would not be surprised if they haven’t spent much time working on two-back sets in practice outside of the plays with Scarlett and Davis. Mullen simply never used much in the way of two-back sets at Mississippi State, so they’re not a core part of his offense. As is befitting the first year of an offensive install, it appears to me that they’ve spent most of their time working on the core sets and concepts without branching out a ton beyond that.
So, the only time before the half when there were two backs in the backfield was in the I-formation play that ended with R.J. Raymond catching a touchdown pass from the fullback spot. Aside from that jumbo set that featured four tight ends if you count Raymond as such, the Gators were in their usual base 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) pretty much the whole way with a scattering of 12 personnel (one back, two-tight ends).
We’ll see if Mullen breaks out some two-back sets with Scarlett and Lamical Perine or if they just sideline those plays while Davis is out.
Florida has had a problem with blocking up front this year. It hasn’t been a case of the offensive linemen getting overpowered so much as either them making mistakes in the new scheme or getting to their targets too slowly.
This game was different, and it was evident from the first play. Right guard Fred Johnson, who’s struggled quite a bit this season, was double teaming a defensive lineman with right tackle Jawaan Taylor. The block opened up a hole between Johnson and the center Nick Buchanan. A linebacker noticed that hole and tried to shoot through it to tackle the ball carrier Jordan Scarlett.
Johnson saw the linebacker in enough time to step over and push him with his left arm while maintaining help on the defensive tackle with his right arm. He obstructs the linebacker enough that the linebacker gets off balance and misses the tackle. Scarlett breaks through another couple of tackle attempts to pick up 12 yards. Without Johnson’s heads up play, Scarlett probably would’ve gotten back to the line of scrimmage at best.
To be sure, things weren’t perfect along the line. Two plays after this one, Buchanan got overpowered by senior defensive tackle Alexis Johnson and Feleipe Franks took a sack. However, I only counted four plays in the first half blown up by bad blocks, and one of those was from Perine struggling to keep a blitzing defensive back at bay.
Franks remains a work in progress. Perine’s fumble was Franks’s fault for not seeing an unblocked defender coming around the edge right at the ball carrier. I think the play may have been a run-pass option with Freddie Swain heading to the flat on a bubble screen; if Swain wasn’t a decoy on what was 100% a run play, hitting him would’ve been the proper move. Franks also rifled a short pass too hard through Tyrie Cleveland’s hands, and his last pass of the half to Swain in the back of the end zone was about ten feet too high.
However, Franks did have some impressively successful plays as well. Properly reading coverage off of the safeties was an issue for him against Kentucky, but his middle pass to Swain to set up the first touchdown of the game was a perfect read against two-high coverage with man underneath. He also did well to stay composed, buy time, and hit Swain on the 65-yard touchdown pass.
The offense isn’t a well-oiled machine yet, but the execution did improve against Tennessee in noticeable ways.
The Heggie experiment
Mullen and John Hevesy have been experimenting with the line in response to early struggles. I pointed out last week that Stone Forsythe got some snaps at right tackle in place of Taylor against Colorado State, and that happened again versus the Vols. Taylor played most of the game until mop-up time in both outings, but Forsythe got a chance to play while the games were still in doubt.
Something similar happened with the right guard spot. It’s no secret that Johnson had been struggling in the first three games, so Brett Heggie got a chance in his stead.
The results were a bit mixed. In the video above, I show how Heggie missed a block on Franks’s touchdown run. It didn’t end up mattering because the run went to the left.
Later on, a run on 3rd & 6 was blown up because Heggie didn’t execute perfectly. He pulls around to the left from the right guard spot and chips the defensive end with his shoulder but doesn’t get all of him. The end shakes it off and continues after Scarlett.
Heggie notices right away that he didn’t get all of the defensive end, so he turns around and goes backwards to take another shot at him. It’s not really necessary, though, as Heggie got enough of the end that Scarlett could avoid the guy.
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Shy Tuttle is coming off of a block by Jordan to exactly the spot where Heggie was and wraps up Scarlett for the stop. If Heggie had continued blocking upfield and took on Tuttle instead of going backwards, Scarlett would’ve had a chance at making something of the play.
This ties into something Hevesy talked about after the Colorado State game: “Just play the game. If you screw up or do something, great. Just do it 100 miles an hour. Stop worrying about being exactly correct or doing it perfect, just go play hard.” Heggie was worried about getting his block on the defensive end perfect and didn’t continue going 100 miles an hour. He was thinking and not reacting and lost where the priority of the play was.
This is all fine. Heggie played a little right guard in the opener against Charleston Southern but otherwise has played left guard in the past. The positions are similar, but he’s still being asked to play the mirror image of what he’s used to. He also missed a lot of practice this fall because of injury. You can’t expect a guy who has missed practice and is in a new position to be perfect. Aside from that goal line play and this Scarlett run, he nailed all of his first half blocks. That’s a win.
This goes to show, however, why Heggie wasn’t put into the game as soon as he was healthy enough to go. Is he better than Jordan and Johnson? At his theoretical best, I think so. However, this is still a new system, and if he’s replacing Johnson, it’s a new position too.
With Jordan and Johnson playing their best games yet against Tennessee, I don’t know what the timeframe looks like for Heggie moving back into the starting lineup. Maybe he keeps subbing in at times like Forsythe, maybe he beats out one of the starting guards, or maybe they move him in at center since he’s cross-trained in the middle in the past. A lot will depend on whether the newfound success from the starting line was a one-game thing against Tennessee or if it continues into the future. Mississippi State’s stout front will be a big test for the line and may help clear some of that up.