Florida football film study: offense vs. Vanderbilt

When you hear that a team falls into a 21-3 hole, you probably assume that means they had a bad start on offense. By and large, Florida didn’t against Vanderbilt. A handful of plays went against the Gators in a big way early, and that was what did it from the offense’s standpoint.

The attack was efficient all day though, and here is what I was able to glean from a close rewatch of the game.

Personnel packages

This was by far Florida’s most diverse use of personnel on the season.

The large majority of the Gators’ plays so far this year have come from 11 personnel — one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers. The next-most common package is 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers. Aside from some heavier sets in short yardage situations and one drive of two-running back sets before Malik Davis’s injury, those two were basically everything.

In this game only 43 of 91 plays run were from 11 personnel, which is less than half. Just over three quarters of the plays still came from 11 and 12, but two other packages had just over ten percent each. That was enough to give the game a noticeably different flavor.

The most obvious one is the 20 personnel: two running backs and no tight ends. Dan Mullen finally peppered those back in, and they were almost entirely Jordan Scarlett and Dameon Pierce as the two backs. Lamical Perine did get in on some late, but not that many. It’s possible that since Perine was carrying such a heavy load throughout, not putting him in on these sets was to get him some rest as much as anything.

Either way, Scarlett was the only one who did any blocking from the 20 personnel sets. He did get some carries, but they didn’t come with Pierce functioning as a lead blocker. My guess is that’s the case because blocking is not something freshman running backs tend to do well. I will be interested to see if future defenses key in on the fact that only Scarlett ever blocks, but the Gators do enough different things, including passing, from these sets that it should have enough answers for what defenses do.

The other was a brand new one: 13 personnel, or one running back and three tight ends. The Gators’ second drive of the game was 15 plays long, and the final 11 of them featured three tight ends on the field.

Two of the tight ends were a rotation of the usual cast of characters, but the differentiator on most of these plays was Kyle Pitts. He is listed as a tight end, but he exclusively line up out wide. I suspect the coaches don’t really trust him as a blocker either, as on 3rd & 2 and 4th & 1 plays in the middle of the drive the three tight ends blocking for tough inside runs were R.J. Raymond, Moral Stephens, and C’yontai Lewis.

However they do seem to like using Pitts’s size on the outside, as he does have good speed for how big he is. Eventually they’ll want to get him in on blocking because that will allow him to be present for more kinds of plays, but Mullen used tight end Jordan Thomas out wide more often than not the past couple of seasons at Mississippi State. Pitts seems to be slotting into a similar kind of role.

Play calling mastery

This game was one where Dan Mullen could really show off as a play caller.

He came into it with two big advantages. One, his team simply has better athletes than Vanderbilt does. That never hurts. Two, his offense is built around efficiency, and the Commodore defense was one of the country’s worst in efficiency defense coming into the game. Undoubtedly the first factor ties in with the second.

Florida’s offense line got pushed around a lot in the first half. Not surprisingly, then, my game chart shows 17 plays with at least one missed block or holding flag before the half, and 16 of them had a missed block from someone on the line.

After the break, the offensive line played with more fire and stopped getting out-physicaled by Vandy’s defensive front. I do also have 17 plays with at least one missed block in the second half, and Florida ran almost the same number of plays in both halves. However six of those 17 after intermission included missed blocks from skill position players. That was a function of the line playing better and getting the ball carrier upfield to a point where a wide receiver making or missing a block matters.

Nevertheless, this is the second straight game with a bunch of missed blocks after the line cleaned things up well against Colorado State, Tennessee, and Mississippi State. The defensive lines of the first two aren’t very good, though, and Mullen did a lot to scheme around the good DL at his former school that he hasn’t done in the two games since. At this point, I’m not sure if that was a three-game blip or if they’ve backslid after making some progress.

As for what did work well against Vanderbilt, it was largely Mullen keeping a good mix of run and pass while attacking the spaces the defense left open.

As the video shows, sometimes the Gators would use pre-snap motion to get the defense to shift in a way that opened things up for the play. Sometimes it was a matter of either setting plays up or employing plays when circumstances had set them up.

Vandy had to get aggressive with its defense because sitting back and playing its normal set wasn’t working at all. Florida could get short gains on basically every play if it so chose, which would’ve meant more 15-play scoring drives like what the Gators had early on. They had to change things up or they’d get ground into dust.

However by changing things up, it made them susceptible in other ways. Mullen has found something that works reliably in the past three games, from the quick screens against Mississippi State to the speed option against LSU to the quick running back swing passes against Vandy. When the Commodores either sent someone extra or overloaded one side, the swing pass became wide open to the resulting vacant area.

I don’t know if there are any solid takeaways from this game in relation to Georgia other than those personnel packages. They’ve practiced up the two-running back sets without Davis enough to work them in again, and Pitts’s progression has allowed him to get a serious number of snaps. Trotting those things out now instead of saving them for Georgia shows something of the respect Mullen has for any SEC game regardless of opponent, and in any event it gives the Bulldogs some new things to worry about.

This was a solid entry in Mullen’s rebuild, as he schemed circles around an undermanned and sometimes-flailing Vanderbilt defense, though occasional execution issues prevented the score from getting out of hand. The fact that something I’d just consider “solid” netted 576 yards of offense at a 6.3 per play rate tells you how far Mullen has raised the bar already. If the Gators were in spitting distance of 600 total yards under either of the past two coaching regimes, it’d be time to break out the balloons and streamers.

Florida is not where it wants to be yet, but it’s definitely on the way.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2