There was almost a palpable cognitive dissonance among the Florida and Kentucky play callers on Saturday night. The two offenses were far better at throwing than running, but you could tell they badly wanted to establish the run.
A lot of that is the personalities of Dan Mullen and Eddie Gran, but also every turnover in the game came on pass plays. The teams had high efficiency through the air punctuated by some heinous interceptions. If either side could have run well, they’d have taken that avenue in a heartbeat.
And yet, as the advanced stats show, both teams really were far better at throwing, turnovers aside, and running just enough to keep the pass open was all they needed to do. Let’s see how that worked. This review is based on Bill Connelly’s Five Factors of winning, and sacks are counted as pass plays.
Everyone has a different definition for what counts as an “explosive play”, but I go with runs of at least ten yards and passes of at least 20 yards.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
UK’s ability to get explosive runs was almost entirely from Kavosiey Smoke. A.J. Rose had one nice run of 21 yards, but his longest runs after that were one of five and two of four yards. Rose had almost double the carries of Smoke heading into this one, but Smoke had two more than Rose did against the Gators and really should be the primary back.
Feleipe Franks had two explosive completions (of 31 and 32 yards) to Trask’s three on a few more attempts, but Franks’s greatest completion was for more yards than Trask’s (30, with some yards after catch for Kyle Pitts). Kentucky played soft coverage both trying not to give up home runs to protect its lead and out of uncertainty about what Trask could do. That helped Trask get some longer completions.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
Smoke’s 50.0% success rate offset Rose’s 28.6% rate, while Sawyer Smith’s personal success rate equalled the overall team figure. Smoke was easily the only ball carrier to have a good game on the ground among those who had more than two carries.
With the national average of success rate being about 43%, Kentucky was merely bad at running efficiency while Florida was downright awful. That fact meant the Wildcats could periodically get some ground game going with Smoke, and it was a primary factor in UK having an edge in plays run of 76-57. That’s twice in three games that the defense not being able to get off the field quickly has played a major part in UF’s offense running fewer than 60 total plays.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
It’s not an uncommon occurrence for Florida’s offense to be lackluster in the first and third quarters and then flow much better in the second and fourth quarters under Mullen. UK did help out some by playing that soft coverage during the final frame.
After UK went up 21-10 and the Florida turned it over on downs late in the third quarter, Kentucky tried to ice the game with the run. The Wildcats had been 54% rush up to that point, but they went to 67% rush between then and their final desperation drive.
As you may have noticed, it didn’t work. UK had a 28.6% success rate on their 14 runs and a 50% success rate on their seven passes in that time, yet they stubbornly ran it two times for each pass. The consequences of that, plus Smith having only one success play in seven on that desperation drive, show up as the Wildcats’ fourth quarter efficiency falling off a cliff.
I commend Mark Stoops for going for it up 21-10 on 4th & 1 at the Florida 38 at the start of the fourth quarter. I do not commend him for doing so by direct snapping it to Rose, easily the less effective of his two running backs, as the fourth straight carry by him and running him directly forward. It was the most conservative possible way to be aggressive, and it rightfully got stuffed.
One of the lessons of LSU’s win over Texas is that you can put a game away while throwing if your passing game is clicking with efficiency. Kentucky’s was, yet they largely abandoned it.
Efficiency by Player
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
This was easily Smith’s best career performance against a good defense. If he doesn’t toss a pair of horrible interceptions, Kentucky wins this game.
Franks was playing at a high level before going down to injury. His two turnovers weren’t great though, as he should’ve known better than to chuck the ball deep into the field as he did on the interception and didn’t feel the pressure on the fumble. Trask didn’t turn it over, but he had a couple of throws directly to defenders that couldn’t come up with the ball. Both played at a high level overall, however.
Not unlike the early part of last year with Franks, Trask clearly felt the most comfortable throwing to Jefferson. He supplied seven of Jefferson’s eight targets, and he targeted five players on his six other attempts.
Quarterback runs had been a problem for Kentucky’s defense in the first two games, but Franks was even less efficient than Perine was. I know Perine is the most experienced back and is the best receiver and blocker among them, but he’s not getting the job done. It might be time to give the other backs more of a chance.
After all in 2017 when UF had a bad offensive line, Perine averaged 4.1 yards per carry while Malik Davis averaged 6.7. There are some sample size and opponent quality caveats to that disparity, but unlike Jordan Scarlett, Perine is not the kind of running back who can make up for deficiencies in blocking.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
With only one kickoff return and just three punts, none of them returned, special teams was about a draw in relation to these figures. Turnovers were instead the major factor in field position differences.
A trip inside the 40 is a drive where the team has a first down at the opponent’s 40 or closer or where it scores from further out than that. A red zone trip is a drive with a first down at the opponent’s 20 or closer.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points||Pts./Drive|
It didn’t feel that way during the game, but Florida was better at generating scoring opportunities. That’s probably because three of the seven came in the fourth quarter, and one was Hammond’s long run right at the end.
The missed field goal was the only time the Gators failed to score in the red zone. One of Smith’s picks and Chance Poore’s missed field goal are the two times UK failed on its scoring opportunities. For as much as the UF defense allowed UK to move the ball, it only allowed the Wildcats to enter the red zone twice — though Ahmad Wagner’s touchdown catch was longer than 20 yards.
Florida won the battle 4-2, though Kaiir Elam’s pick on the last play almost doesn’t count since it did nothing different than batting down the pass would have.
Both teams had scoring chances scuttled by picks, but both of Shawn Davis’s interceptions led to good field position for Florida. Smith’s fumble set up UF at the Wildcat 31 as well. The Gators got two touchdowns and a field goal off of turnovers; UK got only one touchdown from them.
As Mullen pointed out in his postgame press conference, this game went similarly to last year’s game for a lot of it. Florida found itself facing a 21-10 deficit after three quarters with a missed field goal on the ledger. Kentucky was winning both lines of scrimmage and converting a high rate of third downs.
The fourth quarter really is where things changed.
The Gators took possession early in each final frame. In 2018, Franks threw an interception on the third play. In 2019, Trask went 4/5 for 54 of the 62 yards of a touchdown drive. The Gators scored a later touchdown after those initial drives both times, but last year it took 5:22 off the clock whereas this year it took just 1:54. This year UK was the team with the fourth quarter pick, and it also forgot to throw it to its uncoverable wideout Wagner at literally any point in that period.
But as I said at the top, the play callers’ preference for run loomed large. In that way, going into the fourth quarter with a two-score deficit oddly helped Florida because it forced Mullen to go with the more effective pass more often.
I covered Kentucky’s late run/pass mix prior to desperation time above. In the fourth Florida threw 13 times to only five runs, and three of the five runs came inside the Kentucky 10-yard-line. UF had a 61.5% success rate on the passes, and three of the five runs (60%) were successes as well. When the Gators went all-in on the ground game to run clock with a small lead — not an unreasonable choice by any means — the first two were not success plays until they surprised UK with Hammond’s jet sweep.
This game is something of a parable for the season if the offensive line can’t improve. Maybe it will grow over time as last year’s line did, but it’s struggling in ways last year’s didn’t and there is at most one reserve who could be conceivably seen as pushing for playing time.
While previewing the Miami game, I noted that Mullen’s run/pass mix has jumped all over the place based on personnel. The lowest he’s gone is 42.6% run in 2015 when Dak Prescott was a senior and he had nothing inspiring at running back.
Unless Emory Jones lights it up with the quarterback run game — and let’s be honest, it’ll be something of a surprise if he gets more than a handful of plays on a single series in any given game — Mullen will need to trend in that direction and make Florida a team that passes first to set up the rush. The run game was downright dismal against Kentucky, and its defensive front probably isn’t one of the best three the Gators will face this year.