With Florida football on ice for now, there’s no longer an LSU game to preview for this weekend. I hope all in and around the program are doing well and get back to full health soon.
With a little extra time, I thought I’d highlight some of the good things I’m seeing from the Gator offense. I’ve felt the need to use my film studies on the defense given how much consternation there’s been about it every week, but the offense is a thing of beauty. Here are some of the things that have stood out to me so far.
Teams use motion in different amounts for different reasons. One of the primary uses for motion is to get the defense to declare what it’s doing before the snap. If defenders are shifting in response to motion, it’s next to impossible for them to disguise what they’re doing.
Dan Mullen has never leaned heavily on motion, and he’s not using it a ton this year. Kyle Trask is very good at pre-snap reads, so the Gators don’t necessarily need a lot of motion to get the defense to show what it’s doing.
When Mullen uses motion, it’s for the other primary use: moving players around like pieces on a chessboard.
Here is an example from last week’s game. Justin Shorter is going on jet sweep motion as the team is down near the goal line.
Now, teams have used jet motion near the goal line for years and years to try to lure defenders out of the box. Because almost no one ever actually runs a jet sweep down there unless they employ Matt Canada, defenses largely ignore it at this point.
Florida is indeed not running a jet sweep to Shorter, but A&M ignored it at its own peril. Mullen was moving Shorter over there to serve as an edge blocker for a run play. Him being over there conferred a numbers advantage on the right end of the line, and a pulling Richard Gouraige gave UF one more. Kadarius Toney had a good hole to run through and almost scored.
There are situations where motion more reliably induces shifts, such as motioning a running back out wide. UF did that on Kyle Pitts’s long third down conversion. Dameon Pierce drew a linebacker off to the field side and moved the linebacker in the boundary area to the middle. That cleared up space for a quick slant to Pitts on the boundary side with plenty of room to run after.
Pierce's motion to the strong side pulls a defender out of the box and makes the replacement dude shade over that way, freeing up room for Pitts pic.twitter.com/lzWs1o4ZNL
— David Wunderlich (@Year2) October 12, 2020
Though Florida doesn’t use motion every play, it’s easy to pick out and see what it function the motion serves when it does happen. If the Gators do find that defenses begin to catch up to what they’re doing, adding more motion would be an easy way to fight back.
For as little as Florida uses motion, it puts offensive linemen in motion frequently after the snap. Mullen and John Hevesy love to use pulling guards, and Gouraige and Stewart Reese are good enough at getting on the go after the snap. One reason why Ethan White was such a revelation late last season is that he was faster and more nimble on pulls than Chris Bleich was.
You saw Gouraige pulling on the first highlighted play above. That’s what pulling linemen are commonly used for: changing up the number of blockers at the point of attack on run plays.
Because pulls are so strongly associated with runs, it means that pulling a guard is a terrific way to sell play action. Sometimes defenders will key on pulling guards and give up on the idea of defending the pass when they see it.
UF used Gouraige pulling right to sell play action near the goal line against South Carolina. The linebacker on the left side completely bites on it, running to the offense’s right even after he began drifting to his left.
“A very wise coach once told me, ‘If you really want play-action, you better pull a guard'”
Play action with pulling LG draws the LB and safety right, leaving a giant void for Copeland. pic.twitter.com/qU9j9lgsbr
— David Wunderlich (@Year2) October 6, 2020
Without the linebacker in the area, Trask has a wide open throwing lane to hit Jacob Copeland on a quick slant. The deep safety on that side continues drifting right as well, which is what he should do for a run to the right.
South Carolina’s defense didn’t react that strongly to every play action look. When you pull a guard, it makes it nigh irresistable.
Mullen is among the group of coaches who are synonymous with spread offense, and with good reason. Florida still spreads out the defense on most plays to this day.
But football is always cyclical, and Mullen is not immune to the need to change with the times. Mike Leach may run basically the same offense as he did two decades ago, but he’s an outlier (in so many ways, really).
At least since his return to Gainesville, Mullen has been using bunch formations at times. He’ll put a trio of eligible receivers close to one end of the offensive line. Sometimes he runs from those kinds of setups, sometimes he’ll pass. They don’t necessarily tip off anything in particular.
I think I saw this sort of play last year, but it still sticks out now. The Gators line up with a close trio to the left in a bunch formation. After the snap, all five eligible receivers will run through the space between the hashes and the first down line four yards past the line of scrimmage. Mullen is flooding that small patch of grass.
This is like anti-spread football. UF floods the middle between the hashes with all five eligible receivers. A&M loses track of Davis for a big gainer pic.twitter.com/DqX3tsa2zD
— David Wunderlich (@Year2) October 13, 2020
The effect is akin to the plays you’d see from forever ago when four guys would line up in the backfield and twirl around each other after the snap doing hidden ball trick-type stuff. The point is to get the defense discombobulated, hoping that someone will sneak out to open grass.
Unlike those prewar football teams, Florida doesn’t need to hope that the ball carrier will be the one who gets away. Trask can throw to the guy who gets open, regardless of who it is. This time it turns out to be Malik Davis on a standard route out of the backfield.
This is my favorite of the bunch formation plays, but UF uses a lot of them. Just because we’re still very much in the age of the spread offense, it doesn’t mean no one is trying to make progress with football in a phone booth. If it works, use it.