When Dan Mullen was hired as the head coach of the Florida Gators offense he was hired to do two main things: provide leadership and course correct the program and improve, nay, fix the offense – the two main areas that have struggled since he left in 2008.
While we won’t know if he will accomplish the former for a few years, we should be able to look nearly immediately at his ability to fix the offense. No, the reality won’t be to have a top-10 offense in his first season nor should it be the expectation. No, the reality won’t be that he must turn one of his quarterbacks into a Heisman Trophy candidate nor should be it the expectation.
But, there are expectations, not including the six million of them, that Florida will look better on offense in 2018 and three main statistics will show the three main areas I think Mullen and his offensive staff should focus on for major improvement.
First Quarter Points
In 2017, the Gators ranked 126th in first quarter points with 2.6, which put Florida just ahead of Rice (1-11), Kent State (2-10), New Mexico (3-9), and Hawai’i (3-9) on the season. What’s more, is Florida averaged on 0.6 points in the first quarter away from the Swamp, which ranked last in the FBS.
How important is first quarter scoring? Teams in the top-30 in first quarter points averaged more than four wins more than those in the bottom-30 in first quarter scoring.
For a team that held the ball for more than 54% of the time in the first quarter, that was a less than desirable result for the Gators and must be improved.
Mullen’s success has been mixed, although substantially better than Florida over the last decade. Last season it was 5.9 points, with the season before it was at 5.4. However, in the seasons before it was 7.2 (2015), 8.2 (2014) and 6.4 (2013) – amongst his most successful seasons at Mississippi State.
This statistic has one of the highest corollaries to success out of the nearly 100 offensive statistics readily available.
QB Sack Percentage
Florida, again, ranked in the bottom five-percent of the FBS ranking 123rd in the country with a sack rate of 10.63% of quarterback drop backs, a wholly unmanageable number for moving the ball down field.
Here is a caveat before we move on, however. We are still unsure how Mullen is going to use the quarterback at Florida because he has two quarterbacks that do not fit his typical offensive systems from Mississippi State. At Mississippi State, he ran his quarterbacks often – in fact, quarterbacks ranked in the top-3 of all team rushing every season, except one, at Mississippi State.
Of the teams that had the top-30 offenses in scoring, more than 90% ranked in the top-50 of the fewest sacks category.
At Mississippi State, Mullen’s team had a sack rate of 3.94% last season and 4.33% the season before. During their most successful run (2013-2015), Mullen’s team had a 6.04%, 5.04%, and a 4.58% sack rates.
Points per Play
This is a bit more in advanced analytics but has one of the highest correlation rates to success, even amongst teams that run up-tempo, fast-paced offenses.
Last season, the Gators ranked 97th in the country with 0.324 (and an even worse ranked (109th) in the country on the road with 0.275).
Teams in the top-30 in the country averaged more than 8.5 wins on the season, compared to teams in the bottom-33 (to include Florida), which averaged less than 5 wins on the season.
Mullen’s Mississippi State team ranked 44th last season, with 0.402, which was equivalent to 8.5 more points per game.