We don’t know if Kurt Roper was Will Muschamp’s targeted #1 choice to replace Brent Pease or if he was simply the last guy standing after a slew of others either got hefty raises to stay put, got head coaching gigs somewhere else or just said no. Whether he was #1 or #51 isn’t actually relevant because it turns Kurt Roper is a good fit for the Florida Gators.
This is a case where the stats – while extremely good – can’t begin to tell the story. Oh, the stats are plenty good enough – 173.69 rushing yards per game (4.45 per carry, 25 touchdowns); 3,047 passing yards (7.1 per attempt, 23 touchdowns); 408.1 yards (5.68 per play) and 31.6 points per game – but keep in mind this is Duke, which means that Roper was hanging those kind of numbers on people with athletes who probably wouldn’t have gotten a recruiting letter from a school like Florida much less a scholarship offer.
This is Duke, which will play Texas A&M in the Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, just the first time the Blue Devils have ever gone bowling in back-to-back seasons in school history. This is Duke, which has won 10 games already this season, played in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game, and could break its own school record for wins in a season by beating the Aggies.
It is the same Duke that was 8-73 in the eight years leading up to Roper’s arrival on the Durham campus in 2008 as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for David Cutcliffe. That Duke is where it is today tells you something about Roper’s ability to build an offense that can not only compete at a school with inferior facilities but win in a league where at least 10 of the teams have more talent every single year.
Next Tuesday night when Duke faces the Johnny Manziel-led Aggies in the bowl game, it will be another game in which the Blue Devils have no chance to win if simply go by the eye test. Those Aggies are bigger, stronger and certainly much faster than their Duke counterparts.
But if you’re counting Duke out, you’re probably making a mistake. That’s because this is an offense that can move the football and score points and it will be going against a Texas A&M defense has been known to give up huge chunks of yardage and an insane amount of points.
If Roper were to light up the Aggies like they were his own personal Christmas tree, it would be a dream sendoff for the guy who played defensive back and quarterback at Rice for former Gator assistant Ken Hatfield.
It would also be just the kind of sendoff that Will Muschamp needs. After seven straight losses to finish off a 2013 season that is a disaster of sinking the Titanic proportions by Florida standards, Muschamp needs every ounce of momentum he can possibly squeeze out of hiring Roper if he is to hold on to difference-maker tailback Dalvin Cook of Miami Central. Cook has Percy Harvin run to open space and see if anybody can catch him instincts when the ball is in his hands. He is going to be announcing his college decision next Thursday at the Under Armour All-American Bowl game in St. Petersburg.
Florida is right there with Cook. So is Florida State, which is playing for the national championship against Auburn on January 6. If Cook goes to FSU, there will be the temptation to redshirt him next season because the top three rushers are all coming back. If Cook chooses Florida, he could have the same kind of impact Percy had as a Florida freshman in 2006.
Go back to the Florida-Ohio State national championship game in 2006. The Buckeyes were so frightened by Percy’s ability to turn a game into a track meet that they played their safeties 20-25 yards off the line of scrimmage whenever he was in the game, which opened up the field for Chris Leak to slice and dice away at will.
Cook is that same kind of recruit. Add a guy like that to your offensive arsenal and it changes the way teams defend you.
Kurt Roper is just the kind of offensive coordinator Dalvin Cook needs. There isn’t a back on the current Duke roster of Cook’s caliber, yet the Blue Devils ran the ball consistently well. Roper offense spreads the field and plays games with the tempo, which creates havoc and breakdowns with the defense. It gets people in space.
At Duke, the guys Roper gets in space don’t have Dalvin Cook or Percy Harvin type of speed, but they get open and they pick up chunks of yards. Put Cook in that same space and watch the distance to the goal line disappear like a blur.
The momentum of this hire should also be felt by incumbent quarterback Jeff Driskel and incoming freshman stud Will Grier. If they didn’t know before, you can bet your bippy they know now that Roper is the guy who was Eli Manning’s quarterback coach at Ole Miss and that the two quarterbacks he coached at Duke prior to this year – Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree – make their home in the National Football League these days.
Driskel has NFL size and skills but before he got hurt against Tennessee he showed the same bad habits he had as a true freshman at Florida in 2011. Driskel desperately needs a patient teacher who can break him of the bad habits and get the most out of his talents the way Roper did with former protégés Manning, Lewis and Renfree. Grier has an upside that is through the roof. Like Driskel, all that’s lacking is that patient teacher who can turn him into an SEC-caliber quarterback.
“A home run hire,” is what Ephesians Bartley callis the hire of Roper as Florida’s offensive coordinator. “This guy knows how to call plays; he knows what it’s like to build something from the ground up; he knows how to teach quarterbacks and he’s been around a national championship season so he knows all about that, too.
Bartley used to spend his Saturday afternoons inflicting pain on quarterbacks when he was an All-SEC linebacker for Steve Spurrier in the early 1990s. Having chased a few around in his day, Bartley knows exactly what a well-coached quarterback looks like.
Well-coached quarterbacks are poised. They stay within themselves and don’t try to do things they’re incapable of doing. They understand the offense inside and out and they are an extension of their coordinator in the huddle and under center.
“Quarterbacks are a reflection of the guy teaching them,” Bartley said. “If the quarterback is well-coached and poised and makes good decisions, it’s because the guy teaching him did it right.”
Bartley was around when Steve Spurrier turned Shane Matthews from a sixth stringer who just wanted a chance into a two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. It’s not lost on Bartley that Roper is from the exact place Spurrier came from.
“You know, the last guy who came from Duke and coached quarterbacks and called the offensive plays [Spurrier] did pretty good,” Bartley said. “I’m not saying he’s the next Steve Spurrier, but what I am saying is this guy is a really good football coach and he’s exactly what we need. This is a guy every Gator can get behind. This is a great hire for ‘Champ.”