HOOVER, Ala. — The talk of the town in Gainesville has been the addition of Kurt Roper this offseason.
Sweeping changes were needed and made following the 2013 season and the biggest news in Gainesville is the return of the spread offense.
“I’m excited to have Coach Roper join our staff,” Muschamp said in December following the hire. “He has a diverse, up-tempo background on offense and does a good job of adapting to what the players do best. The most important thing though is he has always remained balanced.”
So, yes, the spread offense will be making a return to Gainesville but the Gators will not stray away from the running game either.
Former Florida offensive coordinator and now Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen runs a spread offense in Starkville that is unlike most. Mullen’s offense utilizes a power running scheme — and while Florida will not be the power running team they have been in previous seasons — Mullen’s offensive success shows that spread teams can still pound the ball between the tackles.
It’s that balancing act between the run and pass that Muschamp is looking for.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott detailed how their offense uses balance to keep defenses on edge and how that balance allows them to be a more physical spread team than most.
“We run it just as much as we throw it and you really don’t know what’s coming each and every play,” he said. “There’s a lot of diversity and it’s an explosive offense.
“We have a powerful backfield with the quarterback run and bringing the receiver in, allowing them to run. We give it to the running back; allow them to run straight through the tackles, downhill.”
When you think of speed and explosive players, you think about the state of Florida. Mullen and Urban Meyer recruited the fastest team in America while they were in Gainesville and the success they had with that team produced some of the most exciting and fun teams in Florida football history.
“During my time there, we had guys like Percy Harvin, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. You get them in the open field and they could make special things happen,” said Mullen. “So to me, speed is something unique when you look at that state. For the talent of high players in that state, the spread offense is a great fit for them.”
That’s why Roper made a point to bring in a guy like Treon Harris to complement the signing of Will Grier. Both freshmen are athletic; they can run the ball as well as they throw it. While they don’t have the same experience as Jeff Driskel, Grier and Harris are well equipped for the spread offense and give Florida more depth at the quarterback position, something that was the unraveling of the team in 2013.
Having that depth will allow Roper to keep the playbook completely open for Driskel — something Florida didn’t have the luxury of doing a year ago.
“I think Pease would have used Driskel more effectively last year but they were really generally concerned about getting him hurt because they knew what they had behind him,” Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated told Gator Country. “They didn’t really feel that confident that they had SEC-caliber quarterbacks behind him.
“It seems like, to me, with [Will] Grier and [Treon] Harris behind him now, they feel like they can just run what they would run and if [Driskel] gets hurt they can deal with it. They’re a little better equipped to deal with it. We don’t know that because they’re true freshmen, but they are very athletic and their skill set fits that new offense.”
With three quarterbacks capable of running the football, defenses will need to stay true to the run. This should help open up the short to intermediate passing lanes. Connecting on those short, quick passes will have defenses creeping up and that’s when Roper wants to take shots down the field.
Balance is the key and the success of the offense depends on it.