Time to change offense before it’s too late

This is like being the kid with the ugly sister. Whether you like it or not, you feel the need to make excuses for her and threaten to beat up any kid who mentions the obvious. But at some point, you understand that no matter how much you love your sister, she isn’t going to get any better looking although certain improvements can be made with a makeover. A makeover might not make her beautiful but it might stop the whispers.

You could say the same thing about Florida’s offense. There might be nothing anyone can do to transform it into a thing of beauty but a makeover might at least make it easier to look at.

What we saw Saturday could only be described in the very southern term dog’s butt ugly. After two-and-a-half seasons in Will Muschamp’s era as Florida’s head football coach, it is not unreasonable to expect something better than what we saw the Gators produce offensively in their 36-17 loss to Missouri in Columbia. Give Missouri credit for a great defensive game plan, but let’s face it, Florida did its part to make the Tigers look like the rebirth of The Steel Curtain.

How bad was it? Florida finished the day with one offensive touchdown and 151 total yards – 59 rushing and 92 passing. Led by ends Michael Sam (three sacks for 22 yards in losses) and Kony Ealy (one sack for -9) Missouri’s defense got to Tyler Murphy six times for 42 yards in losses.

When you can’t protect your quarterback any better than that, you get your butt kicked, which is exactly what happened Saturday. Even though Murphy missed a wide-open Trey Burton for what would have been a tying touchdown in the first quarter, it’s hard to point a finger of blame his way. After all, it’s not his fault that he plays behind a woeful offensive line.

Woeful might be giving these guys credit. You might have to go all the way back to 0-10-1 in 1979 to find a Florida offensive line this bad. Murphy should hire an attorney and sue for non-support before he takes a season-ending hit. He spent the entire day running for his life. When he wakes in the morning he should be sure to check all his moving parts to see if they’re still working.

Don’t blame Murphy that he has no time to throw. Tackles D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore rarely do anything to impede the progress of defensive ends off the edge, so he’s constantly under heavy pressure. This wasn’t the first time those two have spent the day getting embarrassed play-after-play on national TV but as bad as both Humphries and Moore were last week in Baton Rouge, they were even worse Saturday in Columbia.

The injury excuse won’t fly, either. Yes, the only reason Murphy is playing is because Jeff Driskel is done for the year, but Missouri didn’t miss a beat without its starting quarterback, who separated his shoulder while leading the Tigers to an upset over Georgia last week in Athens. In James Franklin’s place, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk made his first start and did a reasonable impression of Brett Favre the way he sliced and diced the Gator defense for 295 passing yards and a touchdown to go with an insult-to-injury 17-yard run for a score in the fourth quarter that iced an already delicious cake for the Missouri faithful.

For two-and-a-half seasons Gator fans have played the blame game. It was so easy to blame Urban Meyer but he’s gone and has been gone for three years. Meyer didn’t recruit Tyler Moore nor did he  recruit D.J. Humphries. Meyer’s offensive line coach Steve Addazio isn’t teaching these guys how to pass block nor is he (Addazio) calling the plays.

It was easy to blame Charlie Weis back in 2011, Muschamp’s first year on the job as Florida’s head coach. The offense went from bad to worse that year, and then it was easy to say that (a) Meyer was largely to blame for leaving behind such a mess and (b) Weis did a horrible job with what he had to work with. But in lieu of what’s happened in the two years since Charlie bolted for Kansas and his hand-selected offensive line coach, Frank Verducci, was canned, isn’t it time we stopped blaming people who are long gone for today’s problems?

Now the offense is the tinker toy of Brent Pease, whose Boise State pedigree was supposed to be the answer for Florida’s dreadful offense in 2011. A year-and-a-half later, is the offense any better than it was in the Meyer meltdown year of 2010 or the Year of The Cheeseburger (2011)? It continues to spin its tires and struggle to put points on the board. Pease has all the right terminology and a zillion personnel packages that he brought with him from Boise, but no matter who is in the game or what formation it’s the same old thing: an offense that is far too predictable that doesn’t come close to scaring anyone.

What we don’t know is how much of this offensive wasteland is the fault of Pease and how much can be attributed to Muschamp micromanaging everything to the point that the offense is hamstrung by his ultra-conservative philosophy? Whether it’s Pease or that Muschamp is a micromanager who needs to stick to defense, the buck stops with the head coach. Nobody held a gun to his head to force him to hire Pease.

If Pease is the problem, then let him coach the quarterbacks, turn the playcalling over to Brian White or Joker Phillips and see if either one of them can untangle the mess. White called the plays for six years for a dynamic Wisconsin offense that produced a Heisman Trophy-winner. If you saw what Joker did at Kentucky when he called the plays for Andre Woodson, you have to be impressed. Joker would have killed for the amount of talent Florida has.

If Muschamp and his ultra-conservative approach are the problem, then it’s time the head ball coach took a long look in the mirror and made a decision to reinvent himself. It wouldn’t be the first time a coach has done it. Bear Bryant did it at least four different times in his illustrious career and with each reinvention he became a better football coach. If the Bear could reinvent himself and get better, then why oh why can’t Will Muschamp?

If Muschamp continues with the exact same approach then it’s not unreasonable to say that the Gators are on the brink of a crash and burn end to the 2013 season. If he refuses to change, then perhaps it is safe to apply that famous saying attributed to Albert Einstein: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.

If Muschamp won’t change his offensive approach, then this is insanity.

The last time the Gators finished a season with a losing record was 1979. The last time the Gators failed to get to a bowl game was 1990. Look at who remains on the schedule and it’s easy to see that those streaks are on the line if someone doesn’t figure out what to do with this offense.

Although the Gators are out of the SEC Eastern Division championship picture for the fourth straight year and third in Muschamp’s tenure, Muschamp’s job is not in danger. At least for now. No matter what happens in the final five regular season games he will be back for 2014, but without a change in direction in the offensive direction in the last five games, the discontent with this program is going to bleed over into 2014.

As we have seen far too many times in the past, a coach with a tide of discontent rising is a coach in trouble. The only way to survive is change before it’s too late.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.