What Florida football can learn from upsets of future opponents

Four future Florida football opponents were upset last Saturday. Missouri lost to Wyoming, Tennessee lost to Georgia State, FSU lost to Boise State, and South Carolina lost to a rebuilding UNC.

Today I’m using some of the advanced stats I run for game reviews along with some film clips to show what lessons the Gators can learn from three of those games. The Gamecocks’ loss to the Tar Heels doesn’t really fit with the others, not just because UNC is a Power 5 program, but because it doesn’t share a common theme with the other ones. See if you can pick up on it before the end. I think it won’t take you long to do it.

Missouri vs. Wyoming

Turnovers were killer for the Tigers. Just before the half, they fumbled a couple yards from the end zone, and it was returned into field goal range for a chip shot. Then on the first drive out of the half, Kelly Bryant threw across the field while scrambling from pressure for an end zone interception. Until the final desperation drive when on fourth down Bryant missed a wide open Albert Okwuegbunam and threw into triple coverage instead, those were the only times Mizzou didn’t cash in when getting inside the Wyoming 40 yard line. The Cowboys also returned a Bryant fumble 30 yards for a touchdown.

Besides the miscues mentioned above, the Mizzou air attack was largely fine. It had a success rate of 48% and about one in seven passing plays went for ten yards or more. The run attack was less impressive, with a low yards per carry rate and a 50% success rate inflated somewhat by ten conversions when they had two or fewer yards to go. Bravo to MU for being able to push Wyoming out of the way for a yard or two when necessary, but that’s not terribly indicative of how the standard rush game went.

One thing that killed Missouri, however, was its rushing defense. Wyoming is one of the most run-heavy teams outside the triple option guys, and it managed a 44% run success rate even when running 42 times against just 16 pass attempts. In the video below, you can see the Cowboys dominating the line of scrimmage on a few explosive runs before examples of them using Missouri’s concern with the run to open up the passing game. The plays are not in chronological order because I wanted to put the runs before the pass.

Tennessee vs. Georgia State

If you look at Tennessee’s offensive efficiency stats, you don’t see a loss. The Vols had a 55.6% rushing and 45.5% passing success rate. They got better as the downs went by, with success rates of 41.9% on first down, 56.0% on second down, and 61.5% on third down. Tennessee also got points every time they got inside the Georgia State 40 yard line.

Giveaways bit UT though, as they lost the turnover battle 3-1 the same as Mizzou did. The trade off of not turning it over in the scoring area is that GSU handily won the field position contest. The Panthers had an average starting position of their own 41 compared to the Vols’ average of their own 30. Four of Tennessee’s six scoring drives had to span more than 60 yards.

That said, Georgia State had three scoring drives of 75 yards or more, and all four of their red zone trips made it to the end zone. They kept things going via the run, with a 50% rushing success rate and an explosive run about once every eight carries. Quarterback Dan Ellington’s running was particularly tough for Tennessee to deal with.

You can see in some of these how much push GSU got against the Volunteer defensive front. The defensive line was expected to be a weak point this year, and it was last Saturday.

FSU vs. Boise State

FSU’s large first half lead was slightly fluky; Boise State had some early tackling problems, and some of the scores were simply the Seminoles getting a fast guy past the first defender and using their speed to score. James Blackman also hit on an unusually high percentage of deep shots early.

After the half, new OC Kendal Briles basically only had two settings: deep passes or short stuff with runs and screens. He seemed to forget to attack the medium stuff, and the medium stuff worked well early. FSU’s success rate was 60% in the first quarter and 44.4% in the second, but it fell to 22.2% in the third and 9.1% in the fourth.

Boise State made adjustments at halftime to take away some deep throws and got better at tackling, but FSU did help them out with bizarre play calling. After the Broncos pulled within five late in the third quarter, the plays went like this: failed deep shot, failed deep shot, sack before Blackman could get a deep shot off. After BSU then took the lead with another touchdown, they overcompensated the other way and went: handoff for one yard, RB swing pass for a loss of one, and a throw two yards in front of the sticks. It was the strangest thing.

Oh yeah, and there was this:

There are a lot of successful power run plays there because the Broncos famously ran 108 plays, but there also are a lot because it kept working over and over. In one of these clips you can hear Dave Pasch predict that Boise State will run a trick play at some point, but they didn’t. They didn’t need to. Not when they could move the line of scrimmage and mash the defense like this.

Paging John Hevesy

The South Carolina-UNC game didn’t fit this template because the Tar Heels didn’t get a lot of power rushing success. They did break off some long runs, but the kind of stuff you see above is not really what OC Phil Longo is about. He was the Ole Miss play caller the last two years, so if you watched the Rebels with their tempo passing and RPO game, that’s more of what North Carolina is doing now. Except for the handful of breakdowns, the Gamecocks’ defensive front did reasonably well against the run.

As for the other three teams that got beat, some of their problems are Week 1 missed tackling issues. A certain team in Gainesville should know plenty about those.

But Tennessee, Missouri, and Florida State can be had by a physical offensive line. The Gators’ offensive line is still figuring things out a bit, as they are still quite green even if only one guy is young. If all five starters play in every game, they still won’t have as many collective starts as Boise State’s offensive line had going into this season. Getting the Vols’ disaster of a defensive line first out of these opponents helps out as far as timing goes.

Week 1 reemphasized that Florida will go as far as its offensive line will take it. These three future opponents showed weakness up front that the Gators must be able to exploit. And then in the night set, Oregon gave up three sacks and had a rushing success rate of a mere 31% in scoring only 21 on Auburn. Gus Malzahn will have some ups and downs with a freshman quarterback, but he has enough skill position talent that only getting three touchdowns won’t be enough for most teams to beat him this year.

The line will get another chance this weekend against a much less tough defense than what it faced in Week 0. Getting good push and not allowing much if any quarterback pressure is table stakes against a mediocre FCS team. They need to avoid penalties and not miss assignments to show improvement.

Everything is still on the table for the Gators. They just need the line to progress to fulfill their potential.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2