UF offense, Weis face Bama test


Florida quarterback John Brantley will be a key player vs. the Tide.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, September 30, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.

Will Muschamp's hiring of Charlie Weis inspired visions of footballs flying all around The Swamp in what would be a kind of Fun ‘n' Gun revival for Florida football.

It hasn't been quite like that.

The Florida offense has been flying all over the place this season, but it hasn't been through the air, it's been on the ground via a bullet train named Demps-Rainey. This offense doesn't have wings (not yet, anyway), it has legs — very fast and elusive legs.




Did anyone see this coming back when Weis started constructing his first Florida offense back in the spring?

Actually, the Florida offensive players say they did.

“From Day 1,” sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison said. “The first day the new coaching staff introduced themselves to us, they let us know that we have the tools to be that kind of offense. So we're going to make sure we're that kind of offense.

“We love it. We love to grind.”

The big guys up front may call it grinding, but when tailbacks Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey have had the ball in their hands, it's been more like smooth sailing.

The two little fast guys have been making big plays and giving Weis' offense a very well-defined personality. With all those dashing, darting and long-distance sprints produced by Demps and Rainey, the Gators have emerged as the strongest (and fastest) running team in the SEC in this young season.

Florida leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 259 yards a game. That could change after the Gators face a fast and dominant Alabama defense tonight that leads the league in rushing defense. But for now, this is who and what the Gators are — a run first, pass second offense, where the home runs are coming in the running game.

The approach has been successful so far.

“First of all, you have to have a lot of people suppress their egos. Everyone wants to be the guy,” Weis said. “You look at the circumstances each year. Next year, your team is going to have a different personality when those two rugrats are not going to be here anymore. So, your personality changes.

“Just like you study the opposing personnel, you study your own personnel. These guys are pretty special. I think it's only right that the foundation of our offense started through the middle and starts with them getting a good number of touches each game.”

It's no secret what the Gators are doing on offense. They're pitching, handing and passing the ball to Demps and Rainey — and doing it multiple times a game.

The Gators have other offensive playmakers, but none as dynamic as their two game-breakers.

Alabama's powerful defense certainly can count on getting a heavy dose of Demps and Rainey tonight. It's what Florida does.

Weis is aware Nick Saban and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will have a plan to slow down Rainey and Demps.

“We have to wait and see how (the defense) plays the game,” Weis said. “You have multiple ways of being able to (effectively use Rainey and Demps). You can't just do the same thing each week. You have to have a plan where if they stop this, you have another way (get the same results).

“You just have to see how it goes. You have to plan and tweak. You have to have a plan ready to go depending on what they end up doing.”

Weis said earlier in the week that he's going to “throw the kitchen sink” at the Tide defense. No one really knows what that entails, but whatever the plan, it's a sure thing it will include lots of plays for Demps and Rainey.

“We're going to do what we need to do to win the game,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, those are two of our better playmakers, so they're going to touch the ball. What different ways will they touch the ball? It could be from the slot, from outside, matching up on a linebacker on a vertical route.

“The touches we get them could be different and not as conventional as we've seen to this point.”

The UF offense has been more than just Rainey and Demps running behind what has turned out to be a very good offensive line. The speedsters also are major players in the passing game.

Rainey leads the Gators in receptions with 11. The second-leading receiver is Demps, with nine catches.

Rainey and Demps have taken some swing passes and dump passes and turned them into big plays. When Kentucky took that aspect of the offense away last Saturday, Demps and Rainey burned the Wildcats with some game-changing long runs.

The Tide defense will be by far the toughest test UF's speedy tailbacks have faced this season. Alabama basically gives up nothing on the ground (only 45.8 yards rushing a game) and very little in the air (138.2 yards a game).

So what happens if the Tide shuts down Demps and Rainey?

The Gators haven't shown the ability to consistently throw the ball down the field this season, but Muschamp said that's been a little misleading.

“You have to be multiple when you play Alabama. You can't be one-dimensional,” Muschamp said. “A lot of our offense has been attributed to the fact that three of our four games were in hand by halftime, so we ran the ball in order to end the game.

“John (Brantley) is going to be able to throw the football. He's been outstanding. I'm pleased with his progress and what we've done in the throwing game and in what we've asked our football team to do. What I see in practice is a very productive passing attack.”

What the Gators have done in games is make sure Demps and Rainey see the ball. A lot.

“Giving the ball to Chris and Jeff is the easiest part of the job,” Brantley said. “They can take it to the house at any moment.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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