UF reverses trend on key down

Florida's Mike Gillislee scores a touchdown during the first half against Kentucky at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 11:41 a.m.

In Florida's 37-20 win at Tennessee, the Gator offense converted just 23 percent of its third-down attempts (3-for-13) and scored only one touchdown in three trips to the red zone.

The Gators had a second-and-goal at the Vols' 1-yard line in the last minute of the first half, but they were unable to punch it in and settled for a field goal.

“We obviously need to improve on third down, short yardage and goal line,” UF coach Will Muschamp said following the game. “What we're doing is not working. If you continue to do the same stuff, you're going to get the same result, so we need to change that.”

Making that change was the top priority in practice last week, and the Gators dramatically improved in all three areas in their 38-0 win over Kentucky last Saturday.

They converted 12 of their 17 third-down attempts and all but two of their final 14 (85.7 percent). That's more than in their previous three games combined (11).

But the best stat came in short-yardage situations, where Florida was a perfect 8-for-8 when facing third downs of four yards or less. Four of those conversions were in the red zone.

Quarterbacks Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett and running back Mike Gillislee all scored on 1-yard runs, while Driskel hit receiver Quinton Dunbar for a 19-yard touchdown pass.

The only time the Gators didn't score a TD in the red zone was on their first drive of the game, when they couldn't convert on third-and-goal from Kentucky's 8-yard line.

“I was pleased with our offensive production on third down. I thought we did a good job of moving the chains and keeping drives alive,” Muschamp said. “Short yardage, we actually converted some of those and went 4-of-5 as far as scoring touchdowns (in the red zone).”

Solving the short-yardage woes at the goal line was simple for Muschamp.

“We went to that complicated quarterback sneak,” he joked.

As for the improvement on third down overall, Muschamp said the offense did a better job of executing the play calls — especially in the passing game.

“I think that the throws have been there in previous games, and we haven't necessarily got them with the protection or whatever the issue,” Muschamp said. “The first person you look at is yourself. What do I need to do? Is it execution? Are we asking them to do too much?

“I think there's been a little bit of that. But we had some throws there (against Kentucky) and we made the plays, we made the catches and we made the conversions. And I'm very pleased.”

So were Driskel & Co. after all the work they put in.

“It was emphasized all week long that we gotta get better,” Driskel said. “I'm sure it's gonna make the coaching staff happy that we stepped up our play and really got it done on third downs. It was good for our offense.”

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