UF, USC offenses prefer to grind it out

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw finds a hole between Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, left, and defensive end Garrison Smith during the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 6. (AP Photo)

Published: Friday, October 19, 2012 at 7:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 19, 2012 at 7:33 p.m.

If you took an industrial-sized Ambien more than a decade ago and just woke up from a long nap, you probably wouldn't recognize the offense Steve Spurrier is running these days.

Heck, Steve Spurrier wouldn't recognize it. Then again, he wouldn't recognize the offense Florida is running either.

In Spurrier's last year at UF, the Gators led college football by averaging more than 400 yards a game in the air. In Florida's last two games, the Gators have managed to throw for 138 yards or roughly a good quarter for Danny Wuerffel or Rex Grossman.

In the second halves of those two games — both Florida victories — Florida has thrown for 30 yards.

“When you hit 10 (running) plays for explosive plays, the bottom line is: Run them again. Run them again,” said Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease. “Let's not get greedy here as a coach and say, ‘I don't like that. I'm throwing the ball because that's what we all love to do.'

“If Jeff Driskel can carry the ball 70 yards and out-run everybody, he's getting the ball. If Mike Gillislee can carry the ball and out-run everybody, he's getting the ball. And if our O-line blocks like they block, we're giving them the ball. I'm not going to be stubborn as far as playing off numbers every week. I'm going to do what's best for this team and what they create for us to be productive and score points and win football games.”

When Spurrier came into the league in 1990, he changed the way football was played in the South. And now, it has changed back. They may be slinging it Spurrier-style in the Big 12, but the SEC has returned to being a grind-it-out league.

Florida, which is ranked second in the BCS, is ranked dead last in the SEC in passing.

“I didn't realize we were last in passing, but we're first in the East,” said quarterback Jeff Driskel. “We're undefeated, we haven't dropped a game yet, and if you're winning, everything is all right. Obviously we got to get better in the passing game, but we're winning games and that's what matters.”

Will Muschamp believes Florida can have a good passing game. And while Gator fans aren't going to complain about winning, I can't get a smoothie or a steam without being asked about Florida's vertical passing game. What's working is great, fans are telling me, but it can't work forever.

We'll see. Because Muschamp isn't one to force things.

“I saw in the spring where we were headed,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day, you gotta do what the players can do. That is what good coaches do. You have to identify your players and understand this is who we are.

“The downfield passing game will happen, but it will happen when the opportunity presents itself. We'll be able to throw it when it happens.”

At South Carolina, Spurrier hasn't abandoned the pass but he certainly throws it a lot less than he did when he was at Florida. He went to South Carolina in 2005 ready to reclaim his mojo after an ill-fated stint in the NFL.

But by the time he got back to the SEC and waded into the suddenly reformed league, he noticed something. The league was about to go on its current streak of six straight national championships. And those teams were different defensively.

Also, there were no Wuerffels or Grossmans waiting for him in Columbia. A big reason Spurrier doesn't Fun ‘n' Gun the way he used to is that he hasn't had that triggerman.

“It's a lot different from the guys we had at Florida,” he said. “We had good pass protectors, passers and pass-catchers. For whatever reason, we haven't quite had that here.”

But it's not just South Carolina's personnel that changed Spurrier to the point where his Gamecocks are 10th in the league in passing in SEC games this year.

“The defenses got faster and quicker every year,” he said. “They're faster and the ball doesn't go through the air any faster.

“I don't think that (pass-first) style of offense can hold up too much because the quarterback would get hit an awful lot if you tried to throw 40 or 50 times a game,” he said. “It'd be difficult. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I think it'd be a lot more difficult with SEC-type defensive players out there.”

Said Muschamp: “This league is a little different because of the defensive linemen. It's tougher dropping back and throwing.”

While there are six teams rushing for more than 200 yards a game in the SEC there are only two teams averaging more than 300 yards a game — Arkansas and Texas A&M. Whether they stay slightly above that high-water mark remains to be seen. In the last five seasons, only Arkansas in 2010 and '11 has passed for more than 300 yards a game.

The SEC is back to where it once belonged. I've never been a big believer in the adage about the team that runs for more yards will win the game. The team that is losing will throw more and skew the stats. The team that is ahead will run more to protect the lead and milk the clock.

But today in The Swamp, it's almost a lock.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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