Gators looking to be less predictable
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 6:21 p.m.
Florida fans across the nation who were groaning with every first-down run Saturday against Georgia probably aren't going to be surprised by this fact: The Gators are running the ball on first down more than any other BCS conference team.
Highest rush-play percentage on first down in the FBS (includes sacks as running plays):
1. Army 87.1 %
2. New Mexico 85.8%
3. Air Force 85.0%
4. Navy 81.3 %
5. Florida 78.1 %
6. Georgia Tech 78.0 %
The Gators run the ball on first down almost 80 percent of the time (78.1). The only BCS team that does it close to that many times is Georgia Tech (78.0), an option team that rarely throws the ball on any down.
Among FBS schools, the Gators ranked fifth, only behind Army (87.1), New Mexico (85.8), Air Force (85.0) and Navy (81.3). Three of those schools (Army, Air Force and Navy) run the option.
Offensive coordinators never like to hear — or talk about — the “P” word, but Florida's Brent Pease brought it up Tuesday when he was asked about how often the Gators are running on first down.
“Probably a little predictable,” Pease said. “Now, we're never going to get it back to balanced, is what we say, because the numbers are so skewed at this time in the season, but we kind of go on a game-to-game basis.
“It's something we really want to do (be balanced), but based on game situations. Sometimes when defenses sting us a little bit, we put it on the guys up front to see if maybe we can be a little more effective on first down and get ourselves ahead of the chains if the previous sequence wasn't really that good for us.
“We've just got to be better earlier in the game.”
For whatever the reasons, the Gators are running the football on first down almost 80 percent of the time. And this isn't a recent tendency. The 78.1 percent is for eight games, the entire season.
And opposing defenses apparently have caught on to UF's first-down trend. Since running for 146 yards and two touchdowns against LSU, senior tailback Mike Gillislee has pretty much been stuffed by opposing defenses who have loaded up the box with eight defenders.
Over the past three games (Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia), Gillislee has averaged only 60.3 yards a game and has not scored a touchdown.
Opposing defenses are stifling the UF ground game in running situations. And, for the Gators, first down has been a running situation 78.1 percent of the time.
“I think people have done a better job of adjusting to some of the things we're doing, some of the extra linemen and the things we're doing,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “The misdirection runs haven't been hitting as well.
“You know in our league, they catch up pretty quick with what you're doing. You've got to stay advanced in what you're doing.
“I think we'll have a good plan this week to run it. I think we had a good plan last week. We got whipped at the point of attack, quite frankly. We need to win some of those. You've got to win some one-on-ones in this league.”
As Georgia showed last Saturday — and South Carolina and Vanderbilt did on previous Saturdays — the Florida offensive line doesn't always get one-on-one blocking opportunities because there are more defenders to block than there are blockers to block them.
The Gators are regularly facing eight-man defensive fronts, even on first down.
“They're bringing safeties down into it, and they're getting people probably one more than we can (block) at times,” Pease said. “But in the same sense, some things are there. We've just got to maintain blocks, run through tackles.
“(Defenses) are getting tougher. I mean, you're playing better people week in and week out. And there are safeties in this league that are NFL-type guys that come down and that's what they do, they are good at tackling. That's why they are in that position.”
Because the Gators have been struggling with pass protection and their ability to throw the ball down the field, UF seems more comfortable sticking with the run to try and stay out of obvious passing situations.
That means a lot of first-down runs that opposing defenses now seem to be anticipating.
Muschamp said he's aware of UF's first-down predictability.
“When you get the ball on the 2-yard line against South Carolina, you maybe want to run it,” Muschamp said. “I think a lot of that is based on situational football. We self-scout ourselves hard.
“We look at what we're doing based on the personnel groupings, the field position and the down-and-distance. That's something we study pretty hard.”
Muschamp asked if running the ball on first down almost 80 percent of the time seems like a fairly predictable ratio.
“Yeah, I think we look at that,” he said. “That's something we're aware of.”
So, apparently, are opposing defenses.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.