Gators learning to drive

Florida receiver Trey Burton turns and runs after a catch against Arkansas last week.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, October 11, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 7:07 p.m.

After some early-season offensive struggles, Florida has found ways to keep drives alive in its last three games.

Last season, Florida’s ball-control offense centered around a physical running game led by former running back Mike Gillislee.

This season, it’s been quarterback Tyler Murphy and a short-passing game that has generated yards after the catch.

Controlling the ball will continue to be a priority on Saturday when Florida faces LSU. Since Murphy took over for injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback against Tennessee, the Gators have put together six touchdown drives of 75 yards or more.

“We’ve done a good job of staying away from negative-play situations,” Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said.

Pease was still irked by an illegal substitution penalty and Murphy taking a sack during UF’s 30-10 win over Arkansas last Saturday. But for the most part, Pease thinks the Gators have cleaned up some mistakes they were making earlier in the season.

“If we can stay away from the negative plays and continue to just grind and not get into long down situations — you saw it in our first drive, we didn’t do too much in our first two drives, guys made plays on third-and-10,” Pease said. “We’re capable of that. But that’s what we’ve got to keep working towards as we move the ball down the field. That’s where we’re working our drives and where we’re going to score and just be consistent.”

Murphy’s impact on the offense has been undeniable. The fourth-year junior quarterback has shown composure in the pocket and is making smart decisions with the football.

That confidence has carried over to the rest of the offense. Senior wide receiver Solomon Patton (4 TDs, 348 yards receiving) has emerged as a big-play threat, while senior Trey Burton (23 catches, 282 yards) has made an effective transition to slot receiver.

“You obviously have guys somewhere that are making plays, guys that are running with the ball after catch or breaking tackles on the line,” Pease said. “Linemen are blocking very well, the quarterback is stepping up to make second and third reads or scrambling with the ball. … That’s hard for defensive people to be accountable to that.”

Up front, the Gators have benefited from the return of senior Jon Halapio on the offensive line. Left guard Max Garcia, a transfer from Maryland, also has been more comfortable and confident in run blocking and pass protection.

“We go into the game with specific plays that we want to open up with and we do a pretty good job keeping that plan,” Garcia said. “We kind of know what we’re doing and I think going a little bit slower than most offenses has helped us out as far as looking at the defense and what they are bringing and what we’re seeing.”

All that’s been missing from Florida’s offense of late has been the run game, which has been inconsistent of late. After rushing for 246 yards against Kentucky, the Gators were held to 115 yards against Arkansas on 2.8 yards per carry. Starting tailback Matt Jones had just 50 yards on 17 carries.

Pease admitted he may have called too many inside runs against the Razorbacks, but said the play-calling was based on Arkansas’ defensive scheme.

“Yards per carry weren’t what we wanted it to be and what we’re used to,” Pease said. “I thought our backs ran hard, and there were some things that weren’t there. Hey, the D-line at Arkansas is pretty good now. They put some movement on up front and they got free and a couple of guys had some free hits.”

The Gators could have better luck running the football against a revamped LSU defensive front that lost linebacker Barkevious Mingo and defensive tackle Sam Montgomery to the NFL draft last season. LSU ranks eighth in the Southeastern Conference in run defense, giving up 159.5 yards per game.

“We kind of ran into that situation a couple of times last year and the kids bounced back,” Pease said.

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