Gator offense has had its share of critics


Florida coach Will Muschamp shakes hands with Missouri coach Gary Pinkel after last season's game in The Swamp.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/File
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 1:20 a.m.

Let me start out with a disclaimer that's going to make the hair go up on the backs of your necks — college football, like all sports, is entertainment. But just because you are a fan or a ticket-holder does not entitle you to be entertained.

It only entitles you to the team you're rooting for to try its best. And that team and its coaches are entitled to try to win the game the best way they know how.

Another disclaimer — the coaches of every college football team know way more than I do about the game and their personnel.

Now that I have those out of the way and hopefully have your attention, I'm going to try to tell you why Florida's offense has been such a lightning rod for criticism this season.

1. They're trending downward: This isn't a new problem at Florida. The Gators' rank in the conference in total offense in the last four years — 10th in 2010, 9th in 2011, 11th in 2012 and 13th so far this year.

While style of play is part of the issue, the post-Tim Tebow Gators have struggled with three different offensive coordinators — Steve Addazio, Charlie Weis and Brent Pease. Some of this can be traced to recruiting and certainly a lot of it to quarterback play.

Let's not forget that Florida has lost its starting quarterback at some point of the season in each of the last three years. And injuries have played a part in this year's struggles.

None of us knew at the time that Chaz Green being lost for the year would have such an crippling effect on the offensive line. But it has. In all, when this season is over, Florida will have lost a minimum of 44 offensive starts due to injuries to players such as Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones and Jon Halapio.

But if the Gators aren't going to use injuries as an excuse, I guess we shouldn't either.

A big recruiting loss came in 2012 when a pair of wide receivers who were committed to Florida chose to go elsewhere. Nelson Agholor (USC) and Stefon Diggs (Maryland) combined for 13 catches and 257 yards receiving last weekend for their respective schools.

2. Protecting the defense: It's no secret coach Will Muschamp's forte is defense. I think sometimes he gets so conservative on offense, so he won't put the defense in a bad position.

Take the LSU game. With 1:14 to play in the first half and Florida down 14-3, Florida had Tyler Murphy punt from the LSU 37 on fourth-and-5. Had he gone for it and not made it, the defense would have been put in a tough spot against an excellent quarterback. Florida was to receive the second-half kickoff so the move made some sense.

At the same time, Muschamp is what I call a “selective conservative” because he'll fake a punt and go for a fourth down in his own territory.

I think it's important to point out here that Florida's style of play is difficult to criticize when it wins and easy when it loses, especially when it loses four games over two years where it averaged 13.5 points a game. And that it would be nice if the defense, which has played so well, could assist the offense with some cheap touchdowns. Florida has had only two touchdown drives this season of less than 40 yards and only one defensive score.

3. First-down blues: I was curious so I went through every play-by-play this season and here are some things I found that were hardly surprising.

Florida has run the ball on 114 first-down plays and called for a passing play on 50 (four ended with sacks). The Gators are averaging 4.55 yards per rushing play, but the number is a bit skewed because Matt Jones had a 67-yarder on a first down. More revealing is that 56 of the running plays have resulted in gains of three yards or less and 17 have resulted in lost yardage.

Muschamp and Pease fear second-and-10 the way you fear an IRS audit.

On the 46 passes Florida has thrown on first down, 29 have been completed for 292 yards.

“We've gotta be more balanced on first down,” Muschamp said this week.

4. The blueprint: Tyler Murphy's success came against two bad defenses (Tennessee and Kentucky) and an average one (Arkansas). Teams now have plenty of video on Murphy and LSU had a much better idea of what his strengths and weaknesses are.

For one thing, they know he's not going to throw a lot of deep passes and that allows the defenses to play more defenders in the box.

What did Abe Lincoln say? “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”

Not that any coach has ever taken my suggestion, but I think Florida has to throw it deep every once in awhile just to show it can. They don't even have to be completed. Just scare them.

5. The Louisville effect: Florida's offensive game plans worked fine last season when the Gators went 11-1 in the regular season. Turnovers derailed them in the Georgia game and there were times when they could have lost to lesser opponents because of offensive struggles, but 11 wins is 11 wins.

Then came the Sugar Bowl. Florida fell behind early and got away from what it did all season and it didn't end well.

I think that stuck with this coaching staff. Case in point — after Florida fell behind 14-3 against LSU, the Gators still ran three more times than they threw it (26 runs, 23 passes).

So there you have it, my theories as to why this offense has made you want to pull your hair out. Today, when the Gators face Missouri, all of these statistics that I have given you won't matter as long as Florida wins, right?

Even if it's 3-2.

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

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