Far from certain Roper's offense will be given free rein
Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 5:54 p.m.
The sun beat down on the young man with the grimy leaf blower in his hand. He was sweating as if it were an Olympic sport. Just as one fat drop of sweat formed at the tip of his nose and fought gravity in vain, he asked the question.
It's a question I have been asked dozens of times this summer, and not just by my yard guy. It's a question Will Muschamp hears all the time, especially because he has gone from SEC Media Days to the ESPN Car Wash and next week to Florida's own media day.
It's a question that is on the mind of every Gator fan as the fourth year of the Muschamp Era approaches. I've been asked it a hundred times, at Gator Clubs, on the radio, in the gym, at local watering holes. And with almost a dozen speaking engagements in August, I expect it a few more times.
And it is a question with no real answer.
We all have opinions. But we don't know.
Is Muschamp going to let Kurt Roper run the offense?
It's the million-dollar question and considering the money at stake, that's a conservative estimate. I can tell you what Muschamp has said publicly. I can tell you what people close to me have said privately. I can tell you what I think.
But we don't know.
I'm not sure Muschamp knows.
Muschamp has said repeatedly that he has called zero offensive plays as the Florida head coach. But as we know, there is a difference between not calling plays and not calling plays.
Head coaches don't wear headsets because they're listening to the new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album (it's excellent, by the way). And they don't have microphones on those headsets because they're sidelining as laptop troubleshooters.
When a head coach says, “Pound it” into the mouthpiece and the offensive coordinator calls, “Right Iso 28 Power,” the head coach hasn't called the play. Technically.
When the coaches meet during the week and the head coach approves or dictates a game plan, he hasn't called a play.
This is the way it is almost everywhere. There are head coaches who actually do call plays such as Steve Spurrier. There are head coaches who are way involved in their offenses such as Gus Malzahn. But there is never a coach in this day and age who is surprised by a play that is called or has no influence on the way an offense attacks a defense.
But I digress.
The point is that Florida fans are hoping for an offense this year that will be fun to watch. Like, say, an offense that finishes in the top 100 in the country. And many of them are concerned that Roper will have a set of spurs in his side if he tries to get too crazy.
Muschamp has said that it's Roper's offense, but he has also said that he wants to be balanced. One thing that the Florida head coach knows is that this league changed — seemingly overnight — and that the approach that he used to win 11 games in 2012 probably won't win that many in 2014.
Part of it is because of Malzahn's return to Auburn and part of it is because Missouri and Texas A&M joined the league and part of it is that every high school in the country seems to be running an uptempo, shotgun spread offense.
In 2011 — when national runner-up and SEC champion LSU needed more than eight quarters to score nine points against Alabama — SEC teams averaged 22 points a game in league games. Two years later, they averaged just shy of 28 points a game. That's a touchdown a game, and, while that may not seem like much, it's a huge jump from three touchdowns to four.
Of course, in 2013 there were veteran quarterbacks throughout the league and this year — as I noted during SEC Media Days — half of the 14 teams don't know who their starter will be.
Still, there's a reason why Muschamp changed coordinators and a reason why Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin. Offense is en vogue right now. More importantly, it's necessary.
Which brings us back to the original question.
We have seen in the past head coaches who had a certain offensive philosophy and brought in a coordinator with different ideas and tried them out and went back to what the head coach believed in. Phil Fulmer at Tennessee with Dave Clawson. Houston Nutt at Arkansas with Malzahn. When it gets tight, coaches tend to go back to their roots.
Here's where I defend Muschamp offensively and lose you all. The offense he ran in 2012 made sense with the defense and the kicking game he had. In 2013, the plan was to run an offense that was more wide open. Jeff Driskel lit it up against Miami, but a few mistakes cost Florida the game. A week later, he was done for the season and Florida didn't have a quarterback who could execute what they wanted to do.
I still haven't answered the question. Here's another stat to mull over — from 2010 to 2012, Roper's Duke offense was imbalanced. The Dukies passed for almost three times as many yards than they ran for. Last year, it was 248 yards passing per game to 178 rushing. With the right players, he wants to be balanced, which is what Muschamp wants.
So, will Muschamp let Roper run the offense?
Yep, with more guidance and less micromanagement.
But we won't know for sure until it's 20-17 in the fourth quarter in Tuscaloosa or tied up late in the game against LSU.
That's when we find out.
I suspect it's when Muschamp finds out as well.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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