These Gators might have knack for big plays

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Florida running back Lamical Perine goes through the FSU defense at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee last Nov. 24. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Florida football took a big step last season, right?

The Gators won 10 games and offense — OFFENSE! — finally returned to a fan base that had been deprived of the nutritious manna for almost a decade.

Of course, it depends on how you look at it.

On the good side, Florida could hardly have been more balanced with a five-yard difference for the entire season between passing and rushing yards.

On the other hand, the Gators were 42nd in the nation in total offense, hardly worthy of confetti and ice cream cake. Mmmm, ice cream cake.

Sorry, but this heat gets to me at times and I lose focus. Back to the offense, which was way better than the lousy offenses we saw under Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain (average ranking nationally — 108th; that ice cream cake isn’t sitting well).

But certainly it wasn’t like the offenses that Dan Mullen produced with Tim Tebow and a far cry from what the guy on the third floor at the stadium (Steve Spurrier) used to throw at the SEC.

I know. Baby steps.

But the question I have heading into this season is whether Florida can return to an offense that has big plays worthy of ESPN highlights that aren’t Pick-Sixes.

Now, I get it. Last year was the first year for these guys running Mullen’s offense and there was certainly a learning curve. Feleipe Franks had to learn to walk before he could learn to run over people. The running backs had their moments (Lamical Perine against FSU comes to mind) but the offense was more grind than flash.

And that worked just fine for the most part. The problem was that when the defense did not play at an elite level, the Gators went down because of their inability to score in a hurry.

You may or may not agree with me (and I’ve already ticked off a lot of people this week), but my definition of a big play is one that covers at least 40 yards.

In 2018, Florida had 13 of those. That’s not a lot.

By comparison, Clemson had 35. Oklahoma had 34, Alabama had 32.

You know what those three teams had in common. (Notre Dame was a bit of an outlier ranked only 10 spots ahead of UF in 40-yard plays).

So the question I have is whether or not this talented group of running backs and receivers can do a little better.

Actually, a lot better.

“It’s definitely the plan,” Franks said Thursday. “More big plays, more explosive plays. That helps you win games. We have guys who can do that.

“It helps the offense get going.”

And the crowd and the sideline and the defense.

This looks like an offense that might have that big-play knack, but it takes more than just wanting to bang your head on the goalpost to make it happen.

“Explosive playmakers. I think we have some of those guys now,” Mullen said. “Guys that understand the offensive scheme better gives you the opportunity to go do it. The other thing is having multiple guys that are playmakers. Especially look at the perimeter at the receiver position.

“You have to get-it-to plays, but you also have plays where you have three and four receivers out there and all four of them can make an explosive play and do what you need them to do. It allows you to take advantage of what the defense is giving you. I think that leads to more explosive plays.”

Cool. Can’t wait to see it.

The Gators face a lot of rugged defenses this year — starting with the first one — and nothing is as deflating as dropping the long-play hammer.

If the narrative of fall camp is accurate, the comfort level with everyone on offense should be the fuel that starts offensive fires.

“Within the offense, you have guys that once you know the offense, you know how to make plays within the offense,” Mullen said. “ ‘Hey, can I do this. Can I run this route this way? Hey, you know what, I decided to change the route, I hooked up here, I sat in this area. It is OK? This is why I did it.’ When you have guys doing that, you have a chance. They understand the system.

“And they’re more confident in doing it. I think that leads to more explosive plays.”

There’s one thing though. At Mississippi State, Mullen’s teams averaged only 14.6 plays a year that went for 40 yards or more. His offense may simply not be built for those.

And let’s face it. It takes more than just a great play call to hit the home run.

“You can throw a bubble and it goes for a 60-yard TD,” Franks said. “And in the stats it says you threw a 60-yard touchdown.”

I get that. I get that sometimes skill players have to make guys miss. I get that one juke can be the difference between 15 yards and 50 yards. I get that wide-open receivers way down the field are more difficult to hit.

I also get that there is nothing wrong with 20-yard plays.
(The three playoff teams mentioned earlier averaged 105.3 of those last season while Florida had 63).

And I also get that if you play great defense and pile up a bunch of first downs, you can win a lot of games.

But hey, we all dig the long ball.

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

 

27 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting column. Pat had to work pretty hard on this one to find some new way to criticize Mullen. There is a lot of evidence that explosive plays lead to success; however, the majority of experts I have ever read define an explosive play as a run over 12 yards and a pass over 16. This article has a good discussion about them:

    https://www.footballstudyhall.com/2017/8/22/16075050/college-football-big-plays-efficiency-five-factors

    As for what constitutes a big play, it depends on the situation. A one yard quarterback sneak on 4th and 1 that scores the winning touchdown against an SEC team is much bigger, to me, than a 40 yard pass in a blowout win against a junk team like Mercer or whoever some team put on their schedule for an easy win.

    Catch the defense in the right alignment, you have a chance for a 40 yard play. Sure. Throw a lot of deep balls against a trash opponent to pad your stats, and you can be Tua, too. But, I would much rather see Franks check down and throw a five yard pass on 3rd and 4, move the chains and keep the drive going than throw into double coverage in the hopes of making a 40 yard play.

    But, that’s just me– the typical spoiled fan with unrealistic expectations.

    • Couldn’t have been said better Jaws. Hitting that 5 yard pass on target and being caught for a first down, or as CDM says making the easy 6-8 catch (not dropping it) is what we need. Make two of those and you move the chains and keep possession. Throw and occasional long play in there to stretch the field and use the run to keep defenses on their heels and hit your RB’s for passes that are unexpected. QB needs to see open guys when his primary(s) are covered. I think you put yourself in position for bigger plays when you execute the smaller plays correctly. There are options on every play. If the routes are executed correctly there is usually a mismatch or blown coverage a QB should be able to see and exploit.

      • Thanks. I was inspired by this article to do the research. it had been in my brain that efficiency was a big deal, but I hadn’t looked closely at the numbers. I was surprised at the number 40 having heard many coaches and players talk about explosion plays in much shorter increments.

    • Brilliant post, Truthful Jawman. I’ve heard many times an explosive run is 12 and pass was 20, but I accept 16, especially if it’s 3rd and 15. 65’s post echos a good OC’s plan is to, as Hank Stram would say, matriculate the ball down the field. And IAMIOWAN took the words “write” off of my keyboard. I was thinking, damn Pat, you constantly talk about imbibing adult beverages, but you also expound upon your wounded replaced knee. Hope you aren’t mixing your pleasures with pain meds, because it seems you’ve been baiting these here Gator fans all summer (Emmitt’s not worthy) who support your columns, reading and responding to them regularly each week. (Wonder if there’s a full liquor bar at Pat’s gym? Or if he can even find it after dismounting his spin bike.)

      Hey, what would Pat say if he wrote for the Tide, when last year, The Citadel’s Dante Smith had 2 TD runs of 44 and 45 yards? Do those big plays negate two of Bama’s in that game, where these Bulldogs bulled their way to a 10 – 10 tie at the half AT Bama?

      I am certain CDM is impervious to Pat’s sideways criticisms, but it seems to me the loyal posters here are growing weary of it.

      Go Gators!

    • Perception is in the eye of the beholder, so you could get several different answers from several different humans. But I tend to agree with you Jaws as the situation will dictate what constitutes an explosive play. The outcome is more important than the yards achieved. Excellent post as usual. GO GATORS!!!

      • Been thinking about the explosive play thing. How about a play that results in a first down beyond 10 yards. If a team was that good assuming there is a good defense. Then is you take the ball on the 20 (just for a starting point) then there are 80 yard to pay dirt and if the explosive play is 10+ yards there would be a minimum of 8 plays to TD. But this is where teams have got themselves in trouble at times when they had no defense (BIG12) and maybe the other team had a defense and they needed to slow the game down and couldn’t. CDM is about fundamentals, execution and balance (passing v running) and I will think he would balance explosive plays vs successful consecutive 6-8 yard plays. Face it no one turns down yardage gained when a play breaks free. But there are times when scoring can work against you if you are trying to run out the clock.

  2. It might be time for Pat Dooley to retire – so very cynical and critical. Our HC coached the UF offense to two national titles under Urban Myer. When Coach Mullen was HC at MSU, he was competing in the toughtest division in college football – the western division of the SEC. Let’s face it – MSU is not a glamorous school. Still, he had a very respectable record at MSU and produced two top QBs who went on to play in the NFL. Here’s my suggestion to Pat – lose some weight, get sober, and remember your role – otherwise, it is time for you to go.

    • Cynical and critical– unless the topic turns to Muschchamp! Interesting he denigrates Mullen for finishing 42nd when he once gushed over South Carolina’s new “high-octane” offense last year. You know. The one that finished 43rd?

      Even yesterday on Finebaum, where he was asked about the 2019 GATORS, he somehow found a way to throw in some excuses for Muschchamp’s last season at UF, claiming the team quitting on him was the result of injuries. I sat there thinking– what is this guy’s obsession with Muschchamp that even when he’s on a nationally televised show being asked questions about THIS YEAR’S GATORS he can’t help but start droning on and making excuses for Mushy’s epic fail from years ago? Also, for anyone who missed the show, he flatly stated that Mullen’s 2019 Gator team is over-rated.

  3. When DM left to go to MSU, how did Urban’s offense do? How many titles won? UM without a quality OC doesn’t win NC’s. I agree, a big play is converting a 4th and 8 or 4th and 1. I suspect more explosive plays this year but it will be consistency that wins ballgames.

  4. Meyer – Saban great coaches that I think there difference is one is screwed with ethics the other is not. Meyer learned while at Florida his assistants are critical to succeed. Saban has known that since leaving LSU. His system has been robust. CDM has his flavor to things and success will be here soon.

  5. Last year we started some Trickeration plays on O that went for long yardage and scores. They are fun for the team, the fans and are Explosive! Its shock and awe and leaves the opposing D shaking their heads and deflated.
    This year lets install at least one trickeration play per game at the appropriate time and send a message to the SEC: “Come to the Swamp at your own risk. Bring your swivel head cause you won’t see it coming. The ‘Swamp Thing’ will get you!”

  6. This article is bothersome in many ways. When CDM was here before we were up against Oklahoma with the media saying there was no way we could keep up with their high flying big play offense. Our d pretty much shut that down with Sam B having a deer in the headlight look the whole game. Stretching the field is good and necessary as it helps the offense keep the defense from loading up against a one dimensional offense. Think Muschamp and Mac. We won 10 last year when we shouldn’t have with great coaching and a team that was getting better as they bought in. Mullen tried not to ask them for things they weren’t ready for. This year the play book will expand the explosive played will come from proper execution of the fundamentals with better results.

    • Well written 65, and thanks for checking on me off net.

      Here’s the thing: Dooley is either not a Gator fan, or else he is smarter than all of us put together. I doubt the latter — just look at the excellent critical thinking going on in this string of posts alone — but I do give him his due for being a very bright guy, all that notwithstanding, and he is truly an outstanding sports writer in his own right. As a matter of fact, I’ve often put him up there with the late Tom McEwen of the old Tampa Tribune (who I grew up on and still maintain was the hands down best sports writer ever to lace a pair of penny loafers).

      So what of it if he is not a Gator? Nothing, other than it frequently irritates or bothers those of us who are. Would he be less objective if he were? I doubt it, just witness the fair criticism on here among die hard Gators. Would he be more objective? Herein lies the rub. He just might be, but not to the point of wearing rose colored glasses — in other words, he would be more like the majority of us. But would he be a better sports writer if he were actually a Gator fan? No, but he sure wouldn’t irritate the crap out of us so often. I say instead of having him drawn and quartered, we just do as Albert de’ Alligator would: Simply throw up in our own mouths now and then, and keep reading.

      • 6 if there wasn’t such a love affair with Muschamp in his stuff I would agree. I don’t think given more time Muschamp would have improved that much. Too one dimensional. I could even see if he were jaded by the record from 2011-2017 that he has doubts about a new HC except for that love for Muschamp. I can understand if he is friends with the him. STOP DEFENDING HIS PERFORMANCE HERE. he was 28-21 (17-15 conference) 31/2 years while here. 22-17 (12-12) in conference at SC. CDM was 21-17 in first 3 years at Ms St. granted he was 9-15 in SEC play but that is playing Alabama, Auburn, A&M, LSU every year. in a school that was a bottom feeder before he got there. His last year before coming to the east he lost to Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss.
        Muschamp’s last two years as a Gator 4-8 Losing to Georgia Southern???????
        6-5 Losing to SC, LSU and FSU twice in a row.

      • I loved reading McEwen, especially his Sunday column where he composed his southern breakfast menu as a prologue to his column, but sorry 6, Dooley isn’t quite that good. I also enjoyed reading Hubert Mizell, who wrote for the then named St. Pete Times and made his home in Gainesville. Pat Dooley’s writing never reminds me of these two men’s sports prose.

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t remember either one of them trying to rile their followers with commentary like Dooley does on a consistent basis. True, we are all stating opinions here, but he sure does like beating those poor dead horses.

        • Well doggone it Phil, you and 65 have got me there. Get a rope! 😜 (emoji just so you know I’m kidding and you heathens don’t actually run out and start buying rope)

          But speaking of McEwen, I will never forget those Sunday morning columns. They made getting out of bed with a hangover worth the effort, which was usually followed by a mad dash over to Ybor City for a Cuban sammich and several steaming hot cups of Cuban coffee. I’d get back in time to catch ol’ Salty Sol Flieschman on TV, and then tune in to the wrasslin matches with Gordon Solie from the Tampa Sportatorium. Boy, I tell ya’ — them were the days!

          • Phil, I rented a house right off Dale Mabry — kind of behind Malio’s Steak House — which backed up to the apartments on the next street over that the majority of out of town wrestlers used to stay in while in Tampa. Think Wahoo McDaniels and so on, some very big names of the day, and got to know several of them. I was always astonished at how intelligent and what nice guys they were….just the opposite of their characters in the ring. Lots of advanced degrees in that bunch. Never got to meet the Briscos tho — I understand that Jack & Jerry opened up a body shop in St Pete or Clearwater after they retired, which is right down the road from you. Still in contact with them?

  7. I take some of Pat’s statistics and analysis with a grain of salt. Maybe a whole shaker. While the offense was new last year, where would we rank in explosives if you remove the pass happy Big 12 –where very little defense is played– from the list? And so on. The quality of opposing defenses matters.

    And what was the trend as the season progressed? We all know the answer to that one.

    As for, “At Mississippi State, Mullen’s teams averaged only 14.6 plays a year that went for 40 yards or more. His offense may simply not be built for those…”

    Really? Must we really discuss talent differences again?

    The irrelevant MSU observation brings me to this observations: Many explosives for Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma were heavily related to truly special wide receivers able to get separation, with quarterbacks able to accurately hit them when they did. (Duh.) That’s even more true when your metric is 40+ yards per play. But here’s the key point: It doesn’t really matter what type of offensive scheme you’re running if Jerry Jeudy is going deep and Tua is throwing the ball.

    The Gator offense will be more productive this year and the number of explosives will increase. Our receivers are too good and our quarterback will continue to improve, in his second year under CDM.

    The number of explosives (and I agree that the 12 run / 16 pass yards metric is the better definition) will especially increase if Malik Davis stays healthy. I also anticipate Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce trucking a few DBs this year.

  8. ”Clemson had 35. Oklahoma had 34, Alabama had 32 (big plays).” -Dooley.
    So Pat, I won’t deride you for loving your boy, Will Muschamp. After all, he was once a Gainesvillian Reptilian for a little while as a kid. But how on earth do you fairly compare Florida’s offensive ”big plays” with 2 teams that played in the National Championship game, and one that had a ”Heisman Trophy winner,” and was also in the Football Final Four last season? All in order for you to make your point Pat, you’re ”comparing apples to oranges.” Well, at least they’re (stats) from last year. But this is an all new season, 2019, and it starts in only 3 Saturdays from today. Go Gators! Just win baby!