Gators out to overcome coming up short on money downs

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Florida coach Dan Mullen stands near his players during last Saturday's game against Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

 Florida coach Dan Mullen experienced what many would consider every playcaller’s worst nightmare Saturday in Jacksonville.

 Too few plays.

 The numbers were astoundingly low.

 The Gators ran only 20 plays in the first half, just nine in the second quarter. For the game, they ran only 52 plays and had just three offensive possessions in the second half. Before UF started a 17-play touchdown drive with 10:01 left in the game, the Gators had run a mere 35 plays.

 With those scant numbers, it’s difficult for a playcaller to get into any kind of rhythm.

 “It hurts,” Mullen said. “I think I’ve probably grown through the years with it, that you can get really frustrated with it.”

 If Mullen was frustrated, it didn’t show, at least in his play calling. He stuck with his game plan and when the Gators desperately needed a touchdown to get back into the game in the fourth quarter against Georgia they drove 75 yards in 17 plays for a TD to make it a 24-17 game with 3:11 left to play.

  He was more of a patient playcaller than a frustrated one.

 “You see some guys get frustrated with it and try to really press instead of just know the situation, manage the situation, what is the game going to call for us and not get frustrated,” Mullen said. “We’re not getting a lot of plays so I’m just going to scrap everything and we’re going to try to force things.

 “The game dictates a certain way that you want to go, but I don’t think we just kind of start going crazy, ‘Hey let’s try to score on every single play.’ What does the game call for, what’s going to allow us to execute.”

 There was one main reason why the Gators had so few plays in the 24-17 loss to the Bulldogs: third down. Georgia converted 12 of 18 third-down plays, while Florida was just two-of-nine on the money down. As a result, the UGA offense was on the field almost 12 minutes longer than the UF offense.

 It all adds up to just 52 plays.

 That means a sizable chunk of the plays in the game plan that weren’t used.

 “I can’t tell you an exact number,” Mullen said. “Let’s say we had 130 plays going into the game. We ran 52. That means there are 80 things we wanted to do that we didn’t get to do during the course of the game.

  “You have that many (going into the game) because you don’t always know how the game is going to to play out, what’s going to happen out there on the field.

 “You can’t plan for only having three possessions in the second half. When we’re writing up the game plan we don’t expect to have three possessions. Sometimes that happens. That wasn’t part of our game plan, but it happened and we had to adjust over the course of the game.”

 The Gators had success on their final two drives, both ending in fourth-quarter touchdowns. But before that it was tough going for the offense, especially on third down.

 Penalties and a big sack (minus-19 yards) contributed to UF’s failure to sustain drives and score points through most of the first three quarters.

 “When you get a limited number of opportunities, the margin for error is that much smaller,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “Having penalties, taking bad sacks, things that we can’t just have. That definitely hurt us and cost us.

 “You can’t really make any errors, you have to try to be the best that you can in every possession that you get. We need to get back to our identity, trying to call as many plays as we can.

 “Having limited snaps and having limited possessions you can only do so much. The more plays you run, the more possessions you have, the better chance for you to try to get the ball in the end zone.”

 Regardless of the number of plays — high or low — the Gators need to be more efficient than they were Saturday, quarterback Kyle Trask said.

 “We just have to do a better job of taking advantage of our opportunities,” he said. “We’re very explosive on offense and I know people want to take the ball out of our hands, so we just have to do a better job of taking advantage of our time on the field.” 

9 COMMENTS

  1. ” The Gators had success on their final two drives,”
    The reason for that is Mullen DID change his game plan though he doesnt admit it but it was there for all to see. He quit trying to run the ball and drove almost exclusively on passing and we drove right down the field and scored. On the next drive, half way down the field Ga went to 3 linemen and dropped everyone into coverage since they got it, we werent going to pass; then and only then did Mulllen run, and run with success since the pass had set up the run when the defense gave it to us. Thats what Im talking about. If he would call plays like that all game we would be unstoppable! We have a great QB and some of the best WR’s in the nation, lets use our riches and play call to our strength for the remainder of the year! If our o-line hasnt gotten run blocking yet, they arent going to get it this year!

    • Daz…UGA’s pass coverage is weaker than UF’s but they certainly can stop the run–especially when loading up for predictable calls like 3rd or 4th and short.
      Coach Mullen wasn’t as creative in his play calling as in other games. Even so, the Gators failed to execute on some passing plays that were critical. But he seemed to forget about some of his timely trickster plays that we’ve seen him implement that could have produced more first downs. He seemed timid about using them. His overall body of work proves he’s a better offense coach than Smart, but UGA got more 3rd down conversions on Saturday so Smart was better prepared it seemed. Also, at times the Gator sidelines seemed poorly managed (delays in getting plays communicated and late substitutions) and that upset the offensive rhythm. Georgia is too big a game for the coaches to fail to put forth their very best effort, but Coach Mullen is up for the challenge and I’m sure he’ll get the standards elevated in a hurry.

  2. While every now and then Mullen surprises with some misdirection play, most of his play calling is vanilla and relies entirely on execution. Hard to do when your offensive line is weak. Need to surprise more. When the defense can pretty much guess what you are going to do, they don’t have to work very hard.

  3. The Georgia O-line dominated and Fromm had his best game this year. Cager returned at WR. The dawgs–I hate to admit it–played very well. The game was a far cry from the 33-16 score of 2018. Give Fromm, or any QB, 6-8 seconds and he will find the open receiver. Let’s move forward. We’ll never know what would have happened if the mistakes on opening Gator Drive (false start caused by Dawg d-line movement–not called) and 4th and 18 inches and Pitts gets mugged trying to catch the pass–and no call. Oh well, bad calls are everywhere and Gators benefitted vs. Gamecocks. An 11-2 season would be greAT. mIZZOU is the only team to worry about, but coaches will worry about every game.

  4. Developing an O-line takes time, and that will continue to progress. But there are things we can do right now on both sides of the ball to improve success on third down. First, teach a TE to block the edge. No excuses. When you can’t open holes in the A and B gaps, you have to run to the edges. Then you can bring in Emory Jones on third down, like we did with some success against LSU. He’s a real threat to run or pass, and that gives you an advantage. We really need to get him snaps against Vandy. Let’s not fail to develop a talented QB again as we have so many times in the past.
    On Defense, the front seven are also developing. We have some great young talent, but replacing Reese and Greenard won’t be easy. What we can fix immediately is poor tackling.
    If you are afraid that your NFL career will be be derailed by injury, then remember this: form tackling is the safest, most effective, and the only way to make a one on one play. Throwing yourself on the ground in front of the ball carrier is no way to stop a third down conversion or TD, as we proved against UGA. It’s also a good way to hurt your shoulder- just ask Deion Sanders, the guy who invented poor tackling. We have talented young Corners waiting to play who are not afraid to tackle.