Like most football coaches, Florida’s Dan Mullen wants balance in his offense, the ability to consistently produce both on the ground and through the air.
In terms of play calling, the Gators have a near-perfect balance through four games this season. They’ve run the ball 130 times and passed it 127 times.
But in terms of production, there is a significant imbalance. The Gators are throwing for 294.8 yards a game, while rushing for just 136.8, which ranks 12th in the SEC.
So far, Mullen has remained patient with the running game, hoping the young line matures and develops and eventually sets the running backs free.
But you have to wonder how long his patience will last before he chucks the running game and starts chucking the ball around more with his quarterbacks and a talented pool of receivers.
“I always want balance,” Mullen said Wednesday. “But I’m not stubborn. I’d love to be 50-50 at the end of the year, but most of the years when you look at us, we tilt a little bit more one way or the other.
“A lot of that is we’re going to build around the strength of our players and make sure our best guys are getting the ball in their hands. Also, we’re going to take what the defense gives us.”
In his 10-plus years as a head coach in the SEC, Mullen has won with balance, and he’s won with imbalance.
The perception that he’s always been a 50-50 guy with his offense is not quite accurate.
“I have no problem (not having perfect balance),” Mullen said. “In my time in this league we’ve led in time of possession and been last in time of possession. Had big rushing years, had big passing years.
“The job of a coach is to make sure you take your talent and put it in the best position to be successful against what people are doing to try and stop you. That’s what coaching is, not to be stubborn and say we’re only going to do things one way.”
Based on UF’s body of work through four games, the Gators appear headed for a big passing year. They’re averaging almost 300 passing yards a game and quarterback Kyle Trask has shown an ability to find his talented receivers and spread the ball around.
In the win over Tennessee last Saturday, Trask threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns and completed passes to 10 different receivers.
While the Gators were flying free in the passing game, they were stagnant and stuck on the ground again. But Mullen didn’t give up on the ground game, and the offense line eventually created some push. The Gators rushed for 71 yards in the fourth quarter after rushing for just 57 through the first three quarters.
“I think a little bit more of it was, we played great defense,” Mullen said. “The ability for us to play great defense allowed us to continue to be patient with the running game. I don’t think there was a time during the game where we abandoned the running game. I think when that happened as the game wore on, it just started to wear them down.
“All of a sudden, the two, three and four-yard gains became seven, eight and nine-yard gains, and then the running game starts to click. I think it was the patience and the fact that we had the lead and we were playing great defense allowed us to be patient with that and stick with it, and it finally started to kind of wear them down in the fourth quarter.”
Mullen has been patient with his running game so far. But how long is that patience going to last if the Gators continue to struggle on the ground? In the meantime, Mullen is looking for more sound and consistent play out of his offensive line in hopes of getting the ground game going.
“We’ve got to execute cleaner along the line of scrimmage,” he said. “At times, a couple times missed assignments (hurt us in the running game). You can’t have missed assignments along the line of scrimmage. That’s not going to help you.”