In football, concerning offense, the conventional wisdom is that if you don’t have balance, if you can’t both run and throw and are rendered one-dimensional, your chances of sustainable success are slim to none.
And, yet, here the Florida Gators are, defying that wisdom. They don’t have a running game. They’re one-dimensional, basically pass only. But they’ve been flying up and down the field, averaging more than 30 points and 400 yards a game, and Florida is ranked No. 8 in the nation and seeking its 10th win of the season Saturday against arch-rival Florida State.
It doesn’t make sense. But coach Dan Mullen and his offensive staff have been finding ways to make a one-dimensional offense work.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said former UF All-SEC wide receiver and current Gator radio color analyst Lee McGriff.
Mullen doesn’t seem quite as impressed, downplaying the fact that the Gators are getting by so well without a running game.
When he was asked earlier this week how challenging it is as a play-caller to not have a running game, Mullen said, “It’s very easy. Call other plays. There are so many plays and so little time, you know?
“We have a whole list of every play that’s been in all the game plans this year and if I just called plays that we had in game plans, but hadn’t run, we could probably get through two to three games with just those plays. It’s pretty easy.”
But what about balance? Coaches in the SEC say you have to run the ball and be balanced to win in this league?
“Well, when you look at us, I think we have unbelievable balance,” Mullen said. “We throw it equally to all the different receivers.”
Mullen makes it sound so simple. But there’s much more to it, finding a way to succeed with this unconventional approach.
“It’s so hard to do,” McGriff said. “To constantly have to be throwing the ball, on third-and-two you can’t just go to the well and say, ‘Slam this one in there.’ It’s really been an intriguing thing.”
McGriff said Mullen and his staff have done an excellent job of coaching to the offense’s strength (quarterback Kyle Trask and a deep and talented group of receivers) and away from its weakness (an inexperienced line that is solid in pass protection, but gets no push in the running game).
Somehow, the one-dimensional Gators keep making it work from week to week.
“One thing that’s unusual is how well this line pass protects,” McGriff said. “If you ask any offensive line coach, any offensive lineman, what do they prefer to learn first, it’s run block. For some reason this group has done a good job of pass protecting.
“I also think that Kyle Trask is real adept at sliding around the pocket. He just slips around and really helps those guys. When you get into the accuracy of Trask and his receivers responding to him, that includes backs, they’ve executed this passing game incredibly well.
“There’s just enough here and there, runs, to keep ’em alive. I do find it amazing at this point in the season where there hasn’t been a meltdown because Florida hasn’t run the ball so well.”
Other than reverses and jet sweeps by the receivers, and some designed quarterback runs thrown in, the Gators have pretty much become a pass-only offense. Florida is last in the SEC in rushing (just 124.2 yards a game) and 121st in the nation in rushing attempts.
Under normal circumstances, having no running game likely would be crippling. But the Gators are getting by without one because Mullen and his staff are finding ways to coach around it.
“I think that it’s a testament to do what your players do best,” UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Every team has strengths and weaknesses relative to their season. Every team is a little different. Every year’s a little different.
“You’ve got to find ways to stop them, find ways to move the ball. What they’ve done is really taken the strength of our team, which is obviously our skills guys, and found ways to get the ball to them in space so they can make plays.”
The Gators are averaging 292.2 passing yards a game and eight different receivers have double-digits in receptions, led by tight end Kyle Pitts, who has caught 46 passes. Van Jefferson, Lamical Perine, Trevon Grimes and Freddie Swain all have 30 receptions or more, followed by Josh Hammond with 24.
Trask is spreading the ball around and the Gators are moving through the air.
“One of coach Mullen’s things is to play our strengths and I think passing the ball has been one of our strengths this season,” said Trask, who has thrown for 2,293 yards and 21 touchdowns. “He and his staff have done a great job of using that to our advantage and using the athletes that we have and really focusing on the passing game and how that can help us.”
There are a number of things factoring into why the one-dimensional offense has been effective. But, ultimately, it comes down to one thing, McGriff said.
“Without somebody as accurate as Kyle Trask, this doesn’t work,” he said.