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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.