Gators hope to retain early season rhythm on offense
Through the first three games of the season, Florida’s offense was in great rhythm, the yards, touchdown passes and points flowing freely.
Then it got stopped, shut down completely. Not by an opposing defense, but by a COVID-19 outbreak that forced UF to pause all football activities.
Now, following two idle weeks and two postponed games, will that great offensive rhythm still be there for the Gators? Or is it going to take some time to find that groove again?
The Gators will know a little bit more during the week on the practice field, and a whole lot more Saturday in The Swamp against a Missouri defense that is coming off a brief, but dominant performance against Kentucky, limiting the Wildcats to a mere 36 offensive plays and 10 points.
“We’ve got some veteran players (on offense),” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “For those guys, just picking it back up and getting going. When you have some older, veteran guys, it helps getting that going. But we’ll see.
“We're playing an excellent defense. You saw that. You're playing really one of the top defenses in the league, so that will probably be more of a challenge than anything else: the quality of the defense that we're playing."
Even though Missouri did give up 41 points in a 45-41 win over LSU three weeks ago, statistically this is the best defense the Gators have faced this season.
The Tigers are fifth in the SEC in total defense, giving up 365 yards a game. They gave up almost nothing to Kentucky last week, holding the Wildcats to 47 yards passing and 146 total yards.
So, this is going to be a challenge for UF’s offense even if it finds its early season rhythm. But it’s an even bigger challenge when you throw in the fact the Gators will not have played a down of football in almost three weeks when they tee it up Saturday night.
Mullen said he’s looking at this like the Gators are coming off a double-bye week. The big difference is players practice, workout and attend film sessions and meetings during regular bye weeks. During this two-week pause, the only thing the Gators have done as a team is Zoom meetings.
“The biggest thing, with our Zoom meetings, starting to go over a little bit of Missouri and introduce what they do defensively,” offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said. “That was probably the best thing we could have done for them.
“(Now), the biggest thing is having that excitement and ready to go play and trying to get a sense of normalcy. Obviously, you have to throw, catch, block and not hurt yourself with procedural penalties. You just have to be clean with your preparation, have a great week of practice and get ready to perform at a high level on Saturday.”
In getting ready for Saturday, the Gators do have some experienced players to lean on and emulate, including quarterback Kyle Trask, tight end Kyle Pitts, center Brett Heggie and wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes.
That will be a factor this week, Johnson said.
“Our guys love football,” he said. “We’ve got some smart guys who have played a lot, so certainly I think that helps in terms of putting in a game plan and having it organized and putting those guys in a position to be successful.”
Speaking of the game plan, it will resemble those from earlier in the season when the offense was humming along. Johnson and Mullen have not lightened it due to the long layoff.
“We will be full systems go in terms of finding ways to do what we need to do in order to win the game,” Johnson said. “We are playing a very good team and we’ve got to be ready to go. I’m excited and looking forward to seeing our players go out and play Saturday night.
“The biggest thing for us is to control what we can control, focusing on each and every possession. Generally in offensive football you never want to waste a possession to begin with. I think you go out there every drive with the mindset to score and score a touchdown.”
Who: Missouri (2-2) vs. No. 9 Florida (2-1)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548 - 17,000 reduced)
TV: SEC Network Alternate
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850