Gators notebook: Johnson a semifinalist for Broyles Award; UF makes OL changes

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson talks with his quarterbacks during warmups Saturday against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

A week after being nominated, Florida offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson was named Tuesday as one of 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award, presented annually to college football's best assistant coach. 

The Gators boast the No. 1 passing offense in the country, averaging 386.4 yards per game, along with the SEC’s second-best scoring offense and total offense. Johnson’s unit, however, is trying to rebound from a 37-34 loss to LSU. 

UF finished with 609 yards of offense, but had three turnovers, four three-and-outs and two empty red-zone possessions. 

“Any time you play a game like that it just makes you absolutely sick to your stomach,” Johnson said Monday night. “It's really unfortunate and very, very disappointing to come out and put on a performance like that. When you leave 22 points in red zone opportunities and you turn the ball over three times, that's not a recipe for success.

“So there's always that feeling of you're really upset that you didn't play well and coach better. In football, I think the key coming off something like that is you can't let a team beat you twice. So we've got a great opportunity this week to come out on the stage in primetime and play the No. 1 team in America and put on a show.”

Johnson has experience against Alabama, both as a coach and player. The former Utah quarterback led the Utes to an upset over the Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl and also faced them three times as Mississippi State’s quarterbacks coach from 2014-16. 

“Schematically I think they've evolved some, just with the addition of tempo,” Johnson said of Alabama’s defensive scheme under coach Nick Saban. “We were probably one of the first teams to really go tempo on them (in 2009) and really hurry-up the pace and force the issue and really get them into some simple calls and kind of execute that style of game plan through the air. 

“But his scheme, the basic principles of it still remain the same. They've adjusted with the times as we've gotten to more of a RPO-style world where you try to put players in conflict with pass and run responsibilities. The game has evolved so much in the last 10 years in terms of what people are doing and how people are attacking.”

Johnson threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns in his 31-17 win against Alabama, earning most outstanding player honors and finishing his career as Utah’s winningest quarterback (26-7). Will he mention that game to his players this week?

Not a chance. 

“I think it has absolutely zero bearing on the game this Saturday,” Johnson said. “That was my last college football game. We got off to a fast start and jumped on them and we were confident going into it. We knew we had one of the best teams in the country going into that game, so there was never a doubt for us that we could compete with anybody in America and go win the game.”

Changes up front

Florida allowed a season-high four sacks against LSU, prompting Johnson and the staff to make changes along the offensive line. 

Right tackle Jean Delance and right guard Stewart Reese were both benched, with left tackle Stone Forsythe taking over for Delance and left guard Richard Gouraige replacing Forsythe at left tackle. 

Sophomore Ethan White and true freshman Joshua Braun became the starting guards, while Brett Heggie remained at center. 

“We finally got some guys back healthy,” UF coach Dan Mullen said of the changes. “Coming into the year, Ethan White was a starter. He's been hurt most of the year. So we had some different lineups, some different things we wanted to do. He's a guy that we originally expected to be our starting center coming into the year. Brett Heggie has done a pretty good job at center.

“We're trying to move some guys around to get everybody on the field, see the different combinations now that we have people healthy. Then as you go, we're looking at what combination was working best. You try to find something you like during the course of the game, then stick with it. It was more that maybe than anything else.”

Still COVID free

The Florida football team reported no new COVID cases for the second week of December in the school’s weekly testing update Tuesday. 

UF administered 264 tests this past week on all student-athletes, including 149 on football players, and all of them came back negative. 

The Gators haven’t had a positive case since the Nov. 17 update.

Saturday

What:: SEC Championship Game

Who: No. 1 Alabama (10-0) vs. No. 6 Florida (8-2)

When: 8 p.m. 

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850