Gators have saved 'a lot' of offensive playbook for Alabama game

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

After a pair of vanilla game plans to open the season, Florida’s offense will show more flavor Saturday against No. 1 Alabama. 

UF coach Dan Mullen has been conservative with his play-calling the past two weeks, though the Gators’ 666 yards of offense at USF was the fifth-highest total in program history. 

But just how much of this year’s offense have we still not seen?

“A lot,” Mullen said this week. 

“Oh, it’s a lot,” echoed Jacob Copeland, Florida’s top receiver. “It’s most definitely a lot. I feel like camp was the thing that showed everything for us. 

“We saw what we had to see during camp. Everybody is saying this and that about us in the first two games, but just know, they haven’t seen everything.”

Of course, that’s been by design. With the SEC opener looming, Mullen was able to dumb it down against FAU and USF.

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“We’ve kept it pretty simple the first two weeks,” he said. “I think as you go, the different personnel and utilizing different personnel in different ways is something we’ll look at throughout the course of the year.”

More than a year and a half’s worth of film on Kyle Trask and Florida’s offense was available for Alabama coach Nick Saban to watch in preparation for the 2020 SEC Championship Game. 

He doesn’t have that luxury this season with quarterback Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson. There’s not much tape of them for Saban and his staff to evaluate. 

“We haven’t showed so much because you can’t expose your hand like that before you see Saban. He’ll build off that and it’s over,” Copeland said. “I feel like now, they don’t see too much. I feel like we’re going to come out at practice this week, execute well and just do what we do.”

Here are five packages/plays that UF could unveil against the Tide: 

Gators' 2-quarterback package

Florida is playing two quarterbacks this year in Jones and Richardson, but what about both at the same time?

Mullen hinted at it after the USF game. 

“I know everybody loves just looking at the two quarterbacks,” he said. “There’s 10 other guys on the field until I put in our two-quarterback offense, which I haven’t shown yet. Then there’s only nine other guys on the field.”

Anthony Richardson

Jones has already attempted one pass to Richardson in the season opener. Richardson was on the receiving end of Jones’ heave before the half, but couldn’t come down with the jump ball over FAU’s Caliph Brice.

But it sounds like a Hail Mary may not be the only situation we see Jones and Richardson on the field together. The 6-foot-4, 236-pound Richardson played receiver as a high school freshman and made an incredible one-handed catch that year. 

Gators' three-back formation 

The Gators boast the nation’s top rushing offense through two games and have used all five running backs in their rotation. 

However, we haven’t seen all that Mullen can do with them. 

He dialed up a two-back formation against FAU with Demarkcus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard, but nothing so far involving top rushers Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce or Nay’Quan Wright. 

Florida Gators running back Nay'Quan Wright (6) tries to break a tackle during the SEC Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. Dec. 19, 2020.   [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Mullen and position coach Greg Knox have yet to show their three-back sets, but will likely break one out against the Tide. And if UF puts a trio of ball carriers on the field, not all of them will necessarily line up in the backfield. 

Davis and Wright often catch swing passes and wheel routes, and both have the ability to play the slot. The strength of the Gators’ offense is their tailbacks and Mullen will look to utilize them in every way possible. 

“I mean, heck, I can go run the wishbone if we want to,” he said in spring. “You can go the old school Power-I. Go Wing-T, you know. You can go with the spread option.

“We’re kind of a pro-style system, which is great. The flexibility to be able to spread the field and take advantage of matchups.”

Copeland in Florida's backfield

Copeland has had breakout receiving performances in two of his last three regular season games, logging his first-ever 100-yard game against LSU (123 yards) and setting a career high at USF (175 yards). 

He hasn’t been involved much in the run game in years past, but that will change in 2021. 

With the departure of first-round pick Kadarius Toney, who rushed for 580 yards and two touchdowns at UF, the bulk of that workload will now go to Florida’s new No. 1 on offense. 

Mullen is planning to use Copeland in the slot and motion him into the backfield. He had a 17-yard reverse last season at Tennessee and carried the ball four times for 28 yards in 2019. 

Florida wide receiver Jacob Copeland arrives to the field during Gator Walk before the Sept. 4, 2021 game vs. FAU.

“They got me in the role of KT right now, playing the X and H,” Copeland told the Sun in the spring. “Coach Mullen came to me during the bowl game week and told me he was going to work me in the H for the spring because he needs me to be versatile with it. He’s going to use me inside and outside depending on how they’re playing me.”

Mullen's shovel option 

Who’s ready for a shovel pass?!

Florida’s tight ends haven’t caught any passes this season, but also haven’t been targeted much. Saturday, however, could be their time to shine. 

The Gators have several two-TE sets with Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer, who is a versatile player at the position. Zipperer has the potential to play an H-Back role, catching shovel passes and tight end screens.

Mullen made a living off those play calls with Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez during his first stint at Florida as offensive coordinator, including the 2008 SEC Championship Game against Alabama. 

Since returning to UF, Mullen hasn’t had a tight end who can make plays out of the backfield and a dual-threat quarterback to execute his shovel-option offense — until now. Zipperer caught a shovel pass from Jones back in 2019 against Towson, and they’re long overdue for another. 

Mullen's trick plays

In addition to some new offensive formations and wrinkles, you know Mullen has some tricks up his sleeve for Saban. 

He dialed up trick plays in big games against Mississippi State and LSU in 2018. Toney threw the game-winning touchdown at MSU on a double pass, while Lucas Krull's throwback pass to quarterback Feleipe Franks to the Tigers’ 2-yard line set up a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown.

After keeping it vanilla on offense in the first two games this year, look for Mullen to throw the kitchen sink at Saban and try to catch his defense off guard with a trick play or two.


Who: No. 1 Alabama (2-0) vs. No. 9 Florida (2-0)

When: 3:30 p.m.

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium


Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, 850-AM