Charlie Weis came to Gainesville to install the program's first truly pro-style offense since before Steve Spurrier came around as coach, and Saturday was everyone's first glimpse of it thanks to Will Muschamp closing this spring's practices. The result was a 13-10 win by the Blue team, whose 13 points were the lowest total of a winning team in Florida spring game history.
If that sounds bad, the game should have had even less scoring. One of the field goals came on a fifth down after an unsuccessful fourth-and-goal run from inside the five, and the Orange team's touchdown should have been whistled a sack if the rules were strictly applied. Not that any coaches ever have rules strictly applied in scrimmages.
Of course, spring games are always glass half full/half empty affairs. If the offense shreds the defense, will your team be able to stop anyone? If the defense stuffs the offense, how will the team be able to score points?
With only five total offensive linemen and one scholarship running back available opposite an almost fully-stocked defense, the game was going to be ugly for the offense no matter what playbook they were running. Even so, John Brantley was just 4-14 on the game and had a hard time completing anything more than 10 yards up the field.
Muschamp defended him by saying he completed 70 percent of passes in the spring, but no coach has ever said a bad thing about Brantley's practice performance. He even beat out Cam Newton on the depth chart in 2008 before Newton got hurt and dropped out of the backup race. Brantley did complete 71.1 percent of his game passes in 2008-09, so it's not that he has never performed well on Saturday, but that was in garbage time against second team defenses. If Brantley can't gete things together, Tyler Murphy looked like a competent second option. His decision making is too slow right now, but his accuracy was there.
It's impossible to say too much about the running game given the depth issues on the line and at tailback, but it had its moments. The best thing the running attack did all game was run outside the tackles, which is an encouraging sign for the offense. Last year's Gator receivers were awful at run blocking, whereas this year's set looked good on Saturday. Running between the tackles was nearly impossible, but a patchwork line will never do anything against Sharrif Floyd at this point.
Speaking of the receivers, it's telling that this year's depth chart looks little like last year's. Gone were Deonte Thompson and Chris Rainey (who's now just a running back) from the first string, and in was redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar. Slot man Robert Clark was sent down the depth chart while Jordan Reed was back at tight end and seeing a lot of work. Last year's receiver rotatation was as big a problem for the passing game as Brantley was, and the new staff wasted no time in shaking things up. I have no idea if it will be effective, but at least it's different.
Weis appeared to keep things simple, which is always a winning strategy during a big transition. Urban Meyer's infamously complex playbook was part of why the offense struggled in his first year in 2005, and it was a big reason why only four true freshmen (Marukice Pouncey, Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, and Jeff Demps) ever played significant roles in his six seasons.
Keeping it simple during the fall should also be a winning strategy, as Florida defense should be fantastic. More than anything, I was just looking for it not to be caught flatfooted or look like it was thinking too much. Check and check, and it will look even better when Janoris Jenkins returns. The team this fall will live and die by the defense, as the offense's marching orders will likely be to work effectively three possessions a game and to not turn the ball over.
All you have to do is look over the last 10 years of football to see what happens when schools transition between the pro-style to spread option or vice versa. It's not pretty. Merely getting players healthy and facing defenses not as good as its own will help Florida's offense look better come September. Expecting it to be any more than middle-of-the-pack in the SEC counts as optimism though.