Florida's new strength coach Jeff Dillman came up with the phrase "Florida never breaks" as a mantra for the team this year. Here is a representative sample of a common usage of it in the form of the Twitter hashtag #FNB. The players have really bought into it, and given their ability to finish strong in nearly ever game this year, it's hard to blame them.
"Florida never breaks" is an excellent motivational slogan, but inherent in it is the premise that nothing about Florida is already broken. That's not quite accurate.
Florida's offense has been broken since shortly after the 2010 Sugar Bowl. The 2010 team had a rotation of three quarterbacks by the end of the year, and the 2011 offense crumbled without John Brantley. Yes, the most underwhelming quarterback in the team's recent memory was the thing that kept the offense from being a complete disaster. It's true.
So what about this year? The offense is better, right? Well, "better" is a relative term. It is better:
...but it's not great.
This year's team is the best of these three at rushing, but the 4.67 YPC rate is good for only 44th in the nation. And rushing is the thing that the team does well. The 7.2 yards per attempt is just 65th nationally. But wait, that's not all.
Jeff Driskel has three long touchdown completions. Two of them are a 50-yarder against Bowling Green and a 72-yarder against Tennessee. Both were by Frankie Hammond Jr., and both were catch-and-runs where the ball didn't spend that much time in the air. The third was a 52-yard completion to Omarius Hines against Kentucky that was largely made possible by Kentucky's awful pass defense.
Here is what Driskel's season line looks like with and without those plays:
|Minus 3 plays||82-124||66.13%||752||6.06||6||1||130.68|
Those three passes pad his yardage total by 177 yards, his yards per attempt by 1.25, and his passing efficiency by about 17 points. Also without them his highest single game yardage total becomes the 162 he had against Texas A&M, and the fall in his Bowling Green yardage would take him to under 100 yards in four games instead of three.
When it goes up against a team that can stop the run, Florida's offense struggles mightily to put points on the board. The Gators' three worst rushing performances were against Texas A&M (20 points), LSU (14 points), and South Carolina (44 points). One of those things is not like the others, but you know exactly why. Florida only had one drive longer than 50 yards on the Gamecocks, and five of its seven scoring "drives" were of 36 yards or less. The defense and special teams delivered those points far more than the offense did.
Matt Hinton compared Florida to last year's LSU team, and the comparison is apt in that both teams have used defense and special teams as methods to get points almost as much as they have used the offense. The Gators' offense this year also specializes in a punishing run game, and it is only slightly less dysfunctional. Brent Pease has made a lot of chicken salad out of the sorry receiving corps he inherited, and he generally plays to the strengths of his players. He also doesn't have the pieces to have a good offense, and no amount of play calling magic can overcome that.
We also know that the 2011 LSU offense had a couple of horrid games against Alabama. The Tide was able to shut down the run, and that shut down the whole offense. Across the two games, LSU had only one drive longer than 40 yards and famously scored just nine total points.
So who might be able to break Florida? Two obvious candidates jump right out. Florida State is No. 6 nationally in yards per rush defense against I-A teams, and potential SEC Championship Game opponent Alabama is No. 1 in the same. True, LSU is No. 2 in the category, but the Tigers still don't have an offense while FSU (mostly) and Alabama (definitely) do.
Can Georgia do it this weekend? That much I'm not sure of. Georgia is 51st nationally in yards per rush defense, allowing 4.02 per carry on the season. It's also 45th in passing efficiency defense and 51st in passing yards per attempt allowed. If the Bulldogs are going to break the Gators, it probably won't be due to the factors I laid out above. Aaron Murray is a great quarterback and the freshmen running backs are great when they have holes to run through, so a good day from the UGA line could allow the Bulldogs to outgun the Gators. That's the more likely story line for the Red and Black.
But supposing Florida does get through Jacksonville unscathed, it will be a tremendous achievement for Will Muschamp to have taken this team and locked up the division. It does not, however, mean that the team won't run into deep trouble in the future. There will be time to address future match ups later, but I can't believe yet that the Gators will end the season unbroken.