Florida's offensive debut was not quite so spectacular. In large part, I believe that's the case because Will Muschamp went into it wanting to prove that his team is tough by running it up the middle. I don't know why coaches go through spells like this, but it's not new in Gainesville. Urban Meyer went through the same thing from 2005-07, pounding the ball up the middle early (and often fruitlessly) to try to demonstrate toughness.
Muschamp ended up choosing Jeff Driskel as the starter at quarterback due to his greater mobility over Jacoby Brissett. It's the right choice for a team that wants to run the ball first but can't pass all that well, and I'll show you why here.
Bowling Green doesn't have an SEC defense, but it doesn't have to in order to stymie a telegraphed rushing game. One thing I learned from watching Meyer's offense is that running the ball at the most basic level comes down to numbers. If you have as many or more blockers than the opponent has trying to stop the ball carrier, then you've got a great shot at running the ball well.
Let's go to the film to show what I'm talking about. Here is a running play early on the Gators' first drive:
Florida has eight blockers plus Mike Gillislee as the tailback. Bowling Green brings up the safety to put nine in the box to match Florida's nine. Here, Florida is lucky. Three Falcon defenders all hit Gillislee at the same time, but they hit each other harder and Gillislee breaks the tackle to scamper for a 10-yard gain. It should have been a stop for a one-yard gain, and against most SEC defenses, it would be.
Here is another example where the Gators weren't so fortunate:
Florida has seven blockers plus Gillislee. Bowling Green sets up with only seven in the box, but the corner comes up for run support to match Florida's eight and blitzes (the safety takes the corner's old receiver). All seven of Florida's blockers put a hat on a hat, but it hardly matters. BGSU's D.J. Lynch cleanly hits Gillislee a yard behind the line of scrimmage, though the tailback pushes forward to make it a gain of one. If you don't have numbers and your ball carrier doesn't break a tackle or make a guy miss, then it's impossible to run the ball well.
Let's take a look at what happens two plays later where Gillislee explodes through a gaping hole for a 17-yard gain and see what was different.
Two of Florida's three previous plays before this one were passes. On the Gators' first drive, they did more rushing than passing. On this one, it seemed like they were trying to change it up by doing more passing than running. Bowling Green's outside linebacker (the guy the white No. 1 is next to; I can't tell who it is because of my SD feed) is playing the pass all day. TE Jordan Reed will end up going into the flat and the safety follows him there, so I don't include them in the numbering.
Florida would appear to have seven blockers plus the tailback to make eight lined up against BGSU's eight, but as I said, the linebacker is betting on the pass. It only encourages him when he sees Reed go to the flat instead of run block when the play begins. Thus, I assign Driskel a number here too because BGSU is considering him to be a part of the play. Now, Florida has a numerical advantage
The backer ends up blowing right by Gillislee to go after Driskel, who he thinks will be doing a bootleg. Florida's seven blockers all do their job against the remaining seven defenders, and Gillislee doesn't get touched until the second level. He makes a safety miss around the first down line and continues on for another seven yards. When you hear coaches talk about using the pass to set up the run, this sort of thing is exactly what they're talking about.
As best as anyone can tell based on the publicly available evidence, one or both of the following is true: Driskel and Brissett are not good enough passers yet to punish defenses down field, and/or Florida doesn't have the wide receivers to make that happen even if they could. UF is going to be doing a lot more of using the run to set up the pass than using the pass to set up the run. In fact, it's doubtful at any time during the conference schedule (maybe except against Kentucky) that they'll legitimately be able to use the pass to open up the run.
That fact is why Driskel is the right choice. With him as a potential ball carrier, Florida can have a numbers advantage. Imagine if both of those first two runs were zone read options instead of straight handoffs. One of those defenders would have had to choose to go after Gillislee or Driskel, and if Driskel executes the play well, then he can make that guy wrong each time.
I'm not advocating a return to Meyer's spread option days. I know that Muschamp wants nothing to do with that kind of offense, so lobbying for it would be pointless. However, even Andrew Luck ran some zone read while heading up Stanford's decidedly pro-style offense. The first highlight on that linked video is of him scoring on a 51-yard run off the zone read. Muschamp and Brent Pease don't have to have Driskel do a dozen designed runs per game, but having him carry the ball and not just do bootlegs is a way to use one form of running to open up another.
We didn't see Driskel do much of this kind of stuff in Game 1, as he had only two carries with just one appearing to be designed, but this is the sort of thing a coach would hold back against a MACrifice to keep the first conference opponent from seeing it. I expect to see Driskel have some planned carries against Texas A&M, and if he doesn't, I expect to see Florida lose.