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Scouting Florida's New Offense

If you haven't watched more than four years of Gator football, what happened Saturday might feel disorienting.

Sam Greenwood

Purely as a Florida fan, I was delighted by what I saw from the Gators' offense on Saturday. They scored 58 points (seven of the team's 65 were from a defensive touchdown), racked up 655 yards, and didn't commit a turnover. More than that, it was trying at all times. It wasn't simply attempting not to screw things up. It was aggressive. It threw the ball deep on seven (!!) occasions. It made some explosive plays with both the run and pass. It was the first time the mighty Florida Gators just straight up annihilated a team in nearly five years. Five years!

So yeah, it was fun. However, I suspect most of you who read TSK didn't watch much, if any, of the game. As a general SEC blogger here on the site, it's my duty as one of the few people who watched every play to tell you what happened and how it applies going forward.

And yes, Eastern Michigan is a truly terrible football team. All comments henceforth are coming to you through an understanding that it was an awful team that Florida played.

For the following, I am using the standard "garbage time" and success rate definitions. This game officially entered garbage time when Frankie Velez hit a field goal to put the team up 27-0 with 6:30 to go in the second quarter. For a play to be a "success", it must gain at least 50% of yards to go on first down, 70% of yards to go on second down, and 100% of yards to go on third or fourth down.

Broadly Speaking

The general sales pitch for Kurt Roper coming in is that he would install a faster paced, shotgun-based spread offense.

The Gators were one of the slowest paced teams in the nation last year, so basically anything would have sped them up. They did act with more of a sense of urgency, and Jeff Driskel spent a lot of pre-snap time clapping at his linemen to get set and ready. They never attempted to hit Malzahn or Freeze-like levels of speed, and they probably won't ever.

If Driskel lined up under center, I don't remember it. Every one of his passes, at least, came from the shotgun. That aspect was exactly as promised. The Gators did spread the field a bit, but they didn't do away with bunched formations entirely. This offense is more of what you'd expect to see if you heard that an NFL team was running a spread offense. It's not a return to Urban Meyer's offense or anything you'd see from Rich Rodriguez or Mike Leach.

Florida ran a hybrid of new-style spread and proven pro-style concepts. It's more or less what you'd imagine if you heard that Will Muschamp was relenting and allowing modern spread offense concepts to seep into his attack.

The Running Game

Florida has been a better running team than a passing team since at least 2006, if not 2005, and this season is no different. The Gators' offensive line is thin and got thinner with LT D.J. Humphries going out for 2-3 weeks with an ankle injury, but they can still run block.

Prior to garbage time, Florida had a nice 57.1% success rate with the run. Prior to going into full-on clock killing mode, which happened after the Gators' final score early in the fourth quarter, it was 63%.

Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones are kind of co-first stringers, but they and Mack Brown all shared carries. Each had an explosive run and had success rates above 50%. Brandon Powell is a freshman who got some spot duty as well, and with him, UF has four running backs it feels relatively good about. All but Taylor got at least one pass reception as well.

Part of the reason Roper got the job is because his offense will use a mobile quarterback. It was clear in this game, however, that Driskel and backup Treon Harris weren't supposed to carry it much. Driskel only ran twice, one of them being called back for a penalty, and both of his carries ended in awkward slides. Harris got a Wildcat-style carry in the first half that didn't succeed in part due to a high snap, and he kept it just twice in clock killing time. We simply didn't see much in the way of quarterback running, and on a day like Saturday, it just wasn't worth the hits to practice it.

The Gators only ran 39 times versus 47 pass attempts, and that includes 11 consecutive runs after the team's final throw. Muschamp and Roper largely used the game as passing practice, so I don't think that ratio will hold in future wins. The team won't appear as run-heavy as before in the stats in future contests, though, thanks to some changes in the passing game.

The Passing Game

Here is where the offense looked completely different. The Gators frequently lined up more than three receivers, and they weren't all the same four or five every time they did it. Florida has some receiver depth finally, and it plans to use it.

As is customary with many spread attacks these days, Roper uses some throws as an extended run game. I don't know of a formal definition of what constitutes an "extended run" pass, but the one I used here was: an immediate pass that didn't involve reading the defense that went to the perimeter and no more than three yards past the line of scrimmage. I used my best judgment in identifying these throws, but it was hard sometimes as Roper has plenty of passing plays with short routes on the outside.

The Gators used ten such passes, with five coming on their first drive. Before garbage time, the success rate on them was a dismal 16.7% (one of seven). The entire passing game wasn't terribly efficient early, as it had a success rate of just 28.6% before the 27-0 lead.

It wasn't quite as bad as it sounds, though. The success rate could have been 30% if not for a drop, and if two passes that came up one yard short of being a success (seven yards on first-and-15, five yards on second-and-eight) got just one yard more, it goes up to 40%. The success rate for the whole game was 46.8%, so things did get better as the game went along.

Driskel seemed comfortable, and his accuracy was mostly fine. He only short armed one pass and had only three big overthrows. He attempted six deep passes, and five were on the mark. Only one was complete, though, as two more were drops (Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose) and the other two were defensive pass interference penalties. Driskel is no Russell Wilson at Wisconsin, and he did have his customary should've-been-an-interception throw, but he will do a lot of positive things in this scheme.

Players to Watch

Taylor and Jones looked pretty great carrying the ball. The former is improved over his true freshman form from a year ago, and the latter was never fully healthy in his limited action in 2013. They showed great balance and vision, making good decisions on cuts. Florida will ride them when the chips are down, and as long as the line doesn't disintegrate, they should shoulder the load well.

Dunbar is clearly still the first option at receiver based on ball distribution, but he had an uneven day. His success rate was only 50% on nine targets (one was DPI), and he had two drops. He's performed better in the past, though, so he'll bounce back. He's a senior and will be a steady and reliable target.

The great hope at receiver two years running is sophomore Demarcus Robinson, and he appears ready to fulfill his potential. He caught all six balls thrown at him, led the team with 123 yards, and all but one of his receptions went for at least 10 yards (the other went for eight). He has a combination of speed and elusiveness that Florida hasn't had since Riley Cooper, if not Percy Harvin. He's not on those guys' level yet, but he has a great chance to pass up Dunbar as the primary option before the season is over.

Harris will be a guy to watch, as Driskel has yet to make it through a season without injury. There's not much to say on him yet, as he didn't take over until the team was up 51-0. He only attempted two passes—a 70-yard TD bomb to Robinson and an intermediate route to Mark Herndon where Herndon blazed past EMU's defensive benchwarmers for a 78-yard score. Far be it for me to cast aspersions on a 1051.6 passing efficiency, but there's not much to learn with him yet. He looks his listing of 5-11, 178 lbs, and his two passes were right on the money. That's about all we can say so far.

Final Assessment

The offensive line is going to have some challenges. It struggled to get a push early, and it lost a key cog for a few weeks in Humphries. It did a good job at keeping Driskel clean, as he was seldom hurried and only had one throwaway. The new quick passing game probably helped some in that regard. It was fine against EMU, but I have my doubts about it going into SEC play.

Even if the line struggles some, the Taylor-Jones-Brown combination is a good one. It's no Yeldon-Henry-Drake, but it'll do. Especially once Driskel begins getting some carries, I expect to see a pretty effective ground game. A rushing combo of Driskel and Mike Gillislee helped win the team a lot of games in 2012, and Driskel and that trio can win plenty this year too.

For the first time in five years, Florida can cause defenses and honest-to-goodness dilemma in regards to who their best corner will cover. Dunbar will probably keep getting the most targets for the time being, and he's not bad. However, Robinson is the most dangerous wideout and will only get better with time. They run a lot of the same routes so they won't be on the field together as often as you might think, but when they are out there at the same time, it's a tough choice. Do you put your best cover guy on the most likely target or the fastest and most elusive target? Opposing defensive coordinators actually have a tough choice to make when scheming for the Florida pass attack. It's crazy!

Eastern Michigan is so bad that some of what happened on Saturday might be a mirage. I do not expect, for instance, senior TE Clay Burton to come close to his seven catch, 42 yard performance in conference play. Driskel won't be throwing six deep passes a game without a single one getting picked for long. A decent chunk of the points and yards came as a result of big plays that won't be so frequent against Alabama, LSU, and Georgia.

This Gator offense will ease into conference play somewhat with Kentucky this week, but the degree of difficulty goes way up with Alabama the week after. We'll know a lot more about this offense two weeks from today.