5 Keys to a Successful Gator Offense in ’14

For a program whose success has been synonymous with fielding a high-powered, fast moving offense, it goes without saying the first three years of the Will Muschamp era have been a difficult adjustment for Gator fans.

Muschamp however, entering his fourth, and likely, make or break season at Florida, has been forced to make a major adjustment of his own — by remodeling his team’s offensive philosophy, hiring offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, from Duke.

Roper, a David Cutcliffe protégé and quarterbacks guru, has been called upon to fix the once powerful engine known as the Gator offense; an offense that has struggled to create any sense of an identity, other than being consistently inconsistent. You’d have to go back to the days of Tim Tebow to find a Gator offense that meets the standard set by Steve Spurrier long ago.

There are many spots to point fingers when you try to make sense of Florida’s anemic offense under Will Muschamp — inserting a pro-style offense with spread personnel, questionable playcalling with seemingly no intentions of taking risks or creating big plays, etc. — none of which matter when it comes to the 2014 Gator offense. Implementing a revamped offensive scheme for a full offseason, and a healthy one at that (so far), there will be no looking in the rear view mirror for these Gators. Led by quarterback Jeff Driskel, a slew of talented running backs including Kelvin Taylor, and a young, explosive group of receivers, the Gator offense realizes the importance of finding a rhythm that has been missing for the length of their careers at UF.

Although coming off a season in which Florida finished 114th in points per game, an all too familiar position under Muschamp’s watch, there is certainly an aura of hope and excitement in Gainesville again with the hiring of Roper. Not only does Florida’s offense return with more depth than it’s had in years, but it seems as if Roper’s system—an aggressive, no-huddle spread attack — will be a much better fit than his predecessors’.

With that said, it is difficult to tell whether or not the Gator offense will flourish in its first year under Roper at this point; the task at hand is a demanding one. The Gators face one of the toughest schedules in the nation —  playing Alabama, Georgia, and FSU all away from The Swamp, while hosting Missouri, LSU, and South Carolina. All are familiar faces…All are due for a full serving of Orange and Blue payback.

Here are my five keys Florida must maintain if it wants to have a successful offense under Roper in 2014:

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1. Stay healthy. While obviously an area of importance for any football team, this has to be the greatest concern in 2014. The Gators are coming off a year in which it couldn’t field enough healthy players for a spring game, an eerie case of foreshadowing for the 2013 season.

Consider this: the last time a Gator quarterback started each game in a single season was 2009. That’s half a decade ago. What other major program has suffered that? Although the Gators are better prepared to sustain injuries than last year, what team is really prepared to lose their starting quarterback in game three? It would be a nightmare scenario and an almost guaranteed fate-sealer for Muschamp if his team suffers another slate of injuries the way it did a year ago.

2. The emergence of Jeff Driskel. I believe Driskel has the all the physical tools to take this team back to Atlanta for a shot at an SEC Title. Granted, there’s plenty of uncertainty when you look at his numbers and performances. For as many poor moments and decisions Driskel’s made, however, he’s still the same player who led Florida into Texas A&M and FSU, and came back with victories in two extremely hostile environments. In both games, Driskel had some key runs that kept drives alive and set Florida up for some scores. Something has to be said about a first year starter leading a team into those stadiums — especially in Tallahassee, where he displayed a gutsy performance just two weeks after a high ankle sprain.

When you consider the type of offense Driskel will run this season, you can’t help but get excited about the potential that clearly exists. You can bet a number of plays in Roper’s playbook involve #6 calling his own number. Driskel’s mobility is the secret ingredient that could end up making this offense come around full circle. With such a predictable offense the past two seasons, Florida’s no-huddle attack will be anything but predictable. Just imagine Driskel leading an up-tempo Gator offense, racing across Florida Field like Scottie Wilbekin going coast to coast in the O’Connell Center. Driskel’s mobility, coupled with the multiple threats at running back, could create a lot of headaches for opposing defenses.

3. Finding a go-to receiver. Although the Gators lose two of their top three receivers from 2013, Solomon Patton and Trey Burton, the receiving core should be the deepest it’s been in the Muschamp era. Led by Quinton Dunbar, Florida’s receivers include a plethora of young talent in Ahmad Fulwood, Demarcus Robinson, Latroy Pittman, Valdez Showers, Alvin Bailey, and some big bodies to throw to at tight end; there is no reason why Florida’s offense can’t be anything less than dynamic.

Dunbar will most likely be Driskel’s go-to receiver as he’s been a consistent target the past two seasons. If Dunbar is able to fill this role as the go-to, opportunities will arise for other receivers to become an integral part of the group. Driskel has raved about Robinson’s big play ability all spring, and Fulwood showed flashes last season that he could become a dependable target in the future. While Robinson’s game has more to do with yards after the catch, Fulwood, standing at 6’3″, has the length and deceptive speed to open up a facet of the passing game that Florida hasn’t seen in quite a while — the deep ball.

4. Limiting turnovers. One of the most telling statistics in all of football is turnover margin, an area in which Florida enjoyed a +15 ratio in 2012, yet dropped to -2 in 2013. Turnovers are huge — they’re drive killers when you commit them and they’re momentum shifters when you force them. You can’t help but reflect on the Miami game when you talk about the turnover issues the Gators suffered last season. Despite committing five turnovers, four of which occurred in Miami territory, Florida nearly doubled Miami’s offensive yardage and was still well in position to win that game late in the fourth quarter. Take away just one of Florida’s interceptions or fumbles and the Gators probably leave South Florida with a win, rather than a gut wrenching defeat that was a sign of things to come.

It’ll be up to Driskel to fully understand Roper’s concepts and formations — something he should be able to handle as a redshirt Junior, although won’t be easy considering the new offense he’ll be directing. The entire offensive unit needs to spend a lot of time with each other this summer. Turnovers are especially important in the redzone, and the Gators must make that an area of great concern throughout the 2014 campaign.

5. Creating balance in the running game. The running back position may be Florida’s strongest group on offense. The spring game featured the introduction of Adam Lane, who will displayed an impressive combination of shiftiness and power. Lane is the newcomer to the core of running backs that have already proved to be a talented group. Kelvin Taylor, who earned the starting role by progressing throughout his freshman season, appears to be well on track to becoming the breakout threat Gator fans hoped he’d be after enrolling at UF. Taylor’s combination of speed, explosiveness, and strength makes him Florida’s most dangerous ball carrier. Not to be forgotten, Mack Brown and Matt Jones add experience and dependability. Brown looked like he was in the best shape of his life in the spring game, showing improvements in acceleration and hitting the hole. Jones, the starter last season, comes with a degree of uncertainty because of health issues. If he can remain healthy throughout the year, Jones will get his fair share of touches and a chance to become a major part of the rotation.

With each back possessing their own particular skill set, the potential for Florida to create a balanced and dangerous running game is there for the taking. It will be interesting to see how Roper handles the rotation, and I’m sure he’s drawn up a ton of misdirection that’ll involve Driskel.

  • I'm a 22 year old college student in Jacksonville, FL, and come from a long line of Gators—dating back to my great-grandfather, John A. Mulrennan, who graduated in 1932 and received an honorary doctoral degree in 1972. The whole family bleeds Orange & Blue, and writing about Gator football is my passion! Follow me on twitter: @joosyjoost And on instagram: @njoost92

13 thoughts on “5 Keys to a Successful Gator Offense in ’14

  1. Nice read dude. Welcome to IAKOW!

    I don’t expect much from our offense right away, but come Alabama time, I think we’re going to need the offense to win the game for us. To me, the only real key is don’t turn the ball over. Whatever else we do, we absolutely cannot give the other team good position with a turnover. Even if our offense just sucks that day, we can at least punt and play the field position game.

    Your list would be nice, and I think in time we can get there. But for the first few weeks, let’s ground and pound, not turn the ball over and as Charlie Weis would say, throw the kitchen sink at Alabama.

  2. Thanks, Hybrid. It’s a thrill to be part of the IAKOW team! I completely agree with your comment about the Alabama game. My guess is CBS will use their 8pm slot, so it’ll be an intense environment in Tuscaloosa for sure. The good thing for us is we have 3 really easy games in the Swamp with kickoff times that won’t completely drain us before our showdown with the Tide. It’ll be a good stretch for our offensive line to gel, and for our offensive unit as a whole to work out the kinks and find their groove. If we can establish a rhythm within our skill players and running backs, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape entering the Bama game. I think, as I’m sure you do, it’s definitely a winnable game. But like you said, our offense will win or lose that game for us. It’s been a while since our offense has single-handedly won us a game…oh boy, how nice would it be to do it to Saban and his bunch. Thanks for reading, go Gators!

  3. Nick: Once again you are hopeful with sincere optimism without foundation. O’Line and D’Line get it done and the Gators will struggle with both due to laack of depth. To thin they will not get injured in the high intensity of the SEC is a wish list or maybe even a bucket list.

    I love your writing style, but once again gatornation will be a dismal 8-4. Sorry but I was right last year.

    1. Mark, these aren’t necessarily my predictions of how I believe the Gators’ offense will turn out. I do think Florida has a ton of talent on offense, probably too much untapped talent, but nonetheless, and a system that finally fits the style of its QB. The schedule is too too tough and there’s still too much uncertainty to realistically predict Florida being a championship caliber team. Just saying there is absolutely reason for optimism around Gainesville. And I’ll take 8-4!

      1. First of all, welcome, Nick.

        But 8-4 will get Senor Muschamp righteously fired unless he beats Georgia and FSU as part of those 8 wins. He has not won the SEC East since getting here, and going four years without a trip to Atlanta is bad, REALLY bad. And going 8-4 would his record at 30-22, which is actually worse percentage wise than Ron Zook’s over a longer period of time.

        Muschamp’s got to go 10-2, beat Georgia, make it to Atlanta and win a decent bowl game or he’s outta here. A lot to ask for? Maybe. But that’s what happens when you go 4-8 and lead us to our worst season since 1979.

        1. You may be right…8-4 probably doesn’t cut it—I just don’t think you can flat out say 8-4 means firing Muschamp. It’s a tough spot, but 8-4 with a new OC (and maybe add a bowl win on top of that) might be enough for Muschamp to stay. Is that right move? That’s a gigantic argument within itself. I don’t think it’s the right move to fire Muschamp unless Foley can go out there and hire the right guy.

  4. The main key is to keep Coach Lassiter the f*ck away from anything to do with offense.

    1. LOL—I can agree with that. If Muschamp hasn’t learned to let Roper have full command of the offense, he should be fired yesterday…

      1. When I get back to the states, I’m going to look into installing a like system on the site, kinda like on Facebook. I guarantee you that’s the first comment I’m going to like.

  5. Nick, nice read!!!

    I’d say Florida wins six games for sure. That leaves six games which they split, giving us a 9-3 season. 8-4 to 10-2 are very possible.

    As far as Muschamp staying, that depends on our quality of play. If we look like the last several years with all the penalties and flags then he’s out. However, if they are playing sharp but lose on bad breaks or key injuries he stays with 8-4 or even 7-3.

    Face it, Foley likes him.

    1. Thanks, LA Gator. Great points. I think we can absolutely thrive under Muschamp, I know why Foley likes him. But if you look at our history, the Gators’ greatest years have been when they are an offensive oriented team—with the exception of our 2006 squad—even going back to the 1960’s with Ray Graves and Spurrier. I hope Muschamp works out, he’s already proven that he has it in him. We were a hair away from a NC berth in 2012. And we have the talent to do it. Thanks for the comment!

  6. Great read man! If Champ will stay out of the way of the offense we should win 9 games. In my opinion we have to beat UGA, no way we can continue to lose to his alma mater.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Atlanta Gator. I think we have to be very careful as a fan base this season. In a three week span, we’re @Bama, BYE, then @Tennessee…that’s very dangerous because you can’t seriously bank on beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Tennessee is absolutely capable of beating us—Butch Jones knows how big of a victory it’d be if he could end our nine years of dominance.

      I think we’ll be fine. We need to look at Bama as a great opportunity. I know we’re Gators and we inherently expect to win every time we play, but that Bama game is a great chance for us to measure up, see how we perform in a hostile environment with everyone watching, and hey, maybe even get a win out of it.

      And while I agree with you that beating UGA is an absolute must this year, I’d hate to say in June that Muschamp’s fate lives and dies solely on our date with the pups in Jacksonville. Is it freaking football season yet!? Lol, Go Gators!

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