[Note: This is the first in a five-part series on UF's football team]
If you are a Florida Gators fan, this offseason has already been a particularly long one – and probably will continue to be so. Echoes of 4-8, Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt winning at The Swamp, that indelible image of FSU players raising the Gator head (and later the crystal football), and visions of Missouri and LSU mocking the Gator Chomp (a particular pet peeve that I am long to ever forget) likely haunt your dreams. For me personally, living in Atlanta after three consecutive losses to Georgia isn’t pleasant either – I can assure you, folks.
Instead of wallowing in our sorrows, let’s look at what went so terribly wrong in 2013 and focus on where to improve in 2014. Instead of hoping that we have a magical Auburn-style turnaround, let’s focus on the five things Florida must do to find its way back to relevance. Instead of indulging the naysayers who claim Florida will be in the SEC basement (a la Tennessee of the past 10 years), let’s restore some pride and investigate how the Gators can return to Atlanta.
“If you start me up, if you start me up, I’ll never stop, you make a grown man cry…” (The Rolling Stones)
Florida’s offense … the offense … well … it sucked in 2013 (beware, this collection will have you grabbing for tissues and a bottle of vodka after about 11 seconds). And to be honest, the offense also sucked in 2012 – it was just masked by dynamic senior running back Mike Gillislee, a smothering defense and an exceptional win-loss record.
The Gators finished dead last in the SEC (yes, even behind Kentucky and Arkansas) in total offense with a lousy 316.7 yards per game and 4.79 yards per play in 2013. In order to rectify the situation, Will Muschamp did what any good (and job-conscious) coach would do: he fired the offensive coordinator (Brent Pease). Now the Gators are on their third coordinator in 4 years – enter, longtime OC Kurt Roper.
Roper’s task, after what we saw last year, will be Herculean. In 2013 his Duke offense averaged better than a hundred yards per game more than the Gators, and nearly doubled Florida’s points per game (granted last year, it wasn’t that hard … but still). Roper’s squad also set a school record for total touchdowns (54) and became the first team in Duke history to compile more than 20 rushing and passing touchdowns in the same season. Imagine, with the elite defensive unit Florida has already, throwing in (at very least) a competent and multi-dimensional offense.
I was at the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve and witnessed the Duke-Texas A&M clash in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl – and what a helluva game that was. If that 48 point fireworks showcase by Roper’s offense didn’t light a fire under you as a Gator fan, then you clearly weren’t paying attention. The variety of play calls, screens, and runs were dizzying to say the least. If Roper can do it at Duke (as a guy named Steve Spurrier did in the late 1980s), then imagine the possibilities at Florida. He can get Florida back to what it’s known for: offense. No, it won’t be overnight, but a turnaround can, should, and will happen in 2014.
Florida’s offense starts and ends at the quarterback position. Starter Jeff Driskel has the skills to be successful, but he’s both shown flashes of brilliance (a 79 yard TD run at Vanderbilt in 2012) and flashes of ineptitude (two costly interceptions at Miami in 2013) during his tenure. I happen to think Driskel is a smart kid – a really smart one who can be a successful, workable quarterback – and I’m a fan of his. He is no Tim Tebow, he is no Chris Leak, and he’s no Danny Wuerffel – but he’s a tremendous athlete that is finally in an offense that was tailor-made for him. This season, there is no excuse for Driskel to not be successful in an up-tempo and fast-paced system.
For the Gators to reclaim their spot atop the SEC East, Roper must find a way to develop Driskel and help UF get back its sorely missed offensive mojo.