After years of struggling through Charlie Weis and Steve Addazio offenses, Florida Gator fans have been treated to the steadiness of Brent Pease in 2012. Is Pease the magic bullet, and have I been thrilled with each play call this season? No and no. But I believe that we are watching a man who is arguably the best playcaller Florida has had since Steve Spurrier walked the sidelines.
Overall, this offense doesn't have the flash and dash of the 2007-2009 Urban Meyer clubs, with significantly lower point and yardage at this point in the season, but remember that Florida trotted out an embarrassment of NFL players on those teams. Between Percy Harvin, Aaron Hernandez, David Nelson, Louis Murphy, and Tim Tebow, each significant skill player is making a contribution on an NFL roster. (Ed.'s note: Also, Riley Cooper ... and the Pounceys and Marcus Gilbert ... and Cornelius Ingram ... and Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps...) Harvin and Hernandez are arguable top 5 at their positions. I don't know how many players you can say that about right now on the current Gator roster: Jeff Driskel, Quinton Dunbar, Jordan Reed, and Mike Gillislee all have potential, but are not the All-American/SEC performers those guys were (yet). When this is considered, it's amazing that Pease is generating the type of results he's gotten; he's basically working with an unproven group of players.
The Gators' continued success in the second half is directly related to the way Pease designs and calls plays in the first half. Florida is obviously a run-heavy team (67% of plays), but he sprinkles in enough passing to keep teams honest. While the Gators' defense and special teams create great field position and opportunities for the offense, with two takeaways per game, the guys who play with the ball still have to take advantage of these opportunities. Against South Carolina, Florida scored all 21 first half points off Gamecocks turnovers, and put up nearly as many points as total yards (21 and 29, respectively, for an awesome points per yard ratio of .72). Yes, they're getting gifts, but how often do we watch teams kick field goals in similar situations?
The beauty of what Pease does is rooted in how he sets up his plays. He will often run a play with maddening regularity, only to have it set up something devastating later in the game. I find myself trusting his play calls more than any other coordinator Florida has had. They don't always work out, but I take solace in the fact he isn't running 170-pound scat backs up the middle (Weis), or making endless excuses about "being on schedule" (Addazio).
Pease has patience when he calls plays, which allows him to stay within the framework of his game plan. He knows what the Gator talent is, and it's running "God's play." Obviously, there is a fine line between patience and ignorance: It's called winning. But Florida has been behind in every game this year except for Kentucky and South Carolina. Pease does not freak out and stray from the plan when facing a deficit. I believe a huge part of the Gators' success in the second half of games is due to what has been patiently executed in the first half, and I think the players, especially first-year starter Driskel, take comfort in this.
Against LSU, Pease really shone in his play calling because of the simplicity of it. The Gators called 25 consecutive run plays against the Tigers, and ran the ball 83 percent of their plays against a top-five defense against the run! Yet the Gators stayed committed to their strengths, even during stretches of the first half where it seemed nothing was working, and the wear and tear of that pounding paid huge dividends for the Gators in the second half, when they did not need to rely on Driskel to pick up crucial first downs by passing.
Against Vanderbilt, I believe Pease showed his only play set that has been wholly out of character. The Gators threw the ball on five of their first seven plays to begin the game, their largest multiple-drive pass percentage of the season. Pease was likely giving Driskel the opportunity to get in a rhythm early against a team they could take some risks with, since they were all short passes. Besides this, the entire Vandy game came down to Driskel's ability to run the ball, and, more specifically, the zone read that Tebow made famous. Pease recognized Vandy was selling out to stop Mike Gillislee, but anyone could see that: Pease being patient enough to call the zone read at the right times, when Florida needed the big play, sets him apart. Too many coaches see a good thing and mercilessly call the play until it too has been adjusted for, and render their go-to almost useless at the moment it is most needed.
Against South Carolina, my favorite call was the simple one-yard TD pass to Reed to run the score to 21-3. The entire SC defense sold out on the Gilly dive, and why not? So far, Gilly had eight carries on the Gators' first 27 plays, and the vast majority of our play calls inside the three-yard line involve him. Reed was wide open, and it was an easy toss for Driskel. I won't pretend there wasn't a missed assignment by SC, but at this point in the game Driskel had only dropped back nine times, and had been sacked 3 times! The passing game is not a big concern for any defense preparing for Florida, but Pease seems to dial up good enough play calls to keep a team honest and Driskel in a confident mood.
Pease has done very well, and his success, coupled with the re-emergence of Florida as a national power, will make him a hot commodity as a head coach. Let's not pretend that Pease wants to be in Gainesville for five years: The guy will want his own program, and probably deserve it, and the days of long-term assistants (e.g. Mickey Andrews and Bud Foster) are gone. Muschamp's defensive wizardry only helps Pease, since it's obvious his fingerprints are all over the offense of the Gators. I believe he will stay at least one more year, to help Driskel develop into a top passer, and then the big boys will come-a-callin'.
If Muschamp buys into Pease's offensive scheme and design, it wouldn't surprise me if Pease grooms an assistant to take over the reins if/when he leaves for his own gig. This becomes more likely if Pease leaves before Driskel does, as Muschamp will want to keep the same scheme for a three-year starter and possible Heisman candidate.
Whatever may come, Gator fans, it appears happy days are here again. And the smart offensive play calling and design of Brent Pease has a lot to do with it.
P.S. - As with all college football fandom, I reserve the right to curse the name of Brent Pease with a passionate fury on Saturday against Georgia.
Edited, promoted to front page. A great look at how Pease's steady hand and interest in balance have steered the Gators in the right direction on offense. — Andy