After tweeting out yesterday's defense of the Will Muschamp process, I got some good feedback on Twitter. That included this, from one of the smarter Florida State fans on the planet.
@AlligatorArmy step forward on the field from 4th in F/+?— jmnpb (@jmnpb) September 12, 2013
@AlligatorArmy that god awful looking offense was 32nd most efficient in football last year.— jmnpb (@jmnpb) September 12, 2013
Our friend is right: Florida's 2012 offense, despite sometimes being best viewed with unseeing eyes already gouged out of skulls, was actually quite good, I've been thinking about things I would tweak — not wholesale changes, just tweaks — about Florida's offense for a while, and after Florida's struggles in certain capacities against Miami, now is as good a time as any to outline them.
1. Play faster
I know this seems counterintuitive for Florida, which wants to lean on defenses and grind out long drives, but the Gators have the right personnel to do that and go up-tempo. And that all starts with Jeff Driskel, whose skills probably fit an up-tempo attack better than Florida's plodding one.
I've thought that Driskel was at his best when improvising for quite some time, dating back to at least 2010, when that's what he had to do for an otherwise underwhelming Hagerty High team. (Driskel led the team to a 7-4 season in his senior year in 2010; Hagerty, which began playing football in 2006, hadn't won seven games before then, and hasn't won seven since.) Driskel looked like a skittish colt for much of 2010, but he showed, even then, that he had serious improvisational skills.
Driskel's also good when the tempo is sped up and his reads are quicker. Florida cruised 60 yards in four plays on a desperation drive against Miami, went 75 yards in 2:47 at the end of the first half and 97 yards in 3:46 against Louisville, moved the ball well on end-of-half drives against Georgia that ended in turnovers, opened the second half against Vanderbilt with a 1:42 touchdown drive, and scored all four of its touchdowns against Tennessee on drives that took 1:32 or less. Speeding things up would allow Driskel to make fewer decisions, and ones he's better at making — he's great at choosing between read or keep on read options — and would give Florida chances to catch defenses in bad alignments or with the wrong personnel on the field, something that both Toledo and Miami seemed to me to have problems with when the Gators lined up quickly after snaps. Instead of snapping as soon as the ball is placed or linemen are set, though, Florida often uses pre-snap motions and protection checks that allow defenses to get into better position to stop a play.
Those motions are an integral part of Pease's offense, and I wouldn't expect them to disappear. But if Florida were to start trying out no-huddle or up-tempo pacing on one or two drives a game, I think it would work out very well.
2. Take shots
Because I watched some of the above Florida-Alabama game to find that long Driskel scramble, I also saw a lot of Charlie Weis offense, and, unsurprisingly, it still bugs me. But if Florida wanted to take one thing from the Weis approach and apply it to 2013, play-action shots down the field would have to be it.
Weis's play-action bombs worked a lot less often than they were called, possibly because Florida's line was terrible in 2011, John Brantley was the Gators' quarterback, and the only reliable deep threat on that team was Andre Debose. Pease's play-action shots last year seemed to be invariably thwarted, whether by drops or bad protection or penalties. This year's team has more threats, a better line, and, perhaps most importantly, less to lose: Florida knows that its offense is not entirely dependent on big plays, so Pease can be judicious when calling whatever his equivalent of PA Streak is, and only take the risks of a pick or a sack on plays near midfield that won't leave Florida's defense in dire straits, or only deploy a wideout deep when he sees something in the defense.
Of course, taking shots also requires a quarterback helping out in that regard, and Driskel missed at least three receivers running free well behind the defense against Miami. If Florida's going to start bombing away, Driskel has to let himself uncork those riskier passes, and realize that picks far downfield on risky plays that serve as punts hurt a lot less than ones near the goal line that squander long drives.
3. Let Driskel run
And while I'm vacillating between worrying about what Florida's offense ought to change and how Driskel could change, I should also note that while Driskel's probably better at playing up-tempo than in a slow offense, he's best at making plays with his feet. Driskel's still as talented a runner as Florida has ever had at quarterback (yes, I'm including Tim Tebow), and he's great at making read option decisions. Florida has the read option in its playbook, but has used it less in 2013 than 2012, likely due to concerns about injury.
Driskel's more likely to get hurt or not get hurt based on his line than based on how many read options get called, I think, as long as he's not running the ball 20 times a game, and the read option allows for progressively more dangerous plays if Driskel and a Florida running back can sell it well enough to open up passing lanes. Florida's got to be careful with Driskel, but at some point, being careful with a quarterback who is best at running is cutting off the nose to spite the face.
4. Unleash Loucheiz Purifoy
And you know who would be great in the read option next to Driskel? Loucheiz Purifoy. Purifoy's much-discussed moonlighting on offense hasn't happened yet in 2013, not even with the frequency it did in 2012 (Purifoy played a few snaps at wide receiver last year, and even recorded a catch, long before this hype started), and Florida's still not sure it has a go-to playmaker. Why not try Purifoy as the back on read options, Purifoy as the deep threat on some designed downfield shots, Purifoy on the jet sweeps and reverses that are already effective with Solomon Patton?
Florida owes it to Purifoy to keep playing him on defense, which is where he'll make his money as an NFL player, but that can't prevent the Gators from using him carefully on offense, and Florida's got the depth necessary on defense — Purifoy looked like Florida's fourth-best corner against Miami — to keep him fresh for both sides of the ball. And, as that phenomenal punt block reminded many, Purifoy's got athleticism and know-how that just seem to combine for good things wherever he is on the field. It's time to make offense one of those places.
5. Mothball or modify the wildcat
Commenter 75 South wrote a really good defense of Florida's use of the Trey Burton-led wildcat in August, prior to the beginning of the season. The crux of that argument was that Florida gained yards more often than not with Burton taking direct snaps, and often converted third downs with it.
In 2013, that hasn't been the case at all: Florida used the wildcat twice against Toledo, with Burton keeping it both times and gaining a total of one yard, and used it once against Miami, losing four yards on a Burton keeper. Florida ran it on first down on all three tries, and split Driskel out wide on each attempt, reducing the number of effective blockers by one on each play. And though it wasn't on a wildcat play, Burton's fumble against Miami came on a familiar overexertion from him, a well-intentioned attempt to do too much that left him exposed.
If Florida wants to try using the wildcat on third downs instead of first downs, that would make sense. If Florida wants to start throwing out of the wildcat, something other teams basically haven't seen on tape, that would make sense. If Florida wants to use players other than Burton in the wildcat, that would make sense. But it definitely feels like "Trey Burton running from the wildcat" is something every team on Florida's schedule has thoroughly scouted by now, and it would be wise to deviate from that specific usage, if not move on from the wildcat, because of that.
6. Play Colin Thompson or Kent Taylor
Florida's red zone woes are probably the second-biggest concern I have about these Gators, behind Driskel's more cavalier approach to ball security, and there's one simple thing that Florida can do to diversify its red zone offense: Play an actual tight end at tight end.
Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook are converted defensive ends, not tight ends, and their play through two games has done very little to convince me that they will ever been viable options as pass-catchers. Burton's hands are every bit as bad as his brother's are good, and Westbrook might lose a race to the flats if he was running it against molasses in February. Thompson and Taylor may not be as valuable as blockers, but they would both be bigger targets with functional hands for Driskel near the red zone; Jordan Reed was never a great blocker, but he more than made up for it as a big target who could run a route into the end zone and reliably catch a pass.
Burton and Westbrook can be Florida's between-the-20s tight ends if that's what Pease needs to supplement the line. But if Florida's throwing near the end zone, having Burton and/or Westbrook on the field is giving defenses one less player to respect, and it makes no sense to keep Thompson and Taylor buried at the moments when they would be most effective.
I don't know that any of these tweaks is a panacea for everything wrong with Florida's offense, but the things that allow Driskel to play freer might actually help cut down on his mistakes (which seem to me to be based more on overanalysis than bad instincts), and scrapping or shelving the wildcat and using a tight end as a tight end would probably help near the goal line. Taking more shots and developing a deep passing game to complement what is growing into a decent short- and intermediate-range passing game would also help a lot with between-the-20s play, and open up holes for a running game that struggled when Miami stacked the box.
But I'm also sure you folks have some thoughts on these thoughts. Let me know what's right on and what's dead wrong in the comments, and leave some of your own ideas, too.