A simple truth: People tend to put more weight into what they've seen or what's already happened as evidence for theorizing about the future. It's easier to go off something you know rather than create something out of thin air — especially in an area where most are not qualified. This train of thought relates to how Gators fans seem to be taking Kurt Roper's first six games as Florida's offensive coordinator.
Florida is currently ranked 90th in total offense in the country, a number Roper has never experienced in his OC career. At times, we've seen conservative play-calling, quick-read short-yardage designs and a style that, in spots, brings back nightmares of Brent Pease's "The first down marker is scary, don't go near it" philosophy. So what gives? Did Roper change his way of thought? Where's all that dual-quarterback stuff we read about going into the season? Wasn't that Roper's bread and butter?
As of Monday, it seems we're about to find out, with Will Muschamp affirming that both Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris will play against Missouri. But don't go into it believing the two-quarterback system Florida will deploy Saturday versus Missouri will be anything like it was at Duke.
It won't be.
The myth behind a two-quarterback system is that the two players involved have to be of different styles; one a better runner, the other the more accurate passer. For some, that means totally separating quarterback usage based on abilities. But it doesn't work like that. If a team knows you're only using one quarterback for passing and the other for running, they'd stack the box or play in a dime package, depending on whichever QB was in.
In a good statistical breakdown by Gator Country's Daniel Thompson, we see some myths about Roper's 2013 Duke season busted, at least when it came to quarterback usage. He notes starting quarterback Anthony Boone took 63 percent of Duke's snaps on passing plays, which statistically left Brandon Connette to take 63 percent of the team's snaps on run plays. Stats like those are usually where people stop to make their conclusion, hence the widespread myth of a designated "runner" and "passer." However, if you also look at the year's final stats, you'll see both quarterbacks threw for more than 1,200 yards with double-digit passing TDs, while still both recording at least 65 carries and three TDs on the ground.
What do those numbers tell us? Roper's not designing a system that plays to schematic strengths, he's designing a system that plays to his players' strengths.
Roper's not naive. He knows how adjustments work, he also knows how to be one step ahead of a defensive game plan. This, from a Roper media availabilty in September, perfectly describes how Roper views Harris and Driskel in terms of possible dual usage, compared to previous situations at Duke.
"Last year, or last couple of years at Duke the whole thought process was we had a 6-2, 225-pound physical guy that could go in the short yardage, red zone, the tough areas where obviously you’re going to run out of, your numbers aren’t going to be equaled up in the run game and we can add the quarterback in the run game. That was the reason behind the two quarterback system at Duke.
"(Brandon Connette) was older, obviously last year, but he was 225 pounds from his first year one. He had a physical mentality, you know, he was a guy that would get downhill and ended up having to be our starting quarterback, but he was in his fourth year, which ended up helping. We were able to mature him through those type situations on the football field without turning the whole game over to him. He backed up Sean Renfree that way and he backed up Anthony Boone that way and there’s conversation, you know, and thought. That was one of our first short-yardage plays against Eastern Michigan, in that mode. But I don’t think Treon is quite there yet in that mentality. I think he’s an elusive runner, a good runner, but he’s not a heavy runner right now and so those situations are a little bit different."
Roper told Gator fans at the beginning of the season that this Florida offense would not look like 2013 Duke, but people had seen that, so that's all they had to go off. When Florida's offense began to struggle, fans began to question. "Why isn't Roper just doing what he did last year? It worked last year!"
The answer is obvious: Those two quarterbacks aren't on this Florida roster.
Three major differences between Duke's 2013 QBs and Florida's 2014 QBs tell the tale.
Driskel's Arm vs. Boone's Arm
When you watch Anthony Boone on tape last year at Duke with Florida's offense from this year in the back of your mind, you can tell the two offenses are orchestrated by the same mastermind. Quick option throws are still the focal point of the passing game (meaning plays not designed for long-developing routes which demand going through progressions) and almost everything comes from a shotgun set. Play action is still emphasized with the read option, and the up-tempo strategy is still in place. Running styles and designed running plays for both Driskel and Boone seems to go for similar success.
But there's one major area of concern for Florida fans: Deep passes. Boone's completion percentage was just under 65 percent from the year, and comparing that to Driskel's 54 percent completion rate and 5.4 yards per attempt, you can see the great divide.
I've been trying to say this in a few of my film breakdowns so far this season, but the main reason Florida's offense is struggling is simply that Driskel cannot hit receivers 15 yards or more down the field on a consistent basis. Sometimes it's touch, sometimes it's accuracy, but whatever it is, the plays where Anthony Boone could hit a guy 60 yards down the field when he's wide open are the same explosive, difference-making plays UF is just not getting.
Roper can call the perfect play every down, but if Driskel is off target, not much of it matters.
Harris's Build vs. Connette's Build
GatorZone lists Treon Harris at 5'11" and 190 pounds. Duke's roster last year listed Brandon Connette at 6'2" and 225 pounds. I think Harris has the talent to be an even better passer and yardage runner than Connette was for Duke, but there's one thing he certainly can't do right now, and that's give Florida the same goal line package Duke had with sheer mass.
Connette ended the season with 14 rushing touchdowns, which accounted for exactly half of Duke's total rushing touchdowns on the season. Harris's running style is a much quicker version of Boone's, and hardly even comparable to Connette's. There's no way Harris can be that same presence for Florida ... but Connette and Driskel share the same running style, and I'd even give Driskel that power nod.
Harris vs. Father Time
That all might lead to a conclusion many Florida fans have probably made over the last month: Harris is actually Boone, the passer who needs to play more snaps, and Driskel is Connette, the rhino to be used in spot duty.
It's not that simple.
What made Brandon Connette such a weapon for Duke last year was that he'd learned it all. Roper praised Connette's value as a player partly because, as a senior, he knew what he was doing, and could plug in anywhere. For Duke, this was a big help: No matter which quarterback was on the field, they both had the intelligence and talent to preform every pass and run duty.
But Florida's situation is different, with Driskel having slightly less experience than Connette, and Harris having much less experience than both Boone and Connette. It's no surprise that Roper doesn't yet trust Harris, who has been on campus only since June, with his entire offense; it's unclear whether Roper trusts even Driskel with the entire offense, given that this is the first year of Driskel playing in this system.
And Roper's comfort level in his charges matters: If Duke had a veteran in Driskel and a newbie in Harris, I don't think we would've even seen two quarterbacks play at Duke last season, but Boone being a junior with 23 games of experience entering 2013 was a boon (pun intended) for Duke. The Blue Devils' two quarterbacks only played the way they did because they both knew the game plan to a tee, could complete all QB duties in above-average fashion when called upon, and, most importantly, enabled smaller sub-packages where their specific skills could shine.
Driskel and Harris don't have enough separate, distinct skills (at least, yet) to make such an division of labor viable. And no, Driskel struggling as a passer in 2014 while Harris has completed four of the six passes he's thrown doesn't count as evidence that Driskel can't throw, or that Harris is a thoroughly proven passer.
There's something to the idea that Driskel might fit Connette's role, and Harris might fit Boone's, but that idea will likely remain mostly theoretical until Harris can get much more practice and game time under his belt. In the near term, we should see certain plays called for Driskel and certain plays called for Harris — not just in a starter and bench warmer sense — but I just don't know if their styles can contrast enough to fool defenses quite yet.
Boone starting and playing more over Connette in 2013 suggests Roper knows how to utilize talent when he sees it, and if Harris can run the offense best, he'll play the most.
I wouldn't be surprised to see that happen at some point this year. I just don't think it happens this Saturday.