Yeah, Florida sounds like it's going to go to ground against Georgia.
And, yeah, that's the right decision.
Florida players and coaches have indicated in quotes this week — with Kelvin Taylor saying "I know we're going to pound the ball" on Wednesday — that Florida is likely to turn to a run-heavy gameplan against the Bulldogs. 247Sports's Thomas Goldkamp wrote about that in a piece posted earlier today.
friends canine companions at Dawg Sports had this take on that piece:
Dusting off a strategy that resulted in a 19-14 loss two years ago is the most Will Muschampingest thing ever. http://t.co/q5jKHvRaXW— Dawg Sports (@dawgsports) October 30, 2014
All kidding aside, running the ball is Florida's best bet. Treon Harris can't complete 30 passes all to Demarcus Robinson.— Dawg Sports (@dawgsports) October 30, 2014
It is also peak Muschamp that his best bet is running the ball against the 12th ranked rush defense in the country.— Dawg Sports (@dawgsports) October 30, 2014
Sandwiched between the snark is some accuracy: Running the ball is Florida's best bet, and undeniably so, though the state of the Florida at the moment that has rendered this truth undeniable is hard to accept.
Florida has relied on the run when it can't wholly trust its quarterback or when the run has worked time and again under Muschamp. And mostly, that's actually worked.
Against LSU in 2011, with midyear enrollee Jacoby Brissett getting the reins of the offense after injuries sideline both John Brantley and Jeff Driskel, Florida attempted just 16 passes in a blowout loss. But against Vanderbilt in 2011, when shuffling Brantley and Brissett into and out of the game, Florida allotted 46 carries and attempted 25 passes, and won. In a bowl victory over Ohio State, Florida threw the ball 16 times, and ran it 36.
The Gators threw more than 21 times just once in their 7-0 start to the 2012 season, and did so against Kentucky, while consciously trying to open up their offense. During that stretch, they ran the ball at least 35 times in each game, and 42 or more times in six of them; over the final three games of that stretch, Florida completed just 31 passes ... and won all three games by eight or more points.
Florida's high-water marks for passing in 2012, two 29-pass games, were, of course, its two losses to Georgia and Louisville. And, at least against Louisville, Florida came in wanting to pass, only to have that strategy dashed on the rocks that Teddy Bridgewater slung.
Last season, when Florida was transitioning from Jeff Driskel to Tyler Murphy, and then from Murphy to Skyler Mornhinweg, we got our best evidence that the Gators would keep things simple with new QBs under Muschamp. Against Kentucky, in Murphy's first game as a full-fledged starter, Florida ran it 45 times and threw it 18 times. Against South Carolina, the game Goldkamp harkens back to, Florida avoided Mornhinweg throwing like the plague, running it 41 times while throwing 14 passes.
Another commonality in these run-run-run games? Florida wins. The South Carolina game was a loss, but a far-closer-than-expected loss, and the other 10 games mentioned above were all victories for the Gators. Loathed though it was and is, Florida's tendency to lean on its running game under Muschamp has usually paid dividends — and the opposite has frequently spelled defeat.
Under Muschamp, Florida is 10-2 when attempting 20 or fewer passes, with losses to 2011 LSU and 2013 South Carolina, both top-five teams at year's end. And under Muschamp, Florida is 7-12 when attempting 26 or more passes, with wins over Florida Atlantic, Furman, Kentucky, Louisiana, Eastern Michigan, Kentucky again, and Tennessee.
There are some interaction effects to tease out there (winning teams run, and losing teams pass, which skews things), and I'm obviously using arbitrary endpoints — Florida is 2-3 when throwing exactly 25 passes under Muschamp, with one of those wins being the Vanderbilt win mentioned above and the other one being Florida's magnum opus under Muschamp, its win at Florida State in 2012, but neither of those games featured Florida getting pass-happy.
But the record is clear: Florida's record under Muschamp is better when it runs a lot than when it passes a lot, whether or not there's a causal relationship.
And Treon Harris making his first start puts Florida in a situation where it can't trust its quarterback fully, if only because he's never been played this role prior to this weekend. Could he come out balling? Absolutely. Is it smart to rely on that as a certainty? Hell no.
And so Florida should obviously hope to run it a lot against Georgia, and potentially play for that. I doubt it will work — but, then, I'm doubting positive things will happen at all for Florida right now.
Given the state this team is in, though, there's no reason not to try.