Gators will get offense fixed; but not this year

 

For the past four seasons Florida fans have been very frustrated. Yes, losing was a big part of that angst. But, if truth be told, the Gator Nation wasn’t really happy even when their team was WINNING.

Why? Easy answer. After 12 successful seasons and six SEC championships under Steve Spurrier  and his Fun ‘N Gun offense plus a couple of national championships under Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow, the Gators simply forgot how to play offense. The approach to that side of the ball in the four seasons of head coach Will Muschamp was disjointed at best. Three different offensive coordinators took their shot.

Even in the 2012 season, when the Gators went 11-1 and almost won the SEC East, Florida’s offense ranked 103 in the nation. Florida fans like winning. But they don’t like winning 17-10.

Louie Carnesecca, the Hall of Fame basketball coach from St. John’s, once said that that most people use statistics like a drunk uses a lamp post: For support but not for illumination.

But sometimes statistics tell the difficult truth. And so it is with the University of Florida football program over the past four seasons.

In four years as the head coach at Florida, Muschamp fielded four consecutive defenses in the Top 15 and three in the top eight. But in those same four years Florida’s offense was never ranked better than 93rd.  Here are the numbers:

 

Year…………………………….Offense rank………Defense rank……Record (SEC)

2011…………………………….105…………………………8…………………7-6 (3-5)

2012………………………………103………………………5…………………11-2 (7-1)

2013……………………………….115………………………8………………….4-8 (3-5)

2014………………………………..93……………………15………………..….7-5 (4-4)

So with Jim McElwain as head coach, Florida fans not only hope to start winning again, but they want to return to the good old days when the Gators won with STYLE.

But you know who’s been even more frustrated than the Florida fans the past four seasons? That would be the guys who are playing defense—and playing it very well–for the Gators.

“Sure it was frustrating,” said Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida’s All-America cornerback. “We could see those guys (on offense) struggling. They were trying hard but things just weren’t working. The last couple of years have been pretty tough for us.”

McElwain, who won a national championship in 2009 as the OC at Alabama, is going to get things turned around offensively at Florida. I just don’t think it’s going to be this season. Florida is very uncertain at quarterback with sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier. The Gators have one proven running back in Kelvin Taylor, a pretty good receiver in DeMarcus Robinson (810 yards), and an offensive line that has to be totally rebuilt with very young players.

The reality is that his Florida team, as the last four have been, is going to be built around one of the best defenses in the country.

When I went to Florida in the spring Geoff Collins, the new defensive coordinator, could barely contain his excitement.

“There are a lot of really good players in our locker room,” he told me, smiling at the understatement.

Yes Dante Fowler, a first-round draft pick, is gone from the front. But there is enough talent there with guys like Jonathan Bullard and Alex McCallister.

The linebackers are good enough if Antonio Morrison can come back from his injury in the Birmingham Bowl. Right now, however, here is no timetable for his return but I get the sense that he’ll be available for the opening bell.

But the strength of this defense is the best secondary in college football.

Hargreaves is simply the best cover corner in the game. Brian Poole, the nickel back, has 16 career starters and six interceptions. Safeties Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal would get a lot more ink if they weren’t playing with the best defensive back in the country (Hargreaves). Florida goes 8-9 deep in really good defensive backs and Collins plans to play them all.

“We’ve just got a lot of guys who know how to play the position,” said Collins, who was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State last season. “I’m anxious to see how good they can be.”

Hargreaves, the son of a coach, is the unquestioned leader of this defense. He has been known to tell his teammates to drop and do push-ups if the drills start getting sloppy.

“That was something I learned when I was younger, watching my dad coach at Miami,” said Hargreaves. “The first time I told them to do push-ups, they kind of looked at me like ‘Are you serious?’. They understood where I was coming from. They know I wasn’t trying to be an arrogant leader and I do my fair share of push-ups. I think they respected me enough to do them.”

McElwain loved it.

“I love the way this guy comes to work every day,” said McElwain. “The way he practices; the way he thrives on competition. Growing up the son of a coach, he obviously has been around it. He’s fun to watch practice.”

If there were ever any hard feelings between the offense and defense at Florida, it’s a thing of the past, said Hargreaves.

“The reality is that they (the offense) need us and we need them,” said Hargreaves.  “We are all in this together.”

“It’s always tough losing at anything,” said Bullard. “Us being football players, we’re naturally just so competitive at everything we do and when you lose it ain’t easy. But you have to realize on the offensive side of the ball that they’re out there practicing just as hard as we are. So we just have to encourage them and let them get their confidence up also.”

Next stop: Georgia

 

 

Gators will get offense fixed; but not this year

| College Football, SEC |
About The Author
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Tony Barnhart, known as “Mr. College Football,” is an analyst for The SEC Network.