Florida Football: Why Offensive Line, Gillislee Are Keys to Beating Georgia

Neil ShulmanCorrespondent IOctober 23, 2012

As the season started, Georgia fans kept talking about how nasty their defense would be.

I'm still waiting to see it.

Even with starting linebacker Jarvis Jones, who Georgia fans put on the same level as the Greek gods, Georgia's defense hasn't just been bad, it's been god awful.

Georgia should have known that something was wrong when Buffalo put up 347 yards on them in the season opener. Granted, the Gators didn't look too good in their opener either, but at least the Gators didn't allow 200 yards on the ground to a team that's 1-6 and hasn't yet won a game in the MAC.

It's only gotten worse as the season has progressed. In the very next game, Georgia surrendered 371 yards to a Missouri team that will be lucky to make a bowl game, and trailed for most of the game before exploding in the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs put up over 700 yards on offense in their next game against Florida Atlantic. Big deal. They also gave up 318 yards—17 more than North Texas gave up to the same FAU team.

Those were just the stats from the non SEC teams (plus Missouri, which isn't a real SEC team quite yet). It's been even worse against SEC opponents. 

So naturally, Mike Gillislee must be salivating over the chance to face this defense. He's had two down performances in a row, so in order for him to reach his preseason goal of 1,500 yards, he really needs a breakout game.

In addition to this, Gillislee has fond memories of Georgia—his first big play as a Gator came in 2009, his freshman year, when he ripped off a 50-yard run to really stick it to the Dawgs late in the game. 


But for the first three years of his career as a Gator, the man Florida fans fondly refer to as Gilly didn't get a chance to do much. He patiently sat behind Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody and waited his turn. In blowouts, Gilly showed some flashes of greatness, and he got the occasional short yardage call. But that run against Georgia was one of just a few big plays he got the chance to make.

No longer.

Now, the offense is his, and he'd love a chance to lead his offense to a win over perhaps Florida's biggest rival.


The offensive line is just as excited to face Georgia, but for different reasons.

Last year, Gator running backs combined to rush for—19 yards in this game. That's right, the Gators lost 19 yards on the ground against Georgia last year.

A big part of that was the offensive line's fault for not providing any holes to run through, plus they couldn't block Jarvis Jones if their lives depended on it.

That was really the lowlight of the season for the offensive line that Will Muschamp called "soft" after last year. 

But much has changed since that awful day a year ago. The Gators are better than they were last year, and the Bulldogs are worse. In particular, the Gators have developed a much tougher attitude on the offensive line, and Mike Gillislee has become a force to be reckoned with. 


If the Gators' offensive line can give Gillislee holes to run through and Jeff Driskel time to throw or run, the Bulldogs have no chance. The only way Georgia could win this game is if they hide their defense by putting them on the field for as few plays as possible, meaning they have to stay fresh at all times. The offense will need to put together long, slow, methodical drives that end in points to give the defense a cushion. 

I don't really think the Gators will try to beat Georgia through the air—not at first. Florida will need to establish Gillislee and the running game before they can risk getting behind in the down and distance count. Georgia knows this, and they will therefore load the box and dare Driskel to throw it. 

This is when play-action becomes such a huge part in the game. The problem is, Gillislee needs to get off to a good start so that Georgia is actually watching him. If he can't get going, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will alert his defense to be ready for a play-action on every play, and to just keep one eye on Gillislee as opposed to their entire minds.


It doesn't even really matter if the play-action works or not. The bottom line is, if Gillislee gets going, and Driskel tries a play-action and throws it away or gets sacked, Georgia will now have something else to watch out for, because Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease will have sent a message to Grantham that he's willing to try more than just Gillislee. Grantham will respond by turning just a little bit of attention away from Gillislee.

Ask LSU fans how that went.


But the larger point is this—if Gillislee is effective early in the game, then he becomes the most watched player on the field for every play, even when he doesn't get the ball. In fact, he's probably more dangerous when he doesn't get the ball, because when he's just a decoy on a Solomon Patton reverse or a play-action bomb, he's a very effective one. All of the Georgia defense will be watching him, and not the guy who will actually carry the ball. That led to Jeff Driskel putting up numbers that even Tim Tebow could never rack up in the Vanderbilt game.

There's another reason a great start for Gillislee will kill Georgia—the offense always has the advantage over the defense when it comes to making adjustments, because they always have the first move. The defense never gets to call plays to try to avoid the offensive players and move the ball down the field. The offense is the unit that does that. All the defense does is try to react to stop it. It's like a game of chess where all you can do is protect your own king, and you can't make one move to try to get your opponent's king.

To translate that into football talk, Brent Pease gets the first move—running Gillislee. Todd Grantham will then make his first move—trying to stop it. Depending on the success of Gillislee, Pease can then make his second move. If Gilly runs well, then he tries makes Georgia really pay attention to Gillislee and then tries something else, like a reverse to Patton. Grantham will have to respond to that, and once he does, Pease will try something else, and it goes on and on.


The only way Georgia can win this one way chess match is if Grantham comes up with the right responses to every single move Pease makes (and of course, if Georgia's defensive players make the tackles). If even one of Pease's moves can't be stopped by Grantham, Pease will continue to hammer away at Georgia with that same move until either Georgia can stop it or Florida has a 25 point fourth quarter lead.


Now, if you have a great defense like Alabama, there's no problem here, because nobody ever takes Nick Saban's king, so the Crimson Tide can't lose. Their offense just has to do a little bit to win.

But unfortunately for Georgia, they don't employ that defense. So they will have to rely on Todd Grantham's coaching ability to put the players in the right spots, and then of course the players have to make the plays.

All of this is irrelevant if Gillislee can't get started, because then Grantham will already know Pease's next move—to try to get the ball to the outside or deep down the field. His players will be waiting for that so when Pease tries it, they'll be ready. And of course, Gillislee can't get started if the offensive line doesn't get some big push and open holes for him. 

This doesn't mean that the Gators will score a touchdown on every possession, nor do they need to. The key numbers for Florida's offense are 25, two and 10. This means 25 yards, two first downs and 10 minutes of real world time on every possession.

If they can do all the above every single time they have the ball, they will be guaranteed to win the game, because between Kyle Christy's punting and the nasty defense Will Muschamp has built, this pretty much ensures that Georgia will get the ball about 70 yards further back than Florida did to start their previous drive. Either that or inside their own 20 if the Gators start at their own 30 or so. And regardless of where exactly the ball is, the defense will have gotten a 10 minute rest.


That's the worst case scenario, that Florida will always start deep in their own territory.


Let's look at a few other examples of potential starting field position.

If the Gators get the ball at their own 40, 25 yards gets them to Georgia's 35. A 52-yard field goal is definitely within Caleb Sturgis's range. 

If the Gators start at midfield, 25 yards gets them to the Georgia 25. From 42 yards out, Sturgis is pretty much automatic.

I think it goes without saying that if the Gators start inside the Georgia 25, they will score a touchdown.

But the Gators can't expect Georgia to turn the ball over the way South Carolina did. That is extremely unrealistic. 

So in addition to all those 25-2-10 drives, the Gators need two touchdown drives on offense. It doesn't matter how they get them, but unless Georgia does give it away the way the Gamecocks did, the Gators are going to need their offense to generate 14 points without any help from the defense or special teams. The offense can then expect their defense to provide a little bit of help by forcing a turnover in each half, leading to one medium sized field and one very short field, meaning a touchdown and a field goal.

Then assume that Aaron Murray and his offense will put up two touchdowns, and that Georgia's defense will force a semi costly turnover that turns into a field goal.

That adds up to 24-17 in favor of Florida, and I can very much see the game playing out exactly that way. Nothing I said above is unrealistic at all. The hardest thing for Florida to do will be the 25-2-10 plan, but it's well within reach when you remember how bad Georgia's defense is. But this is a very ideal way for the game to play out.

Now, you can tweak the number of turnovers each team will force, and you can change the number of mistakes Florida's defense will make and how many times the Gators don't go 25-2-10 and get different results, but with those numbers in place, I just don't see the Gators losing. 

And of course, the way Florida will succeed in the 25-2-10 plan will be to have big success in the running game. The offensive linemen and Mike Gillislee are the ones who will be responsible for the amount of success the Gators have in the 25-2-10 plan, and ultimately in the game.


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