How the Florida Gators managed to win 11 games last season is still amazing when you consider the circumstances. Sure, the defense and special teams were some of the best in the country, but finishing 104th in college football in total offense usually doesn't reward positive results.
No matter how great your defense is you still need to score points, and the Gators hard a hard time doing that a season ago.
The team will return many key offensive players from last season and should benefit from yet another solid recruiting class. But why should Gator fans believe that next season is going to be any different? Better yet, what were the real reasons this offense couldn't find any success last season?
Florida enters the upcoming season as a potential SEC contender, which usually means that said team has a chance to reach the national championship. However, the offense provides more than enough reasons for why many are hesitant to pick this team to be as successful as it was back in 2012.
Let's take an inside look at what has gone wrong with the Florida Gators' offense.
Since we are talking about an SEC offense, it is only right that we take a hard look at the offensive line first. Without being strong up front, you simply aren't going to succeed in this conference. Florida was great at bullying defenses in the running department. But in pass protection, particularly against elite defensive lines, the Gators fell apart.
Florida finished dead last in the SEC last season with 39 sacks allowed. While 18 sacks given up in eight games aren't exactly pretty, a 2.25 sacks per game average is much better than the three that were surrendered on average.
As you can see in the graph, a lot of the sacks given up were against some of the best defenses in the SEC. This happened for a combination of reasons. The offensive line was banged up at times, guys just weren't cut out for the job and quarterback Jeff Driskel didn't use his athleticism when pressure was getting to him.
I will never understand how a quarterback as athletic as Driskel could just stand in the pocket as if he was Peyton Manning or a 45-year-old Brett Favre. If you have the ability to slide out of the pocket when guys are getting into your face, you do just that. If you are struggling to find somebody open and you feel hot breath on the back of your neck, you take off and pick up what you can get. There were times when Driskel moved around, but other times he simply tried to do way too much.
The game against Texas A&M was pitiful as far as pass protection is concerned, but wasn't entirely the fault of the offensive line. Here you see Driskel rolling out of the pocket against the Aggies, as he clearly has nobody open. But instead of throwing the ball away, he steps out of bounds and takes a huge loss, knocking the Gators completely out of field-goal range.
There was also the play against LSU that would have forced me to pull every strand of hair out of my head if I was the head coach. Driskel did a nice job rolling out of the pocket and trying to buy himself more time. The defender that is circled was just pushed to the side by the young quarterback. Now is the time to throw the ball away, right? Nope. Driskel ends up forcing things and eventually ends up getting sandwiched by both LSU defenders closest to him.
We can break down these sack plays all day long, but the offensive line wasn't as bad as the statistics indicate. Yes, the unit had its fair share of issues, and injuries didn't help that.
But just by making better decisions with the ball, using the athleticism and knowing when to get rid of the football, Driskel would have helped those sack numbers improve drastically. That then takes away so many impossible first-down attempts and should help the offense become more effective.
It Isn't All the Fault of the QB
If you ask around, most Florida fans will tell you that Driskel isn't the quarterback of the future, and he doesn't have what it takes to get the job done. When you have seen Rex Grossman, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow over the years, this fan base can easily start to show off its spoiled ways. The truth is that not everything was the young man's fault for why the offense completely failed.
The first thing I would like to point out is the differences in throwing the ball on certain downs. All of the top quarterbacks in the SEC last season were used more on first down than any other down.
Driskel had more passing attempts on second and third down than he did on first. What makes these numbers even more bizarre is that Driskel and his completion percentage of 64.5 on first down was significantly better than 53.2 on third down.
With this being the case, why is Driskel the one counted on to bail the team out late in the drive? Wouldn't you rather mix things up a bit and see what he could do on first down? Running the ball early and then leaning on your quarterback only when you have to is not the recipe for success.
Now I'm not saying throwing the ball on first down instantly removes all worries and the Gators offense will immediately turn into the Oregon Ducks. But these numbers tell you that the coaching staff wasn't completely confident in Driskel's ability. It also shows that the offensive game plan was way too predictable. Having some type of confidence in the quarterback wouldn't hurt.
If you watched this quick 16-minute video, you would see the same stuff being run over and over again. Nearly every play is behind the line of scrimmage—a screen play or a short slant that doesn't go anywhere unless a receiver breaks a tackle or two.
If you and I can soon pick these things up by watching this, you can bet your bottom dollar defensive coordinators have learned the offense as well.
Speaking of receivers, how many dropped passes were there last season? There isn't an official statistic out there for dropped passes at the college level, but I'm sure Florida would have been towards the top if there were.
Whether it was this dropped pass on a simple screen against Bowling Green State, or a more costly dropped pass against Texas A&M which would have resulted in a touchdown, they all added up and helped contribute to the offensive struggles.
Will the offense be better next season?
As for the lack of risk this offense took last season, you can look at offensive coordinator Brent Pease. There was excitement last season when he came out of Boise State because he does have a creative imagination, as his offense includes a lot of shifts and motions to put guys in a position to succeed.
But at the end of last year, he didn't seem too concerned, telling
“(My) offensive philosophy has always been a focus on no turnovers, which we’ve been good on all season,’’ Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said.
Florida did have the third-best turnover margin in the SEC at 1.15, and the 15 turnovers total was tied with Alabama for the fewest in the conference. However, basing offensive success simply on not turning the ball over isn't going to cut it.
Pittsburgh only turned the ball over 10 times last year and finished with a losing record. Nebraska coughed the ball up 35 times and still managed to compete for a conference title.
It should be obvious to anybody that a high turnover margin isn't going to produce many victories, but being satisfied ranked 12th in the SEC in total offense because you aren't giving the ball away is not the way to go. You can't have a conservative mindset and run a "not to lose"-type offense, and then be upset that you aren't lighting up the scoreboard.
Florida must run more vertical plays, take more chances and start believing in Driskel to get the job done. It is the only way the Gators will legitimately become a national title contender.