Florida was able, for the most part, to overcome its woeful offense in 2012. It played Big, Dumb Will Muschamp football, allowing the defense to carry the load and forge an 11-1 regular season.
But on Saturday afternoon in Miami, the Gators' offense finally caught up with them, turning the ball over five times in a loss to the in-state "rival" Hurricanes. Even though Florida held its opponent to 1-of-11 on third-down conversions and almost doubled Miami's yardage total (413 to 212), it fell from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Much of the blame has been levied at quarterback Jeff Driskel, who was already (to be kind) a marginally unpopular figure in Gainesville. Driskel came to the program with much fanfare, ranking No. 13 on 247Sports' composite rankings, but his tenure with the Gators has been largely disappointing.
Blessed with elite physical gifts—including red-chip mobility—Driskel has never been able to lead a consistent offense. Which makes Muschamp's adjustment fairly clear. Talented as Driskel is, Muschamp either needs to simplify the offense (ironic given the Big, Dumb moniker) or find a quarterback who can run the current system.
The concept of "simplifying" an offense is often misinterpreted. It doesn't mean scrapping all the passes from the playbook, reverting to the 1800s and running from the Flying Wedge formation. It just means taking some decisions out of the quarterback's hands.
Especially in the red zone, Muschamp (and offensive coordinator Brent Pease) needs to give Driskel easy, straightforward, black-and-white reads. The Gators need to run plays that either are or aren't there, so Driskel knows unequivocally whether to throw the ball or run.
This might stunt the offense in places, and over the course of season, it will lead to some field goals where touchdowns are preferred. But it will also lead to some field goals where turnovers might have materialized; and after Florida's performance at Miami, any point scored in the red zone is a good one.
The Gators, as you surely know, had five turnovers in Saturday's loss, and three came inside Miami's 20-yard line. One was a late-first half fumble, but the other two were avoidable interceptions (as if there's any other kind), and both were Driskel's fault.
On the first, he tried too hard to make something happen, scrambling around the pocket and eluding tacklers until he saw (or thought he saw) an open man.
Unfortunately, as it turns out, that man was surrounded by six defenders:
The other red-zone pick was a combo route, a curl-flat option that almost every team has in its playbook. It's unclear whether Driskel missed the open flat receiver with a bad pass or recklessly forced the curl, but one thing is for certain—he screwed up:
Both interceptions came as a result of Driskel's choices. On the first, he opted to extend a play far longer than it needed to be extended and force a pass into traffic. On the second, it looks like he couldn't make up his mind between the two options and panicked.
Muschamp needs to rein in his quarterback and make things as simple as possible. Is it disappointing that a junior, with double-digit starts, needs to work with an underclassman playbook? Absolutely.
Can Florida Win the SEC with Jeff Driskel at Quarterback?
But sometimes you play the hand you're given, and Driskel is more Jack-Nine than pocket Kings.
Florida needs to score whenever it's in the red zone and allow its defense to win games. The offense will never be a juggernaut, but so long as it's competent, the Gators can still score enough points to succeed in the SEC.
Even if it turns some touchdowns into field goals, the safe route might, eventually, create more offensive points in the long run.
Even if the ceiling isn't as high, at least the basement won't be so low.