The Disintegration of the Florida Gators Offense in the Post-Tebow Era

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 14, 2013

Florida QB Tyler Murphy
Florida QB Tyler MurphyDerick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

It was never supposed to be like this. Not at Florida.

When Tim Tebow was taking the snaps in Gainesville, the Florida Gators were an offensive machine that led the conference in total offense every season from 2006-2009.

But Tebow's departure following the 2009 season was the start of a slow disintegration of the Florida offense to a point where, now, it's a shell of its former self. 

The Gators averaged more than 450 yards per game in each of the seasons in which Tebow was the starting quarterback (2007-09), but they have struggled to crack 350 yards per game since his departure.

How did it get to this point?

 

The John Brantley Era

John Brantley was supposed to come in and keep the Gator train rolling in the right direction. A 4-star pro-style quarterback according to Rivals.com, the Ocala, Fla., native came to Florida with a ton of hype. But in former head coach Urban Meyer's offense, which thrives with a dual-threat quarterback, he was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.

Former Florida QB John Brantley
Former Florida QB John BrantleySam Greenwood/Getty Images

He threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine) in his first season as Florida's starting quarterback, which was Meyer's last with the program.

There was some uncertainty about Brantley's future in Gainesville after the Gators brought in new head coach Will Muschamp and pro-style offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

Brantley chose to stick around.

"Fortunately for [Brantley], what he does the best athletically, it fits with what I like to do," Weis told Mark Schlabach of ESPN in the spring of 2011. "Now that doesn't guarantee him a spot, but it gives him an upper hand with the experience that he has now fitting into an offense that fits what he does. I think that gives him a pretty good chance."

With Weis, though, things got worse.

Florida averaged just 328.7 yards per game and sputtered to a 7-6 record in Muschamp's first year at the helm. Brantley missed two games with a leg injury in the middle of the season, completed 60 percent of his passes, tossed 11 touchdowns and threw seven interceptions during his senior season.

Former Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis (left) and QB John Brantley
Former Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis (left) and QB John BrantleyKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

 

Where Are the Running Backs?

Meyer didn't recruit a football team, he recruited a track team to run his offense. Because Brantley was at the helm during the transition and wasn't much of a running threat, the offense struggled.

Former Florida RB Jeff Demps
Former Florida RB Jeff DempsSam Greenwood/Getty Images

Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey led the Gators in rushing in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Both are a bit on the smaller side, had track backgrounds and are best when they get the ball in space and can show off their speed and quickness. That's a hallmark of the Meyer offense, but not necessarily the one Muschamp wanted to implement.

Track guys can be successful—just look at Georgia's Todd Gurley—but when Muschamp took over in 2011, neither of them had the durability to get 20 or more carries per game consistently.

It wasn't until Weis left for Kansas and Brent Pease was hired to run Florida's offense that the Gators finally settled on a reliable option at running back.

Former Florida RB Chris Rainey
Former Florida RB Chris RaineySam Greenwood/Getty Images

 

The Script Gets Flipped

In 2012, Florida found itself in the thick of the BCS National Championship race specifically because of its running back. 

Florida RB Mike Gillislee
Florida RB Mike GillisleeKevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Gillislee emerged as a reliable every-down force, earning 244 carries for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 18.77 carries per game.

It was an impressive season from Gillislee, especially considering everyone on the planet knew he was getting the ball.

"He's a guy who brings his lunch pail to work every day," head coach Will Muschamp told MiamiDolphins.com this summer. "He's an extremely hard worker, he's got good lateral quickness and can get vertical in the hole quick. He's tough, hard-nosed and can play every down because he can protect on third down."

That was the problem, though. Florida's offense was one-dimensional by necessity, due in part to the lack of weapons at wide receiver and in part due to quarterback Jeff Driskel's reluctance to even attempt to stretch the field.

Florida finished last in the SEC in passing offense in 2012 with 146.3 yards per game, and the offensive woes continued.

Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Florida QB Jeff DriskelKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

 

Driskel's 2013 Season Ends

While Florida's offense moved the ball in a 21-16 loss to Miami in Week 2, red-zone turnovers prevented the Gators from making a big dent on the scoreboard despite 291 passing yards from Driskel—a career high.

Florida QB Jeff Driskel
Florida QB Jeff DriskelMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In the first half of Florida's Week 3 game with Tennessee, Driskel broke his leg and was lost for the season.

Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy has been decent in his stead, completing 66.7 percent of his passes and throwing only one pick, but it's clear that the Gators are still committed to being conservative on offense.

Florida's offensive woes came to a head on Saturday, when the Gators managed just 240 yards and managed just 3.53 yards per play in a 17-6 loss to LSU—a defense that struggled to find an identity leading up to that point.

 

When Will It Turn Around?

If you're waiting for Florida to go back to the good 'ole days with a high-octane offense, you'll be waiting a while.

Muschamp and Pease seem content with a conservative, ball-control offense that emphasizes time of possession and relies on defense. Solomon Patton's emergence as a reliable target helped Driskel and is helping Murphy; but under Muschamp, Florida won't be a team that routinely stretches the field and dances around 450 yards per game.

But 400 yards per game can and will happen soon.

Two of Murphy's three games as the starting quarterback have been on the road, and the coaching staff was smart to keep things simple. But as the year goes on, expect more spread elements to be implemented to bring out one of Murphy's strengths and kick-start the offense. 

That will help Murphy this season and Driskel when he returns next season since he has similar attributes. 

Florida has the players to be successful.

Matt Jones proved to be a solid every-down back before a torn meniscus ended his season, Mack Brown filled in nicely earlier this season and Kelvin Taylor looked like a future superstar, rushing for 52 yards on Saturday against LSU. Patton's emergence, combined with Quinton Dunbar and a solid wide receiving corps from last year's class, indicates that the talent is there.

It's just taking a little longer to come together than Gator fans would like.