Sure, Urban Meyer’s spread offense with Tim Tebow has outscored every team this year, but the harsh reality is that opposing defenses have figured out how to slow this season's version of the Gator spread.
Review the offensive performance of the Gators over the last three years and you will find one key factor that separates the 2009 squad from the rest…
Opposition cornerbacks are no longer padding the flanks.
In the previous two seasons, Gator wideouts earned soft corner coverage off the line due in part to the frequent success of the 20-plus yard passing game. For the most part, opposing defenses chose to guard against the long ball even at the expense of containing sweeps and wide options.
This season, Gator opponents face a very limited long passing threat and their cornerbacks are now crowding the line—and are doing so with terribly effective results.
Here’s how tight corner coverage impacts Florida and what Meyer, Steve Addazio, and Tebow need to do to remove this threat and put the “Mighty” back into the Gator offense.
Corner Problem One:
First, tighter coverage puts the corners much closer to the line and this impacts how Gator sweeps and options develop.
The growing trend finds that Chris Rainey, Jeffrey Demps, and Tim Tebow are meeting the opposition sooner on sweeps resulting in an early cut up-field or more effort moving laterally.
It’s simple…if you want to get a corner to back off the line you must give him a reason to do so.
First, Meyer and his offensive coordinator Steve Addazio should call a simple deep burn route at least once a drive. Even if Tebow is instructed to overthrow the receiver, the impact this will have on the defense will be well worth the effort.
If anything, the Gators have to keep the defensive backfield honest. Who knows, Tebow may actually connect on a few of these then the defenses would have no choice but to play a bit safer.
Corner Problem Two:
Tight coverage of the Gator wideouts is wrecking the currently employed short passing game.
Tebow is not finding many early open targets and is often found waiting for plays to develop—sometimes with disastrous results.
The Gator wideouts are attempting to execute designed routes that rely on speed and moves to create openings downfield. Meyer is executing a passing attack based on talent alone and the results have not been positive.
Florida needs to embrace a different version of a short passing game.
The successful use of five-to-15 yard timing routes will generate much needed passing yardage and also help push the corners back as well. Play action speed slants would also give the Gator offense a boost and help corral the linebackers.
Nothing spells trouble for a sticky corner like a well timed down and out especially if the receiver is Riley Cooper and the pass is thrown a bit wide.
Timing routes penalize defenders that play too close or too aggressively. Meyer needs to make these passes and quick slants, a staple for the passing game.
Corner Problem Three:
Opposing safeties are having a much greater impact on the game now that the corners are bottling things up for the Gators.
In the past, safeties that faced the Gators had one job… stand deep, wait for the play to develop, then try to help stop it.
This year, they face no deep passing threat and are inching closer to the play zone. A review of statistics shows that safeties are assisting on tackles much closer to the line of scrimmage than ever before.
It also means that they feel confident enough to play risky. The Gators are seeing safeties breaking on passes sooner and covering runs as they develop in the backfield with little regard for the consequences of committing early.
The Gators have to use Brandon James more.
Deonte Thompson is back but he’s marked. Cooper is competent but doesn’t influence the defense with his presence. Put James into the mix and you have three speed threats that will result in a defense no longer willing to gamble on tight early coverage.
Seeing James line up in the wideout position, or in motion, also carries the threat of a run option. If he helps freeze the linebackers by his presence then pursuit on the flanks has been slowed.
Corner Problem Four:
Tight corner coverage is also contributing to making life miserable in, and out of, the pocket for Tebow.
When “dropping back” to pass, Tebow often finds that every one of his receivers is covered off the line. He cannot even check off and dump the ball short since the crowding makes any pass extremely vulnerable.
To make matters worse, Tebow’s reluctance to throw a ball away and his determination to find an open target make him an easy target once the traditional “five-plus-one” offensive line front gets overwhelmed.
Hurried tosses, running out of the pocket, poor throws off balance, interceptions, and fumbles ensue.
The solutions already mentioned above will do wonders to make the pocket a better place for Tebow but there is one other thing Meyer can do to immediately improve the situation…the use of a fullback.
Meyer has a few of them and they all know how to block AND power rush.
Sure, including a fullback in the lineup removes one element of speed from the play, but with as little progress the passing game is currently making this sacrifice is welcome.
The gig is up for the Gator offense on predictable passing plays. Opponents are blitzing more frequently and with practically every position available. Until the offense burns the corners back off the line Tebow could use an honor guard in the pocket.
If Gator opponents are squeezing the line with success every game it would be silly not to expect Georgia to do so with similar results. It should be obvious to Meyer that steps like these are needed not only to protect Tebow and get his offense more productive but to create some positive momentum for the home stretch of the season.