In 2005, Urban Meyer took over Ron Zook's pro–style Florida Gators, and their mostly traditional quarterback, Chris Leak. Gator fans will remember the season as "frustrating." Leak did not adjust well to the spread offense that Meyer ran, and the Gators were a middle-of-the-pack team, offensively.
In 2006, Meyer brought in 5-star option quarterback Tim Tebow among other standouts of what would become the greatest recruiting class in Florida Gators history. With Tebow's familiarity with the zone read and his freakish athletic ability, Urban decided to use a two-quarterback offense, a scheme that was controversial at the time.
Tebow handled much of the option offense, while Leak was the passer and 1st-and-10 guy. The offense improved by about 20 yards per game, scored an additional point per game, and improved immensely in third-down conversions from 38.1 percent to 44.3 percent. The Gators' record improved too, from 9–3 to 13–1 with better postseason hardware.
Thanks to the success of Florida, Arkansas, and a few other teams' offense during 2006, the dual quarterback/wildcat has been elevated from gimmicky, small-time offense reserved for WAC teams to a legitimate NFL scheme.
Florida dropped the scheme during the next three seasons because it was unnecessary. Tebow was the most efficient passer in SEC history, and one of the top five most efficient quarterbacks in NCAA history. There was no reason to delegate passing to anyone else.
However, there was an expiration date on the Tebow offense. Urban Meyer recruited two potential successors, a Tebow clone in Cam Newton, and a highly rated traditional passer, John Brantley. Obviously, Newton is no longer with the Gators, and Brantley has become the guy.
Prior to this season, Brantley's athleticism was unknown. He had been Tebow's understudy for three seasons, but because of Tebow's class-leading durability, Brantley only saw the field in mop-up duty, where the option was no longer necessary.
The first two games of the 2010 season put to rest any hopes that Brantley could continue to run Urban's high-octane offense. Brantley is wholly uncomfortable running any read play, and the offense struggled through three games while the coaches tried to figure out what to do.
Urban Meyer must have turned to the 2006 Kentucky game during game-planning last week, because the Gators offense that showed up was eerily familiar to that national championship team's.
Brantley carved up Kentucky's offense, while the true freshman handled the red zone offense. The result was Florida's best offensive showing of the season, Brantley's career high for passing, and a Gators record for touchdowns scored by Trey "très bien" Burton.
Burton's performance will obviously be the highlight remembered from the Kentucky game. Scoring as many touchdowns in one game as any other SEC player had up to that point in the season tends to be memorable. Burton scored on every rush attempt, found the end zone on one of his five catches, and completed a 42-yard pass for good measure.
In a game that could have been Randall Cobb's coming out party, Burton stole the show as Mr. Versatility.
Lost in the shuffle of media OMG-ness, was Brantley's performance. Brantley went 24-35 for 248 yards a touchdown and an interception. Once again, Brantley was masterful on 3rd- and-long. The Gators converted 7–11 third downs including John Brantley passes on two 3rd-and-6s, a 3rd-and-10, and a 3rd-and-12.
Brantley was able to do what he does best, pick through secondaries, without trying to fit his square peg–self in Urban's round hole option offense. Like Leak, Brantley didn't seem fazed by the delegation of duty. However, Brantley was never pulled midfield or mid–drive with Burton only taking over inside of the 15-yard line so it's tough to say how he'll react if the system is expanded next week.
Overall, it was a good showing against a team that was the "upset special" pick for a lot of pundits. Meyer again showed that he can make lemonade out of just about anything that's handed to him, and left Saban and Alabama scrambling to game-plan for an out-of-nowhere playmaker.
Florida may never recapture the unbelievable explosiveness of the spread under Tebow, but they may have found enough of a winning formula to succeed in Brantley and Burton's version of the 2006 offense.
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