Monday, November 13, 2006

How to Save a Season...

I’m not sure if you heard, but the University of Florida participated in a pretty closely contested football game this past Saturday afternoon. I was prepared for a close game, chock full of could’ve and should’ve beens on both sides of the ball going into this game. I was not, however, prepared for a game that would take approximately five years off of my increasingly short lifespan. Because I’m incapable of discussing Florida Football concisely without parameters under which to work, I’m going to break down my thoughts on Saturday’s win into various topics of note (Note: this is not meant to mean that this post will be concise. Far from it, in fact):

Frustration: This is, without a doubt, the most frustrating 9-1 team in the history of 9-1 teams. Most of my frustration with this team stems from the offense, or more specifically, the offense’s inability to establish any consistent rhythm. There is more talent at the skill positions on this offense than any Gator team since 2001. I would even submit that this team, while not as dynamic at the top of the depth chart as say 2001 or 1996, boasts even more depth at the skill positions than just about any Gator team in the past 20 years. This depth seems to be one of the problems. While this may seem strange, it’s struck me over the past couple of weeks that some of the problem with Florida’s offense is the constant attempt to involve all of Florida’s playmakers as opposed to sticking with the “hot hand”. Instead of punishing defenses with a steady diet of what’s working, Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen too often tries to keep defenses off balance by changing up what is working. By doing this, Mullen allows defenses to regain momentum while also throwing his “hot” playmakers out of their rhythm. Evidence of this can be seen in the stats of DeShawn Wynn against USC. Despite averaging over 7 yards a carry, Wynn was limited to 13 carries for the game. While I’m not saying that Florida should abandon their passing game, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt Florida to call Wynn’s number a few more times on Saturday. Especially in the red zone, where he was completely ignored by Mullen on, not one, but two scoreless trips during Saturday’s game.

Chris Leak: I’m not one of the Florida fans who’ve been calling for Tim Tebow to play more. In fact, I think that the Florida coaching staff has done a great job of putting Tebow into situations that are geared for success. While nobody is denying Tebow’s talent, it should be stated that he is a true freshman with a rudimentary understanding of the passing game. To put him into too many varied situations would not only run the risk of damaging his confidence but also, possibly, result in a season changing turnover (see Shockley, DJ: 2002). For further proof of this, one need only look at Tebow's two passing attempts against USC. On both occasions, Tebow had a receiver open (Dallas Baker & Tate Casey) but focused only on his primary receiver. Thankfully, the result was a couple of incompletions. Things could’ve turned out much worse, especially on Tebow’s first attempt where he tried to squeeze a pass into double coverage in the endzone.

With all of this being said, Chris Leak’s inaccuracy as a passer continues to be his Achilles heel. Simply put, he too often forces his receivers to “make a play” when an accurately thrown ball would result in huge gains. He needed an unbelievable effort from Dallas Baker on his TD pass to avoid a disastrous turnover late in the first half. Beyond that, he badly missed on a couple of other passes that surely would’ve resulted in large gains for the Florida offense. Leak deserves credit for his gutsy running and play calling on the final drive (he checked into both of his draws on the final drive) and he did look more in control of the offense than he has in weeks but he’s still far behind what should be expected of a senior QB who has been starting since the 4th game of his freshman year. In an effort to curb some of these mistakes, I would suggest that Meyer and Mullen employ more basic routes such as shallow crosses and outs. Use of these routes have two positive offshoots, they allow some of Florida’s "playmakers” (Harvin, Ingram, Caldwell) to operate in space while also not forcing Leak to make a perfect throw into tight coverage. The use of these, and other, shorter more basic routes should be viewed as one of the primary reasons that Leak finished Saturday’s game 23-29.

“Cute” playcalling: This was an especially frustrating aspect of Saturday’s game. Nearly every time the Florida had the ball (Only 7 offensive possessions…this clock rule SUCKS!) the offense marched down the field with relative ease only to stall once within South Carolina’s 30 yard line. The main culprit for much of this wasn’t penalties or dropped passes as has so often been the case this year. Rather, it was the playcalling of Dan Mullen. On Florida’s first drive, after moving to the USC 4 yard line, Mullen called for a shovel pass despite the Gamecock’s complete inability to stop the ball being run directly at them. The result? A seven yard loss. This put Florida in a clear passing situation on second and third down and eventually ended in a missed FG by Chris Hetland. More notably, during the fourth quarter, Mullen called a reverse throwback pass at the South Carolina 13 yard line for Andre Caldwell that ultimately resulted in a 16 yard loss. This loss would eventually lead to Florida coming up short on 3rd and 2 and having to settle for a FG. Mullen called a very good game on Saturday, involving many players and keeping USC off balance. However, he nearly cost the Gators the football game by trying to trick his way into the endzone instead of simply lining up with superior talent and forcing Carolina to stop the Florida offense. While this sort of thing may have been somewhat necessary at Mullen’s previous stops, he must realize that, in most cases, his team has a talent advantage and he doesn’t need gimmicks to get 6.

Defense: The Florida defense is officially vulnerable. The loss of Marcus Thomas has been covered here. However, it bears noting that the Gators have given up over five yards a carry since Thomas was booted off the team. This shouldn’t be all that surprising when you consider that Florida is now starting three DEs on their D-Line. Additionally, Florida’s pass rush has suffered without Thomas’ push up the middle. Not only did Florida fail to record a sack for the first time all season on Saturday, they weren’t ever really that close. The loss of a consistent pass rush combined with an inability to stop the run (Siler’s injury could continue to be a BIG factor here) further exposes a thin Florida secondary that has had it’s hands full on numerous occasions this year. While no secondary can survive without an adequate pass rush, Florida’s secondary is absolutely cooked if front seven can’t find a way to put pressure on opposing passer and at least provide a mild resistance to runs up the gut.

Wow, that was awfully negative wasn’t it? It sure was, but what do you expect after a game that was so thoroughly given away by the home team? I can promise you that it would’ve been a whole hell of a lot worse if not for the fantastic hands on one Jarvis Moss. In an effort to at least appear positive, I’d like to specifically site the performances of the following people:

Jarvis Moss: Another in a long line of Jarvis’ at Florida, and now, perhaps the most famous of them all. Moss’s block(s) will go down in Florida history among the greatest moments that the Football team has ever seen. I was at the last game saved by a blocked FG (Auburn 2002) and that was absolute pandemonium in the stands. Considering the stakes involved in this game (on a number of levels) I would imagine that the scene in the stands after this block was somewhere between bat-shit crazy and, well…I guess I don’t have to imagine.

Reggie Lewis: He’s never going to receive enough credit, but for my money, Reggie Lewis made the most important play of the day by anybody not named Jarvis. His perfectly timed slap-away at Sidney Rice’s sure TD catch kept Florida in the game and completely changed the complexion of a second half that seemed to be quickly getting away from the Gators. I’ve watched the replay at least a dozen times and he could not have played the ball or the receiver any better than he did. The fact that he made the play against Sidney Rice made it all the more clutch and spectacular.

Urban Meyer: By now, nearly every Florida fan has commented that “Zook would’ve lost this game”, and they’re right. Personally I don’t think that it would’ve even come down to a FG if Towlie was still running the show in Gainesville. I’m not completely sold on all things Urban just yet, (His team’s still seem a little erratic and sloppy to me for a guy who pushes discipline so much) but he’s instilled a sense of pride and overall toughness in Gator football that I haven’t seen since the mid-90s and that alone is remarkable. His players believe in him and he reflects that belief in his players. He deserves a ton of credit for the changes he’s made in this program.

Florida fans: I wasn’t there but I’ve spoken to two separate people who were in attendance on Saturday who both said that the Swamp was “louder than I’ve ever heard it” on the final USC drive. I’ve been in that Stadium when its so loud that you think the ground is gonna open up right there at the 50 yard line, so it must’ve something special in that Stadium on Saturday night. Florida’s crowd never gave up. Florida’s players never gave up either. Pardon me if I think that there’s some connection there.

Thank god for Western Carolina this week...

21 comments:

Jerry said...

Good post. A couple of things - I've come to the conclusion that there's 2 ways to look at Meyer right now -- his offense is killing the team and preventing explosive players from scoring a lot of points OR well-coached teams win these kind of games. I think they're both right.

Agree completely on the too many weapons thing. Every week Urban says, "we need to get X more involved." Tebow, Wynn, and Harvin are the top tier guys. Baker and Caldwell usually get their action. Then you have guys like Cornelious, Fayson, Ingram, Casey, even James (and I might be forgetting a few). Lots of guys and not enough continuity. I'm not sure what the solution is there.

Even though the offense looked bad on Saturday, it was one of those games where the D makes the O look worse than it really is. They gave up long drives and didn't give didn't give the O enough posessions. They didn't get the ball in plus territory. They just didn't have enough chances to score a lot of points.

Mark said...

I agree with your assesment of Meyer right now. As odd as it sounds, both views are correct.
My only solution for the too many weapons problem is more consistency in playcalling with periodic adjustments based on those of the defense. Unfortunately, thats very hard to do in-game.

You make a great point about the defense. Their inability to stop USC limited the number of possessions for Florida's offense. Even more importantly, the yardage they gave up resulted in Florida beginning each of their 7 possessions inside their own 20 yard line. That's a tough hole to climb out of for even the most dynamic offense.

TJ said...

No, YOU'RE a towel...

Mark said...

How was New Orleans? In retrospect, it's probably good that I didn't join you as I would've been a complete and total mess during Florida's game, especially the 4th.

TJ said...

New Orleans takes a serious toll on the body...and I missed virtually every live minute of every college and pro game over the weekend.

CFunk28 said...

Why doesn't Chris Leak ever fire the ball into a receiver? He always looks like he's throwing off of his back foot.

And not to blame Leak, but he's still not the QB that Meyer needs for this offense. At his first 2 stops he lucked into having the perfect QB already on his rosters in Josh Harris at BG and Alex Smith at Utah.

Greg said...

The Buccaneers are on MNF and I have to work until 1AM. After a "strong weekend". This sucks.

Mark said...

Greg: You didn't miss much. I was so convinced of this that I missed much of the first half to go see Borat. I do not regret my decision.

Not sure why Leak never really lets it rip. I think it's b/c his arm isn't as strong as was originally advertised. His throwing motion probably contributes to this as well. He often throws off his back foot even when not facing pressure. It's an old habit of his that he can't seem to break himself of. You're right about him not fitting the offense. He's programmed and ideally suited to play in a spread attack and no level of adjustment would ever make him an ideal fit for Meyer's offense.

TJ said...

How spicy would you like your Chang sauce?

Mark said...

I missed something...

Greg said...

Timmy Chang?

joe said...

'You're fired.' 'Yeaaa.. you're fired.'

TJ said...

I was doing more Towelie stuff, because I am useless today. Actually, I do that crap all the time, who am I kidding.

Hey Jeff Bowden, you suck.

Mark said...

I thought it might have had something to do with Zook, er, Towlie but I've only the Oprah-Towlie episode once. I've also managed to miss all but one of the new season of South Park. I've got some catching up to do.

Also, in case you didn't know, Timmy Chang is Greg's favorite sub-6 foot asian QB ever. Seriously, ever.

Jerry said...

By the way - the play that was lost in the shuffle of the special teams heroics was Urban's call to go for it on 4th and inches around their own 30. Balls out call. Successful. And the correct call. You don't see stuff like that very often.

Mark said...

It was the correct call (especially when you consider the defenses inability to stop USC at that point) but that didn't change the amount of criticism that he would've taken had they not converted. Huge Balls.

TJ said...

Timmy Chang ain't no Colt Brennan...

Mark said...

How did Colt Brennan being kicked out of Colorado for sexual assault fly under the radar for the last two years?

I know that Hawaii is fairly insignificant on the natioanl college football scene but he's put up some insane numbers out there. Before last week I didn't even realize he had originally gone to CU, much less been booted out of there.

TJ said...

The Gator defense is losing guys like crazy:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss might be suspended for Saturday's game against Western Carolina.

Mark said...

It's for the same damn thing too. Not that I should be throwing stones, but still...

Askinstoo said...

Just Thought I'd Say Hi!!!!


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