If you follow college football meticulously, you have to appreciate the job Coach Urban Meyer has done in the last four seasons at the University of Florida. In four years the Florida Gators have won two conference titles and two BCS National Championships while compiling a 44-9 record. During the four seasons prior to Meyer's arrival in Gainesville, Florida posted a record of 33-17, 28th best in the nation. Meyer's current winning percentage is fifth best in the nation, surpassing Steve Spurrier's first four years at Florida (39-10-0).
For those thinking Florida's success is mainly due to the merit of Tim Tebow, Florida was 22-4 before Tebow started and 22-5 since he became the starter. The Gators won their first national title under Coach Meyer without Tebow as the starting quarterback. Does Tebow make Florida a better team? Certainly he does but the major reason for Florida's recent success is Meyer's adaptability of his offense and a very sound defense to go along with great team speed.
Of Meyer's four Florida teams, three of them have finished the season ranked in the top 10 of total defense. Two of his defenses also finished ranked in the top 10 of scoring defense and his 2005 unit was 18th in scoring defense. He has adjusted his offense every season and his current offense has clearly become the preeminent offense in the Southeastern Conference. Urban Meyer's philosophy on the both sides of the ball as well as special teams is the "model" Gene Chizik should consider as he takes over as the new Auburn head football coach.
Running the ball...
During the six seasons prior to Meyer's arrival at Florida, the Gators had a total of eight games, where they rushed for at least 200 yards. In the last four seasons, Florida has totaled 21 games of 200 or more yards rushing, including 16 in the past two seasons. His version of the spread offense is designed to attack the opponent with a balanced offense, built around a stable running game. The 2008 Florida offense was one of only 14 offenses that averaged more than 170 yards rushing and 200 yards passing this past season. Of those 14 teams, eight teams finished with a record of 10-3 or better.
Three of those 14 teams also had a top 10 defense, combining for a record of 36-4 this past season. One other team from the SEC made the list of 14, which was the Ole Miss Rebels. By the end of the season Ole Miss was playing exceptional football on offense as well as defense. Houston Nutt always had a remarkable running game at Arkansas but his teams lacked defense. The 2008 Ole Miss Rebels finished the season at No. 19 in yardage allowed. Nutt finally had a solid defense to complement his offense as the Rebels were the only blemish on Florida's schedule.
During the 1992 season SEC teams totaled 44 games of 200 yards rushing. By 1999 the total had dropped to just 17 as the majority of teams within the conference were adjusting their offenses to match the offensive production of the Florida Gators under Spurrier. In 2005 SEC teams combined for 25 200-yard rushing games, which increased to 32 in 2006 and 49 in 2007. There were 42 games of 200 yards rushing in 2008.
During this past season Alabama had six games of 200 yards rushing, which equaled the total of their previous three seasons combined. Added to the success of a well-built running game, Alabama also fielded a top 10 defense which took them to 12-0 and the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide dropped their last two games of the season but it was testimony again that a combination of a good running game with a great defense can result in a momentous season. In the end, Alabama's inability to pass the ball when it was needed resulted in their downfall and having a balanced attack with a strong defense can bring home championships. During this current decade, six SEC teams including the 2008 Florida Gators have averaged more 170 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. Those six teams combined for a record of 70-10, which included the 2004 and 2005 Auburn Tigers.
Chizik's hiring of Gus Malzahn is a persuasive indicator of the direction he wants the offense moving. With his three-year experience as a defensive coordinator at Auburn, Chizik has first hand knowledge of the speed and defensive capabilities of the other teams within the conference. Since the SEC's expansion in 1992, seven conference teams have won a national championship not including Auburn's 1993 and 2004 teams that went undefeated. There is no doubt that no other conference can equal the Southeastern Conference in defense.
Meyer has laid the foundation for success not only within the conference but also at a national level. It should not be surprising that Coach Chizik sought Coach Malzahn because his offense is very similar in schematics currently deployed by the Florida Gators. It should also be noted that both of Malzahn's offenses at Tulsa also made the list of offenses that averaged 170 yards rushing and 200 passing. Auburn established itself as one of the better defenses in the nation under Tommy Tuberville with the assistance of Chizik as an assistant. The time has come to do the same on the offensive side of the football.
The schemes and foundation will be established in 2009 but Auburn will need to improve recruiting to make its mark offensively on a national level. In 1990, Spurrier and the Gators flipped the Southeastern Conference upside down with its wide-open offense. Meyer's current tenure at Florida has been just as impressive, especially when you look only at the final results. Chizik has a plan in place and he hasn't wasted time implementing it. He has hired two respected coordinators and the assistant coaches needed to produce the talent to execute their schemes. Hopefully in time, Auburn will become the beast in the West that Florida currently holds possession of in the East.