Azzanni Has Lived Life in the Fast Lane

Florida receiver coach Zach Azzanni has had a tumultuous first year on the job. The Gator offense has looked nothing like the high flying offense he left at Central Michigan or the one we have seen in these parts for quite some time. Saturday, Florida rolled up 34 points and 450 yards with the installment of an up-tempo offense. Azzanni has gotten a lot of the credit for the success in that game.

At Central Michigan, Zach Azzanni was part of a fast paced offense that would come to the line of scrimmage directly after the preceding offensive play and ready to run the next play. The style makes it hard on defenses to call plays and figure out just what is going on.

The offense at Florida has dabbled in it from time to time in the off-season and early this season, but with the offense hitting a wall, the staff decided to try something really new that wouldn't mean changing the entire play book. Head coach urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio looked to Azzanni to help out, someone who had done it for quite a long time.

"It's just my background and the world I have lived in for the last 8-10 years of my career," Azzanni said Wednesday. "I just put it out there on the table and every week we have been a little more and a little more (working on it). We aren't running any new plays or anything. It's just how we are doing it, just to get a spark in the offense. I can't say enough about Coach Meyer and coach Addazio for believing in me and letting me put it out on the table and say, ‘hey, I think this will help us and spark this offense a little bit.'

"We started dabbling a little bit in it on third downs and things and Coach Meyer asked what we could do about it during the bye week. He asked what we could do in our offense without changing who we are. We kind of grew from there. We kind of just mixed it up in a pot, mixed it up, and came up with what you saw against Georgia."

The issue with the speed didn't fall all on the players, it would also have to be dealt with in terms of play calling and getting the plays onto the field. Azzanni was impressed with what they were able to accomplish in such a short period of time.

"Coach Addazio did a great job…he is used to having time in between plays and in huddles," Azzanni said. "He picked it up and ran with it and did a heck of a job. It's not easy to go from huddling and calling a play to reading a wristband and what he did Saturday. That is difficult on a coordinator that has never done that."

There are a lot of factors that go into being able to pull it off and it requires the attention of everyone involved in the offense at all times. "Its little things with the offense and the coaches as far as signaling and things like that…it was all new to the kids and the coaches," Azzanni said. "We came up with a lot of new wrinkles and that is why I was beside myself after that game…excited."

The Oregon Ducks are the flavor of the month in college football with their high scoring and up-tempo offense. They come at you from all angles and they line up for the next play faster than teams can have their defenses ready for the next play…then run the play.

The comparisons have been made already and the coaching staff has been asked a few times if they have tried to replicate the Oregon offense. While, the Florida staff won't argue the success of the Ducks' scoring machine, Azzanni said the Gators are facing a little different scenario when trying to implement their style of the up-tempo.

"We are still a little bit different style than Oregon," Azzanni said. "We run a little bit different style of plays than they do. Our tempo in and out of plays is going to be a little different."

First and foremost in the differences between the two is the fact that Florida wants to and has been using two quarterbacks on offense. It creates a different set of parameters as far as formations and the like. Florida took the chaos created by the sped up offense and added to it when they would line one quarterback up behind center and then motion for the other quarterback to come and take the snap.

This helped add a wrinkle for the defense who would likely call a different defense depending on if junior John Brantley took the snap or freshman Trey Burton. This twist did the job on Saturday.

"This is a little unique," Azzanni said when asked if he had ever been a part of a multiple quarterback up-tempo offense. "I have come from a running quarterback offense like Oregon, so it is a little different. It makes it kind of fun. It makes it very hard on the defense. They have to find people and it's not just the same guys in the backfield. They have to look and say ‘where's 8, where's 12?'. They have to process all of that and it's difficult."

It also means the Florida offense is less likely to alter their play call to counter a defensive formation and call. In turn, Florida is more on the attack mode forcing the defense to react, rather than reacting to the defense.

"Sometimes you line up and you get what you get because you are going fast," Azzanni said. "They are the same plays, but you might go about calling them a little different a little faster, a little multi-purpose."

Florida was able to surprise a lot of people with really minimal practice time in the up-tempo style. The thought moving forward is that practice will help perfect it and they will be doing it as a permanent part of the offense.

"There are different tempos in a no-huddle offense," Azzanni said. "There are different times to go fast and slow…different down and distances and personnel groupings…how do you get those pieces when you don't huddle up and tell everyone…everything from dummy signalers to real signalers to right and left. If you don't live in that world, you really don't understand it.

The players have really bought into it.

"We pretty much have fast, faster, and fastest," he said. "It's all going to be fast and up tempo. There are certain times when we will slow down a little bit, but not necessarily to allow the O-Line to get their breath, but more to mess with the defense. Our O-Line has been great about it. They are the ones that had to buy in. The little skinny guys outside can run all day, it's the big boys that had to buy in and they've been great."

The amazing thing Saturday is that the offense had a couple of hiccups that could be directly attributed to the up-tempo style. In those instances, they seemed to overcome the errors and this is something that should really correct itself as they practice it more.

"They are getting more comfortable every day with it," Azzanni said. "Every day in practice we are learning new things. Like Coach Meyer expressed before, we have had little things happen like procedures and things that we haven't had to work on all summer and spring. Those things are going to happen. (The players) like it and are running with it and going. It's all the same plays, just a different 3ay of doing it."


Azzanni was asked about the ball being spread around to different receivers and more than usual. He brushed it off as just circumstance and the Gators are relying on the same guys that they started the season with, plus Frankie Hammond who was suspended for two games.

"It's really the same guys", he said. "It's Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson, Frankie, Omarius Hines, all the guys I started with. Those guys are banging away at it. Frankie is playing some excellent football and that's why he's getting some more touches."

Hammond had a couple of off the field issues during the off-season and missed the first two games. He is off scholarship for the time being, but does everything they ever ask of him as a player and a member of the team.

"I can't say enough about that kid," Azzanni said about Hammond. "You talk about a kid that came from the abyss and made an awful choice in his life and he learned from it. He's still doing all the things off the field he needs to do. Now he has come to work every day and shut his mouth and is working hard. He's become one of the best football players on the team and I am very proud of him."

Hammond has turned into a reliable receiver that is starting to make big plays at opportune times for John Brantley and the Gators.

"He's just a hard worker," Azzanni said. "He is a great football player. He has a knack for the game. He has a feel for football. He feels plays, feels defenses, it is a little more natural for them."


The receiver injury update for Wednesday night included remarks about freshmen receivers Andre Debose and Robert Clark. Both missed the game Saturday with ankle injuries and missed the first part of the week of practice. Azzanni said both are getting a little better.

"They are coming along," he said of the two. "Both practiced today (Wednesday)."
Follow Bob Redman on

Fightin Gators Top Stories