The frustration is starting to show on the coaches and head coach Will Muschamp said as much as the offensive staff keeps examining what they can do.
"We're looking for answers right now, offensively. We're working diligently as a staff to find what we can do to move the ball and score points," Muschamp said Tuesday. "We certainly understand that in the last three games we haven't done that effectively enough, regardless of the circumstances and the situation. We have to find ways to move the ball and score. We do feel like we left some plays on the field against Auburn as far as having some opportunities to make some plays, and we just didn't quite get it done. That's frustrating.
Indeed, there were a lot of opportunities that were left on the field Saturday night in Auburn. A wide open Jordan Reed was overthrown for what would have been a touchdown. On the Gators last drive Deonte Thompson was overthrown for what would have been a drive saving reception that instead turned the ball over.
There were a lot more errant plays, and whole those were from the quarterback position, others need to step up while the freshmen quarterbacks ‘find their way' after taking over for injured senior starter John Brantley.
It is hard to blame the quarterbacks for their play. As a matter of fact, as much as this piece is about players needing to step up, the staff has been honest about their negligence in having backup quarterbacks ready to play instead of injury.
What we are getting from the QB's is a youngster in Jeff Driskel that seems to know the plays better than his counterpart Jacoby Brissett, but is also less aware of a pass rush as he scopes the play, and maybe a bit too anxious while overthrowing the football. That should be expected from a young guy thrust into service and under dire circumstances of the last three weeks.
As for Brissett, he too gets a pass for not being totally effective right now. The true freshman hardly practiced the offense for six weeks this fall as he was on his way to a redshirt. Now, he has been pressed into starting duty on the road in the most hostile environments in college football and with very good teams. He does present more poise in the pocket ad buys himself time, but has made the wrong throw a few times to guys that are covered. Again, that is all understandable at this point.
The others around the two are the guys that need to take charge and help these young guns out. When a play presents itself, make it.
You would have to say that the running back position has been the most reliable and best weapon on offense so far this season. They were bottled up too much against Alabama, and being one dimensional against LSU and Auburn hurt their production, but we are seeing plays made at running back. Muschamp agrees.
"Chris Rainey had done some really nice things, but we have to do more in the run game to help him," Florida's first time head coach said. "Mike Gillislee and Jeff Demps and Hunter Joyer, who is having a great freshman year, all of those guys have been productive. Trey Burton has done a really nice job in the package we have developed with him. We've been able to move the football in the last two games using that package, so we'll continue to build on that.
"Our running back position, having two or three of them on the field has been our most productive set as far as what we've done in the last few weeks."
The injury to Jeff Demps has been an issue, especially when they would like to have more backs on the field as Muschamp said. Still, injuries are part of the game and something they have to work through.
The staff could start by doing whatever they have to do to get more of a power runner into the game. The teams with better speed on defense have shown they can stop one speedster on the field (Rainey), when two are not available. The Gators have also shown that they can run up the middle more successfully when it is done by Gillislee and some from Trey Burton.
It is this man's opinion that they have to utilize Gillislee and Burton better and more often in the interior running game. I also understand that the playbook may be limited when Gillislee is in the game because of his knowledge of that book. At this point, what options do they have? Not many as they have already found out.
One option I wish they would explore is making Burton more of a traditional tailback. Here is a guy that the staff constantly says understands things inside the playbook better than most or all. He also has the ability to run with the ball. His blocking ability could be better, but no one doubts his ability to get three to four tough yards. So, line him up with Rainey as split backs and occasionally run him inside, if anything to keep defenses honest on the outside and to open up for play action.
And to be honest, a better passing game with receivers doing some things would help out the running game. Muschamp agreed, "We need more production and more threats from the wide out position to take positive steps from (the running game). "
To this point, the receivers have shown to be just okay, but outside the often injured Andre Debose, there has not been a consistent guy to make a big time play. You could say, Debose has been the only one to make more than one big play this entire short season. This has been a real issue with this offense and I do believe they gave the older guys more than enough time to show they can do it.
"Frankie Hammond has been our most consistent receiver if you look as far as our seven-game season," Muschamp said. "Andre Debose has done some nice things as far as making big plays for us vertically down the field, but we need more play-making ability outside and more consistent play as far as the wide receiver position.
"At times, that has been the frustrating thing. We've seen some flashes of positive things from Quinton [Dunbar], Deonte [Thompson], Frankie and Andre, and other guys when they've had some opportunity. It just has to be the consistency in performance. That is where we're lacking a little bit. From an offensive standpoint, you want to put your playmakers on the field."
What can they do? Well, they know the personnel better than I do, but I really haven't seen it from anyone but Debose at this point. If you actually had a Demps, Rainey, Burton, and Debose all on the field at the same time or even three of the four, you can play with the other guys not being magicians. But, that has happened very little because of injury. This is definitely a place they need to recruit and hit on.
Guys like Thompson and Hammond can still be utilized but it certainly appears you can't have all of those types on the field at the same time. Maybe Omarius Hines is some kind of solution here, again, I am not watching practice.
"We need more production from the tight end position – we have had our opportunities," Muschamp said and he is right. Jordan Reed has had more than his fair share of chances to make a play and has come up short quite a few of those times. We all know he has the physical ability to do it, but maybe he just needs more time as a non-quarterback to get a feel of making plays on the other end of a pass. He has hurt this offense the last couple of weeks because he has been in a position to make a play and hasn't done so.
We have seen some from Gerald Christian and honestly that is where I would lean right now. It isn't just the long touchdown pass he caught against Kentucky, the third and 11 pass he caught for the first down to start that game was a bigger play and showed me a lot. He knew where the first down marker was and he made the play that had to be made.
I have seen A.C. Leonard do some great things in high school, but he made himself a liability a few times in the last few games and so I understand the hesitation there in playing him right now.
"We felt comfortable about our tight end position being a position that we could make some plays from," Muschamp said Monday. He certainly had Leonard and Reed in mind when he said it and they just haven't been able to get great production out of two premium athletes.
I am not as down on the offensive line as most are. There have been issues all over the offense that absolutely changes the play of the line including the mere presence of different quarterbacks in relation to the cadence and voice inflection that may cause a lineman to jump off-sides.
I also think they have protected and blocked well for the most part. Still, Muschamp is a little frustrated with their work up front despite acknowledging all of these concerns.
"Consistency is the word we're looking for – that's what has been frustrating," he said. "You also have to see the big picture of things. Obviously, John Brantley's injury has set us back a little bit as far as where we are at offensively. Now we're facing a lot of run boxes. People are going to stop the run and challenge us down the field. That's really what we're seeing right now – the extra man in the box. We're seeing some situations where it is a little more difficult to run the football. Again, I'm not making excuses, I'm being factual. That's really as much as anything, facing good team's number one, and number two, facing some extra folks in the run game has been a little bit of our difficultly in running the football at this time."
I still see it as a personnel issue, and kudos to Muschamp for not throwing a player under the bus. It is amazing to me again that the run blocking for the straight ahead run game improves when Gillislee is in the game. It just seems hard for me to fathom that all of a sudden the linemen block better for a new guy that hardly runs the ball. To me it just says that Gillislee is a better inside runner and maybe they aren't as effective with the other two guys doing it, because they aren't as good as it.
Muschamp and I also agree that the pass protection and sacks aren't fair to totally judge the offensive line on because with the young quarterbacks in the game, so many things come into play. Is the line totally innocent of allowing sacks? No. They can do better, but teams are attacking these young signal callers.
"I think it's a little mixture of a lot of things, Muschamp said of all the pressure on the quarterbacks. "From a protection standpoint, and it doesn't all go on the offensive line, we need to get open down the field a little more, holding the ball a little bit more at the quarterback position because of uncertainty and the number of reps. I think it's a combination of things. I don't want to sit and point at one thing and say that is what it is. I think that is too difficult to say."
They do need better line play and to this point Muschamp can only name two guys that have played well enough to deserve some kudos.
"This far into the season with seven games, Jon Halapio has probably been our most consistent performer [on the offensive line], and Matt Patchan has played really well in the last two football games – we just need more consistent play there," the head coach said.
As I mentioned above the Florida staff has had some issues with the way they handled things given the injury circumstances. Not preparing a backup quarterback better is the biggest issue to date with this team. I also believe they have mishandled some talent on this team. Guys like Gillislee, Debose, Rainey, Demps, Burton, and maybe to a lesser degree Christian, need to be on the field as much as possible.
The real problem is, that isn't enough. The Gators need a tight end to do some damage and they need at least two more receivers that can really make plays. Are those guys on the roster? We have to find out and fast. And they have a lot to learn in the process.