Predictability an issue on first down

The Gators have run the ball on 78.1% of their first down plays this season. The coaching staff has downplayed concerns with defenses picking up on the trends, but there's still a desire to become more balanced early in the drive. The 175 rushing plays compared to 51 passing plays on first down shows that the Gators need to be more creative and give opposing defenses something else to prepare for.

"Probably a little predictable," Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "Now, we're never going to get it back to balanced because the numbers are so skewed at this time in the season, but we kind of go on a game-to-game basis.

"It's something that we really want to do but based off of game situations, sometimes when defenses sting us a little bit, we put it on maybe the guys up front to see if maybe we can be a little more efficient on first down and get ourselves ahead of the chains if the previous sequence wasn't really that good for us. We've just got to be better earlier on in the game."

The run-heavy numbers on first down produces an opportunity for play action. The Gators tried to set that up some on Saturday, as Pease recalled five play action calls on first down against Georgia, but it didn't always work. The Georgia pass rush was so overwhelming that Jeff Driskel didn't always have time to find the open receiver.

"When we used some play-action on first, second down, and then all of a sudden loosens them up and we kind of get going in a rhythm then the run game hits a lot better. We kind of get a mentality that we're going to come out and do this and they're loading the box, I probably didn't fit as well."

Sometimes, the receivers just weren't open. The Gators struggled to get separation from the Georgia defensive backs on Saturday, and there weren't always receivers open down the field. The Florida coaches have downplayed the issues at wide receiver all season and even this week, but Driskel's targets aren't getting open for him.

The plays directing the ball downfield are still in the playbook, but Pease said they weren't there on Saturday. Whether they were covered or Driskel didn't have enough time, the offensive coordinator wants the position groups around Driskel to perform better and give him a chance to get the ball down the field.

"We want to be effective. We have opportunities," Pease said of the downfield passing game. "We've got to be better blocking and catching it, making a throw. There's all kinds of things involved in it. Sometimes, the call is bad based off the blitz. It's a situational thing. It's not we don't have it in. We have it in. We just have to take advantage of it. It's there and sometimes it's called."

Tight end Jordan Reed leads the Gators in every receiving category—receptions (30), yards (355), touchdowns (3) and yards per game (44.4). For the second straight year, the Gators are looking for a go-to wide receiver to emerge. Quinton Dunbar leads the receivers with 18 catches, totaling 214 yards and two touchdowns, while Frankie Hammond leads the team with 220 yards.

Dunbar and Hammond have been solid this year, but a game breaker hasn't emerge from the group as someone Driskel can go to when he's under pressure.

"Do I see a big-time one? I don't know if I'd say that, but I feel confident in with some of the kids that we have," Pease said. "Do we have to get better? Yeah, we've got to get better everywhere."

The screen game could emerge as an area that jumpstarts the passing game. With Florida's issues in pass protection and picking up blitzes, the screen would be an ideal way for the Gators to offset the pass rush.

They ran a tight end screen to Reed against South Carolina that worked for a big gain, and there was only one called on Saturday against Georgia, going for a big gain to running back Mike Gillislee. It could be a bigger factor if the team focuses more on it during the week of practice.

"If you're going to be good in screens, you have to dedicate some time on it because there's timing involved," Pease said. "There's all kinds of screens. You've got back screens, receiver screens, quick screens. Defenses, we caught them at the right time when we hit Mike (Gillsilee on a screen). They were aggressive. Blitzes were called which is usually when they get the biggest hits. It's just a timing thing."

DRISKEL STILL LEARNING: It was rarely pretty for Driskel on Saturday — throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles — but he faced new looks from the Georgia defense that he hadn't seen as much of in the first seven games of the year.

Despite the struggles, Pease insists that his sophomore quarterback is getting better.

"I know this — as I evaluate him still and work with him, he's doing a lot better job with the pocket," Pease said. "He's sitting in there now. He's taken some hits. The kid's a tough kid. You can see that, and he's not gun-shy back there and he's making his reads and making good throws. There were a couple off of scrambles that he probably wishes he had back, but he's gotten better. There's some that you've got to learn from." ?

The big mistake came late in the first half. The pass rush forced Driskel out of the pocket and to his right. Instead of throwing it away or running out of bounds, Driskel threw back across his body to an open Trey Burton, but the pass was intercepted easily.

Pease said he gladly would have taken an incomplete pass over a touchdown in that situation because it can "develop bad habits."

"What we try to focus on is everything's got to be in line with where you're going, and that's the classic example of 'don't throw across your body' because what you don't see is all the coverage coming to you," Pease said. "You see your guys, but you don't the coverage coming to you. Now, if it's in line with where you're running, yeah, you can probably make that throw. But in that situation where he did, he tried to throw clear back across and he didn't see the guys in coverage building into it because everyone is caving to where you're running to." ?

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