Matthews optimistic about Roper’s offense

Shane Matthews liked what he saw on the practice field this spring. The Gators broke in their new offense under first-year coordinator Kurt Roper, and the former Florida quarterback believes the new scheme in Gainesville will be effective.

“What I liked the most is he’s going to take his playmakers and put them in space,” Shane Matthews said on Wednesday. “That’s what college football has gone to and basically what football in general has gone to now. It doesn’t matter how good a linebacker or defensive back you may be, if you’re one-on-one, it’s hard to make a tackle. That’s what he’s going to do. This offense relies on playmakers getting in space and making plays.”

The scheme will look drastically different from what Florida has used in recent years under Muschamp. Matthews even went as far as calling it “night and day.” The offense will still be based around its running game. Will Muschamp made that clear in the spring and during his recent media outings at SEC Media Days and the ESPN car wash on Tuesday.

Matthews pointed to the Alabama offense. They still used the running game in a big way, but they also could spread the field and let former quarterback A.J. McCarron pick opponents apart.

“Florida is still going to run the football, but I just like how creative Roper is,” Matthews said. “You look and see what he did at Duke, and granted I think Duke has better athletes than people give them credit for, but he was able to move the ball against the Florida States and teams that are better than Duke. He can take the Florida talent and turn the offense around.

“As good as we’re going to be on defense under Will Muschamp, you know you’re going to be a top-five defense potentially, if Florida can score 24-27 points, they’re going to win a lot of games.”

The Gators will spread teams out and focus on getting the ball to their playmakers, but there will be other twists. From Roper’s first day in Gainesville, the focus was building an offense that used a quick tempo to put opposing defenses in difficult positions.

“You can see from Nick Saban, as great of a coach as he is, that he’s always complaining about them trying to change the rules with teams going up-tempo,” Matthews said. “It makes you be very vanilla on defenses. The exotic blitzes (a defense) can call against certain packages, you can’t do it if (an offense) is going 100 mph. That’s what Florida will do. When you’re going fast and picking up first downs, it puts tremendous pressure on a defense and puts them on their heels.

“What I saw, the way (Roper) coaches reminds me of the little things that Coach Spurrier used to teach about anticipation and being accurate, all those little things. It’s going to help Jeff Driskel a lot.”

And that’s the main hope of the offensive staff. It’s a natural fit for Driskel, and Muschamp pointed out multiple times at SEC Media Days that it’s similar to the offense Driskel was recruited to Florida to play in under Urban Meyer. The spring gave Driskel his first chance at learning the offense. When it was over, Muschamp and the staff were optimistic about the installation process.

But there was still work to be done. Matthews pointed to footwork, getting the ball out quicker and anticipation as three areas that needed to get better for Driskel, and he expects all three to be improved this fall.

“There are things to playing quarterback that are about more than how strong your arm is or how far you can throw it,” Matthews said. “It’s anticipation and accuracy. Sometimes you can work on accuracy, sometimes it’s God given. I do believe you can get better at it and learn how to anticipate when that receiver is coming out of his route, throwing into windows and throwing into areas. Those are things that Roper has helped develop into Jeff Driskel.

“A guy can run a curl route at 12 yards, and once he gets to 12 yards he turns around, and then I throw it. You can get away with that (in high school). In the SEC, you can’t. You’ve got to anticipate, know it and read it, feeling that coverage and knowing what they’re doing so you can throw it into a window before your receiver breaks. Those are things I think Jeff has gotten better at and can get better at.

Through the summer, Matthews has also heard positive reports about Driskel and the receivers spending extra time throwing on the practice field.

If Roper’s offense performs like many expect, it could what saves Muschamp’s job this year. Matthews has developed a relationship with Muschamp since he took the job at Florida in 2011, and he believes the increase of offensive production will be a big boost.

“I like Will a lot,” Matthews said. “I always have, always will. It’s a huge year for him and everybody knows that. He’s a tremendous defensive coach, one of the best in the country and you know you’re going to be good on defense each year. I think he has got to trust his offense, trust Coach Roper with what they can do offensively and open it up.

“He knows what this season is about. He’s not dumb. He knows it’s extremely important to have a successful year and hopefully make it to Atlanta. I think they have a shot.”

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