Passing game, turnovers signal downturn

The preseason brought excitement about the Florida offense.

Kurt Roper came to Gainesville as Will Muschamp’s third offensive coordinator in four years, ready to rejuvenate a Florida offense that needed it. Muschamp said at SEC Media Days that this was his most complete team in four years at Florida. What sparked that talk was an offense that was expected to be better.

So far, that’s not the case.

Any improvements have been miniscule. The Florida offense has gone from 4.79 yards per play to 4.95 yards per play. Last season, the excuse was injury, but this year, there aren’t enough people out for that to be a problem. The offense is bad with no signs of improvement this season.

The Gators are 59th in turnover margin and 94th in passing offense (198.5 yards). Other problems have popped up throughout the year, whether it has been receivers dropping passes, lack of tight end production or offensive line giving up six sacks against Missouri.

“Sometimes it’s a different theme, week-to-week,” Roper said. “We obviously haven’t been as good in the passing game all season long. But, specifically, in the last game, it’s turning the football over. If you look at it, it’s kind of the trend. We were good in the first game (against Eastern Michigan), second game (against Kentucky) we were pretty good in, I think we had one.

“We’re an offense that has to take care of the football better right now. It’s the primary goal going into this next opportunity.”

Roper didn’t want to say the expectations were too high for the first year. When his hiring was announced on Christmas Eve last year, the energy started to build based around what Roper and David Cutcliffe’s staff did at Duke last season. Spring practices showed an up-tempo, spread offense that never made it to the games.

Players on offense and defense spoke throughout the preseason about the improved offense, but the disappearance of the passing game has handcuffed what the Gators can do.

“We're not playing very well offensively, and I think there's too major factors that go into it,” Roper said. “We're turning the ball over and we're not doing a great job in the passing game. I think the biggest thing that you start looking at is, 'Ok, what are we capable of doing and it gets down to what is the quarterback capable of doing? What is the offensive linemen capable of doing?’

“I had the conversation about how many skill players that we can count on. That's what we're trying to hammer in on and finding out who is going to be capable of making plays for us that way. I think there's several things going on, but I don't think there's any doubt that we should play better offensively, even if it's just taking care of the ball."

Jeff Driskel has been at the center of it. In his first two games against Eastern Michigan and Kentucky, it looked like he was making progress. Driskel went 56-88 (63.6 percent) for 543 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

In the four games since, Driskel is 41-95 (43.2 percent) for 385 yards, two touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Even throughout his struggles, the Florida staff stood by Driskel, believing he would improve and be the starting quarterback the Gators needed. It hasn’t happened, limiting what the offense can do. It forced Treon Harris into the starting lineup on Saturday against Georgia, a move that might have come earlier if not for his suspension when the sexual battery allegations were made at the beginning of the LSU week.

“He works hard, he’s prepared,” Roper said of Driskel. “He cares, it means a lot to him. (He) just made some mistake in that last game that weren’t typical mistakes that weren’t necessarily mistakes he’d been making earlier in the year, and so I can’t necessarily put my finger on it why, it just is what it is.

“Last game, we couldn’t run him. We couldn’t help him with that aspect with trying to run him with his back. You saw him when he got sacked the one time that that was painful so we lost that aspect to his game, which I think he’s really good at some of those things.”

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