Gator Offense About Moving The Chains, Clock

You can blame it on Sports Center. That's where we saw all those highlight reel plays last season by Alex Smith and his teammates when Urban Meyer was coaching at Utah, plays that only whetted our appetite for more of the same here at Florida when Meyer said I do to the Gators proposal. Highlight reel plays are nice and the Gators will get their share of them before the 2005 season is over, but the offense is really all about moving the chains.

Moving the chains means the Gators are controlling the clock, winning the field position game and never forcing the defense to defend a short field. Controlling the clock helps the defense avoid those fourth quarter collapses of recent years when players were gassed in the late going.

Florida will get its share of big plays because the Gators have tremendous athletes with exceptional speed at the skill positions. Also, the offense is geared to create personnel mismatches and mismatches almost always lead to big plays. But in Meyer's way of thinking, big plays are simply a by-product of the offense.

"Some may think that it's a big play, high octane, throw the ball 75 yards down the field [offense] but that's not what it is at all," said Meyer Monday morning at his weekly media function. "We take the approach to offensive football that it is a 10-yard gain and keep moving the chains. That follows our plan to win of field position and eating up the clock."

Saturday, the Gators had more than 35 minutes of ball possession. For the four games this season, they are averaging 34:15 time of possession per game.

"If you have 35 minutes of possession time, you're going to win that game," said Meyer.

Playing keepaway with the football is all part of the design says Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen. Mullen likes big plays as well as anyone but he's happy to nickel and dime the ball up and down the field, too. Those five to eight yard plays are the staple of the game plans.

"That's the offense," said Mullen. "That's what we want to do. We want to execute."

Saturday against Kentucky, the Gators had an astonishing seven straight scoring possessions in a first half that was as efficient a show as any Gator offense has put on in years. There were a few big plays in the offensive mix such as a 50-yard Chris Leak to Jemalle Cornelius pass and a Leak to Chad Jackson pass that was good for 36 yards, but in between the Gators patiently picked up positive yards five to seven yards at a clip.

Mullen said that Kentucky's game plan was to keep everything in front of the safeties and eliminate the big plays. To achieve that goal, the Wildcats played their safeties deeper but that opened up the field for Florida's short passing game and it took the safeties out of run support. The Gators finished with 350 passing yards and 187 yards rushing.

"They were playing some sound defense," said Mullen. "They didn't pressure us a lot, trying to keep everything in front of them. If they're going to do that then we're not going to get a lot of big plays and we just have to execute at the high level like we did.

"It's not real exciting highlight film stuff but if you're efficient you move the ball up and down the field on them."

Florida incorporated a strong option package into the offensive plan against Kentucky, something that had been missing in games one, two and three. The option helped open up all phases of the offense because it forced Kentucky to play assignment football with its linebackers. There is a good reason that the option is such a vital element to Meyer's offense, said Mullen.

"It slows people down when you do that," he said. "If they're playing assignment football and they're there [linebackers making reads and playing man to man against the quarterbacks and running backs], the other nice benefit is that the quarterback knows where they're going to be so he can pass the ball."

Part of Meyer's overall plan to control the football and move the chains is to keep the defense guessing through a balanced approach. Saturday, the Gators ran 78 plays with 42 runs and 36 passes. In the first half when the Gators were on their efficiency tear through the Kentucky defense, Florida ran off 52 plays with a perfect 50-50 run-pass ratio. Ironically, Florida ran 26 plays in each of the first and second quarters and there were 13 passes and 13 runs in each quarter.

"Balance since day one that's what we have strived for," said Meyer. "A lot of it depends on how teams play. There will be certain weeks we'll probably throw it 45 times. We haven't had to do that yet. A couple of teams did that last year. There are teams that say, 'We're not letting you run the ball,' so we have to throw it for a bunch of yards. Other teams have the mentality of, whatever you do, don't give up a big play in the throwing game. In that case, we run the ball more. Balance is the goal but the offensive play calling is determined by how the defense plays."

THE LATSKO PLAN: When Meyer came to Florida he eliminated the fullback position which meant Billy Latsko had to move to linebacker. With the transfer of Dane Guthrie and the injury to Markell Thompson (fractured ankle), there is only one scholarship tight end and that's Tate Casey. To compensate, the Gators have been using Latsko as a blocker around the goal line. He's responded so well in those situations that his role is about to expand even though he's fighting through an injury problem. He's a gifted guy fighting through an injury."

At first, Latsko was seen as an extra blocker but he's proved valuable enough that he will be incorporated into the passing game and there will be a chance or two that he will carry the ball, too. His days as a two-way player are about to end.

"Billy's going to be pretty much fulltime offense from here on out," said Meyer. "We need him. He's a leverage player. He's a great young man and he's got some skill. He can catch the ball, too. His involvement is going to pick up from here on out."

IMPROVED OFFENSIVE LINE: As proof that there was an improvement in the offensive line, center Mike Degory and tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler all graded out Champions Club for the Kentucky game. One reason the Gators played so well on the offensive line was good production out of the guards. Meyer singled out redshirt freshman Jim Tartt, who was making his first start of the season at left guard.

"I thought Jim Tartt came in and gave us something," said Meyer. "He didn't grade a champion but he gave us a little bit of a boom by knocking guys off the ball which we've lacked at the guard position."

PROTECTING THE BALL: The Gators have forced 11 turnovers in the first four games but Florida has given it up just twice. Florida fumbled once against Louisiana Tech and fumbled again against Kentucky. That plus-nine in the turnover ratio category is a big part of the Meyer game plan to win. One of the reasons the Gators are doing so well is that quarterback Chris Leak is doing such a good job of making decisions with the football. Leak is on a streak of 114 consecutive passes without an interception.

"One of our priorities is protecting the ball," said Meyer. "That's a big part of winning football games and it's a big part of what we do. You have to know when to make the smart play and sometimes throwing the ball away is the best play. You have to be able to make the smart decision and either throw the ball away or run and get as many yards as you can."

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