LSU Coverages Caught Gators With Pants Down

It all came down to a numbers game for LSU Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini Saturday. He simply took a look at Florida's backfield and if the Gators went empty or had one back in to protect Chris Leak, his plan was to blitz with one more man that the Gators could block.

When Florida emptied the backfield with a five-wide set, LSU sent six men on the pass rush. When the Gators protected with six, LSU sent seven. Their blitzes were so disruptive that Florida quarterback Chris Leak was harassed into his worst passing game as a college quarterback, 11-30 for 107 yards. LSU got to Leak for four sacks, good for 33 yards in losses.

The Gators came into the game expecting LSU to blitz. That's the modus operandi of Bo Pelini wherever he's been. The Gators weren't caught off-guard by the blitzes, but Florida offensive line coach John Hevesy revealed Monday afternoon that the Gators were caught with their pants down by the way LSU played its pass coverage.

"We went into that game without one shot of ever looking at how they defend empty [backfield]," said Hevesy.

The coverage schemes played a big part in Florida's poor offensive day. Even when the Gators were able to block the LSU pass rush, Leak had problems finding open receivers. It was a truly frustrating day for Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen, who said there were plays to be made, but the Gators just didn't make them.

"Some of the frustrating things are looking at plays to be made," said Mullen after Monday's practice. "I go back and try to look at both sides of the ball and they [LSU] had opportunities to make a couple of plays and they went up and made big catches and the ball was right there for those plays. We had some of those opportunities and they all kind of seem like ahhh off the fingertips or ahhhh out of bounds. That is what is really frustrating because it looks like there are some opportunities to make plays and we're and we're not making them."

Mullen also serves as the quarterback coach so he spent a lot of time on Monday working in the film room and with Leak to make some very necessary corrections. Leak was out of synch fundamentally Saturday and Mullen said that his quarterback also had a slight case of happy feet that contributed to the poor performance.

"His fundamentals were a little off," said Mullen. "We sat down and went through it all, all of his drops and his footwork, all of that stuff. He knows that's part of cleaning it up for himself.

"He was hopping around a little bit. You don't need to do that. You take your exact steps and throw the ball on time and you'll be all right."

Quite often during the game, Leak was throwing off his back foot and there were other times that he was trying to make throws on the run. Some of the throws on the run were necessary because of the fierce LSU pass rush, but there were times when Leak took off too early.

"Chris has to stay in the pocket to make those throws," said Mullen. "Some of the issues are working to get him to hang in that pocket and step in to deliver the throw. Sometimes I know he likes to move around because it's hard for him to see over that line and see into the middle of the field."

Mullen said that there was no lingering effect from the shoulder injury suffered against Alabama a couple of weeks earlier. He said that the passes Leak was throwing high were not the result of trying to compensate for shoulder soreness.

"It's basically just the footwork and just a little bit of confusion or his timing being off and just exactly trusting the exact stuff that's going on," said Mullen. "The mechanics have everything to do with timing, footwork and balance. It's all lower body, getting his feet underneath him, planting and throwing the ball. There were a couple of times when he's aiming the ball on Saturday. You don't see that with the naked eye when you're watching but when you watch the tape you can see his motion slow down and he just tries to aim it in there. The ones that he threw you go watch the tape and you can tell that he planted his feet and threw the ball and you can tell when he didn't plant his feet and tried to aim it. There was a big difference in those two. That's correctable and he's going to fix that real fast."

LSU's blitzes were expected. Florida's offensive scheme actually invites the blitz with the empty backfield sets but Saturday the blitzes worked to perfection while the counter measures designed to punish LSU for blitzing did not. Even when Florida picked up the blitz, Leak's timing with his wide receivers was way off.

"There are times he should get rid of the ball quick and he's kind of holding it too long," said Mullen. "All the timing is off on everything and we have to get that fixed up."

Some of Florida's inability to move the ball consistently against LSU can be traced to the lack of production from receivers not named Dallas Baker, Chad Jackson or Jemalle Cornelius in the four and five-wide sets. Baker finished the game with three catches for 31 yards while Jackson had five catches but only 29 yards. Cornelius, playing in pain and trying to shake off the after-effects of a bad high ankle sprain, saw limited duty that resulted in two catches for 22 yards. The Gators played at least five other receivers but none of them ever saw the football.

Mullen admitted that the Gators primary goal is to get the ball in the hands of playmakers like Baker, Jackson and Cornelius, but the other receivers cannot be ignored.

"We are trying to design some routes to get it to the playmakers as well," said Mullen. "I know that Chris is looking to certain places against certain defenses and we just have to try to get different guys open. We had a bunch of mistakes this weekend that we have to get fixed."

Mullen said that the lack of big plays by the Florida offense since Bubba Caldwell went down with a broken leg in the Tennessee game has been frustrating. He felt that Cornelius was on track to at least compensate somewhat for Caldwell's absence but he's been dinged up with the high ankle sprain.

Caldwell was used as a wide receiver and as a running back in the offense. Cornelius had the speed to play the same role, but Mullen admitted that he's been reluctant to ask Baker and Jackson to try to do those things since they are the main focus of the passing game.

"A lot of that was designed for him [Caldwell] because he was the fastest guy and then Cornelius was out and you're asking Dallas Baker and Chad Jackson to do so much of the other stuff that asking them to have that speed running the sweeps and handoffs for them is hard because they're blown out during the game," he said.

Still, Mullen felt there wouldn't be such a tremendous dropoff in big plays since opponents have taken to sticking with man to man coverage against UF.

"I thought if people did play us man to man we would have a lot more big plays than we've had," he said. "We don't seem to be hitting those opportunities.

"I think that's probably different than what I would have expected. If we see people coming up and playing a lot of man on us, I thought we would have a ton of big plays now instead of a ton of almost big plays."

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