Plenty Of Blame To Be Shared For Offense

Florida finishes its open week with a lot of questions that still have to be answered about the offense and only a few days to fix it before the next big game against Georgia in Jacksonville. When it comes to the offensive problems, it seems everyone has a suggestion or theory about what's gone wrong. Some blame the players, some blame the coaches and some blame them both. I think the simple answer is shared blame.

First, there is the injury factor. Injuries have slowed any progress this offense could make because of lost practice time and repetition. The loss of Bubba Caldwell has been a bigger factor than anyone could imagine. Secondly, the offensive line has struggled in the new scheme but in my opinion has improved since the Tennessee game. Chris Leak does not look like he is very confident right now and his numbers will show his lack of effectiveness. The receivers are not getting open enough, especially to man. And the offensive staff has shown some of its inexperience with their inability to put players in positions to make plays and adjust quicker during the game. The offense's problems are not one area's fault but the entire unit from the staff to the players. It will require all of them to be committed to getting better for it to get fixed.

Florida's offensive line uses a zone blocking technique which is different than in years past. Zone blocking requires communication, footwork and repetition. When done properly it can be a dominant scheme which can allow running backs to take advantage of their natural instincts. The Denver Broncos are the model that all zone blocking teams would try to emulate. One thing that hurts zone blocking is penetration into the backfield by linemen who shoot the gaps. This forces running backs to make quick decisions and limits their options. Florida is doing a better job of sustaining these zone blocks as evidenced by the good runs of Wynn and Moore last week.

For most of the season UF's lineman have not gotten off the first level and to the linebackers, allowing the backs to have huge gains. The bottom line for the zone blocking is that it allows your offensive line the ability by technique to move defenders out of the way using their momentum. You don't have to over power defenders but you must be agile and technically sound. The pass protection of this scheme has struggled because no team has respected the play action so they are shooting the gaps right away. Until Florida can establish its running game as a serious threat I think they must use more conventional pass blocking schemes when they want to throw and give their linemen a chance to retreat first and then set on their block.

Defensively the Gators have done a lot of good things this season. I thought Marcus Thomas and Jarvis Herring played their best games as Gators against LSU. Thomas stripped a ball from Justin Vincent and was in the backfield causing Joseph Addai to blow the exchange with Russell resulting in another fumble. Herring was all over the field recovering a fumble in the backfield and making an interception down the field. Both of these guys have improved their NFL stock this year and look to be first day draft picks in the future.

Jarvis Moss and Eric Wilbur are two other guys who had big days that were overshadowed in the loss. Wilbur had a net 43 yard average and in the first half he was key at changing the field position. Moss had three sacks and showed the talent everyone knew he had coming out of high school.

Florida's defense leads the SEC with 40 three and outs on the season. That translates to 43.5 percent of the opponents' possessions, easily the best in the league ahead of Alabama ... When LSU went back to back with drives that were six minutes-plus, it wore down the Florida defensive front ... UF will look to focus on a mobile DJ Shockley for next week and his ability to scramble and run designed plays for the quarterback. The middle of the Gator defense will be under pressure next week with the Dog attack.

Urban Meyer said this week that Chris Leak is still his starter and the problems are not all his fault. I agree with this but it needs to be noted that Chris is 45-100 in his last three games with four interceptions. He also has led an offense that was 2-16 on third down at LSU and 9-45 on third down the last three games. That statistic is the most telling as UF has really struggled to convert on third and long situations. The Gators are 36 percent on third downs this season after leading the conference last year.

Teams are blitzing UF in all long yardage situations whether it's second and long or third and long. The Gator offense has had 97 drives this season and only 23 have resulted in touchdowns with eight getting field goals. Georgia has scored as many points on only 72 drives this season. Let it be noted that UF has faced three top 16 defenses in the conference and will play two more top 20 defenses on the schedule with Georgia and FSU.

The other disturbing trend is fourth quarter scoring for UF which has produced just 30 points in seven games. Only Mississippi State and Ole Miss have been worse. The Gators had four possessions in the fourth quarter against LSU and produced 27 yards. Field position was a big part of that and their best starting spot ended up being the 30 on the last possession of the game. The Gator offense had six three and outs the other day and had three drives end on downs or at the end of the half. UF leads the SEC in drives finished on downs at seven.

Some more suggestions for solutions to the offensive woes for Florida … First if I were Dan Mullen I would script 5-7 plays in my first 15 of the game to get the ball into each guys hands on offense. I would run a reverse to Jackson, throw a screen to Cornelius and Baker and use a run with Wynn and a shovel pass to Manson. I would design easy, manageable plays to get everyone a touch early in the game. I would make sure my first five passes were completions. Get Chris Leak off to a fast start so that he can regain confidence and build up some equity in what he is doing. I wouldn't just let him throw deep every snap and get his completion percentage on the wrong side of the ledger. By getting numerous guys the ball early it break your tendencies and causes Georgia's defensive coordinator to begin finding ways to account for all your weapons.

If there is a trick play or deep ball I would use it the first time I was in a second and short to medium situation. Screens and runs can slow a pass rush just as much as a running game. The more guys you have involved early the more work their coaches have to do even if you don't plan on using the play again later in the game. Translate this to basketball and look at Michael Jordan. He would always involve others early in the game such as Bill Cartwright who would get 10 points in the first quarter. As teams adjusted it made it easier for MJ to take over in crunch time. That same spread it around strategy would help Leak, Jackson, Baker and Wynn take over in the second half of the game.

Urban Meyer is pretty good as a coach coming off an open week. By my account he is 6-1 after an open week and he is 2-0 in bowl games when having extra preparation time. This week should give UF some opportunity to improve their success on opening drives this season. The Gators have totaled just 22 yards on their opening possession this entire season.

John Hevesy was quoted about the no back in the Tampa Tribune referring to film work not showing what LSU did against that formation. To clear this up let me say the Gator coaches watch plenty of film and what Hevesy was saying that not once in five games of tape did a team line up in the empty formation. Because of this they did not know exactly what LSU would do so they tried to run it. The problem with this is that UF waited too long to motion Wynn into the backfield to help with the blitz.

The coaching experience factor for the offense has come up a bunch this week and it is fair game. This staff is in the rodeo for the first time and certainly has not coached as long as the defensive staff. But don't judge a coach by his age or where he coached but how he adjusts to situations and how much his plan works. There are a bunch of good young coaches in college football and a bunch of good coaches at mid-major schools. The complaint with this staff should fall on its lack of getting guys open and putting Leak and the offensive line in difficult situations. I think they will shore up some of these issues this week in the open date.

Steve Spurrier once said that 90% of throwing the ball accurately is footwork and that Danny Wuerffel and Shane Mathews can get the ball on time because of their sound footwork. Chris Leak was hopping around too much according to the coaches and not using good footwork last week leading to errant throws. I understand Leak is under a lot of pressure and has been hit a bunch this season. He must however be willing to take a big hit like the guys I mentioned to complete a big play for the offense. He had Dallas Baker open twice. If he had stepped up and thrown the ball like he is coached to do, maybe UF would have won the game. This is being perceived by some fans as Leak being gun shy or scared. I think it is a direct by-product of the hits he has taken and it's a coach's job to get him to hang in there and make the throw. It's not like Chris Leak has not made these throws before and he will need to make them for UF to finish strong. A fast start in Jacksonville will be imperative for the victory. The Gators are being outscored in the first quarter this season 41-38.

INSTANT REPLAY: For those who are wondering how it has worked out this year, the SEC officials have been the most accurate in their calls versus the other BCS conferences. The SEC has had only 8 plays overturned this year which is just 29% of the plays that have been reviewed. It is ironic that one of those eight plays was in the Florida-Tennessee game with the Brett Smith non-catch. That was a big play that many of us are thankful there was instant replay. The numbers for instant replay are led by the ACC. ACC has had 15 calls overturned, Pac-10 is next with 14, Big 10 has 13, Big 12 with 13 as well and the Big East has turned over 9 calls so far this season. I think we would all agree the numbers for the ACC does not surprise any Gator fans. ACC officiating is downright below average.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: UF has 23 sacks, tying their total of last season and they still have four games remaining ... The Gators have given up 24 sacks which is 10 more than the entire 2004 season … UF has not thrown a touchdown pass against Alabama, Tennessee and LSU ... The Gator defense has 12 players with double figures in tackles ... Florida's Chris Leak is still the active leader in completion percentage in the SEC … UF has broken up 25 passes this season ... The Gators are sixth in the SEC in total offense … The Gators are seventh in the country in total defense … UF is eleventh in the country in scoring defense at 16.1ppg … The Gators are eighth in the SEC on third down conversions.

THE PLAN TO WIN: Defense --- UF is third in the SEC; Turnovers --- UF is first in the SEC in turnover margin; Time of Possession --- UF is second in the SEC; Red Zone Scoring --- UF in ninth in the SEC; Special Teams --- UF is first in field goals and fifth in kickoff returns. Eric Wilbur is 32nd in the country in punting.

GATOR LEGEND: Former NFL and Gator wide receive Reidel Anthony has gotten into coaching. The 1996 All American is coaching at Valdosta State University at Georgia. Valdosta is the defending National Champions in D-II and is led by head coach Chris Hatcher. Anthony is working with the JV team and may have a chance to land a job with Hatcher whose name has surfaced as a possibility at Kentucky.

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