First Look at Gator Offense

The Texas Aggie football team had to wait another week, but the season opener is just four days away. It is also the historic SEC opener and the Florida Gators welcome |Texas A&M to their new home. Aggie Websider's david Sandhop takes a first look preview at the Gator offense.

The Florida Gators racked up 365 yards of total offense in their home opener against Bowling Green in a surprisingly hard-fought 27-14 contest. In fact, the Falcons could have had the lead in the fourth quarter if not for two short, missed field goals.

The Gator offense came into 2012 with question marks at quarterback, and even though Jeff Driskel was named the full-time starter on Monday, his performance was satisfactory at best against a heavy underdog.

At first glance, the stat line doesn't look bad, albeit unremarkable. He completed 10-of-16 passes for 114 yards and one TD. But the numbers are a bit deceiving. 50 yards came on a simple 10-yard out-pattern where the Falcon cornerback missed an easy tackle and let the receiver squirt out and down the sideline for the remaining 40 yards.

Aside from that play, the longest completion of the day for Driskel was 12 yards with most of his connections of the 5-10 yard variety. On several occasions he had an open man down the field, but he was inaccurate and struggled with the longer passes in the middle of the field.

But Florida has dangerous receivers who can do damage after the catch as Frankie Hammond showed on the 10-yard pass and subsequent 40-yard run to the end zone. While the Gator offense continues to struggle overall, they do have elite athletes if they can get the ball in space.

On the ground, senior Mike Gillislee showed excellent cutting ability in racking up 148 yards with touchdown runs of 38 and 15 yards on 24 carries. It wasn't a dominant performance against an inferior defensive seven, but Gillislee is more than capable of carrying the load for an offense that needs a bell cow on the ground to compensate for a lack of explosive plays through the air.

Now, the Florida camp is saying they went conservative against Bowling Green and will open it up against the Aggies. Well, Bowling Green was a missed field goal from tying the game going into the fourth quarter, so I believe that if Florida had the confidence and ability to throw the ball downfield, they would have done it.

So what does this mean for the A&M defense and what they need to do to keep the gators out of the end zone? Clearly, the Aggies must guard against long, explosive plays. For an offense that is struggling but has explosive skill players, the key defensively is keeping the ball in front of you and not allow their athletes to get behind the defense.

More specifically, A&M must be effective in stopping the run without safety help. The front seven need to have a good game and neutralize the gator running attack. If A&M is forced to cheat safeties into the box to stop the run, then Driskel doesn't have to read defenses and find the open man. He can simply throw it up for his receivers in man-on-man coverage and let his athletic receivers do the hard work of making the catch and beating their man.

If A&M has different coverages and safeties in centerfield, then Driskel is forced into doing something he's not good at, and that is finding his targets in windows in the middle of the field with a lot of defenders to worry about. Force him to think and look downfield, and that plays to Florida's weakness.

Along those same lines, if A&M has the luxury of dropping safeties in coverage, then the corners can play bump-and-run and take away the space in short timing routes for Florida receivers to break a long gainer after the catch. Giving up a 7-8 yard slant isn't going to hurt this defense. It's giving up the 7-8 yard slant with separation that turns into a 60-yard pass play that will be a bad sign for A&M defensively.

Bottom line: Limit the explosive plays and force Driskel to beat you by picking apart the defense, something that is his weakness to date.

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