Gators plan to add pass attack to powerful ground game
Returning starter and junior Jeff Driskel ranked 11th among quarterbacks in the SEC last season, throwing for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns. ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
BY NICK WILLIAMS Tribune Staff
Published: August 26, 2013
Updated: August 27, 2013 at 11:35 AM
GAINESVILLE — In an era when many college football programs opt to attack through the air with spread offenses, the University of Florida was bit of a throwback last season.
The Gators’ ground attack averaged 188 yards per game, which ranked 39th among FBS teams. Florida’s passing game, however, finished 114th among FBS teams with an average of 146 yards.
Though the running game helped the Gators reach the Sugar Bowl, Florida had eight come-from-behind wins last season, which can be linked to the offense’s inability to score early. The Gators also scored the third-fewest points in the SEC East.
In 2013, Florida fans can expect to see a more explosive and balanced offense from the Gators, who enter the season ranked No. 10 in the country.
“We need to be more balanced and more efficient and consistent in throwing the football,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s been well documented. But I think we’re better up front, I think we’re better at wide out and I think we’re better at the quarterback position.”
Returning starter and junior Jeff Driskel ranked 11th among quarterbacks in the SEC last season, throwing for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns, less than half the productivity of SEC leaders Aaron Murray of Georgia (3,893 yards and 36 TDs) and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M (3,706 and 26 TDs).
“We’re going to have to throw the ball more and be more efficient overall,” Driskel said. “We have to get more big plays. We can’t run the ball 50 times a game like we did last year at points.
“Obviously, we’re still going to run the ball effectively. We still have an offensive line who loves running the ball. We have some explosive backs. That’s still going to be part of our game, but we do have to make more plays throwing the ball which I think we’ll do.”
A positive for Florida is offensive coordinator Brent Pease enters his second season, marking the first time since 2009 the Gators retained the coach at that position, Muschamp said.
“That’s really going to help our players,” Muschamp said.
The Gators return five offensive lineman who combined for 45 starts last season, along with transfers Max Garcia (Maryland) and Countryside standout Tyler Moore (Nebraska).
“The sky is the limit,” said junior right tackle Chaz Green, a Tampa product who started 10 games last season. “We did well last year establishing the run, and we’ve got to clean up certain things in some areas, but I think the sky is the limit with the group of guys we have.”
Florida’s top rusher in 2012, Mike Gillislee, is now in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, and the status of junior running back and ex-Armwood standout Matt Jones (viral infection) remains uncertain. Muschamp said he has flexibility at the position, however, with former Tampa Catholic fullback Hunter Joyer, senior receiver Trey Burton, freshman running back Kelvin Taylor and junior Mack Brown.
“A guy we forget about is Trey Burton,” Muschamp said. “He’s going to be in the slot a lot for us. I think we’ve got a chance with some of those guys to help us out.”
Driskel’s favorite target in 2012, tight end Jordan Reed, is now in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. Florida’s leading returning receiver is junior Quinton Dunbar, who caught 36 passed for 383 yards and four touchdowns.
With Reed gone, tight end will be the biggest question on Florida’s offense.
“Not enough of what I would call combo guys that can play on the line of scrimmage and the edge and then stretch the field vertically,” Muschamp said. “We don’t really have that group of guys now.”
Muschamp mentioned players such as former Land O’Lakes tight end Kent Taylor, who “has improved his physicality,” and junior Clay Burton, “a combo guy who can also play fullback.” But the unit lacks overall athleticism.
“At the end of the day, we need more big plays,” Driskel said. “We had some chances last year and we didn’t hit them.”
“Something the coaches have definitely preached is starting fast,” Joyer said. “It’s always easier to not have to come back late in the game. It’s something we’d like to do and something we’re working on. Hopefully we can get it right this year.”