A new offense has renewed Florida football fans’ hope heading into the 2014 season.
Sure, spring scrimmages mean little in the grand SEC scheme. Jeff Driskel could sizzle for a gazillion yards during the Orange & Blue Debut, only to fizzle this fall.
Regardless, the fan vibe filling the air around The Swamp was widely positive as an estimated crowd of more than 35,000 exited the stadium on April 12. The scrimmage ended in a 23-23 tie with a hurry-up, no-huddle offense tying up defenders all afternoon.
“I’m extremely pleased with the day offensively,” said fourth-year coach Will Muschamp. “You can contribute all that to (new coordinator) Kurt Roper and the offensive staff and the job that they’ve done.”
Muschamp mentioned “how far we’ve come” after 15 spring practices with the team adjusting to a shotgun formation and its third offensive coordinator in Muschamp’s four seasons. The shot-in-the-passing arm and re-energized fan base was necessary. Last season, Gators fans and players suffered through a seven-game losing streak that capped off a 4-8 record and the program’s first losing season since 1979.
It wasn’t all on the offense. Countless key players suffered injuries, including Driskel breaking his leg. He looked healed and sharp in the spring game by completing 19 of 33 passes – to eight different receivers – for 171 yards and a touchdown.
By halftime, Roper’s quick-strike offense piled up more than 400 yards and 36 combined points – More than UF scored in an entire game in 2013. The total yardage was more than 600 yards by the final whistle.
“It felt like we were really efficient,” Driskel said. “I think when you’re not beating yourself up (with turnovers and penalties), you can really, really gain momentum and confidence.”
Sophomore Demarcus Robinson turned a short Driskel pass into a 31-yard touchdown. Robinson popped open on a crossing route to make the catch before making a cutback that sprung him free for an untouched path to the end zone. The third-and-three play showed how Roper’s scheme systematically wears down defenders. By not huddling, substitutions are limited, so defenders don’t get a breather unless a timeout is called. It’s similar in philosophy to what coach Gus Malzahn successfully implored at Auburn this season. That hurry-up, no-huddle offense helped the Tigers to the biggest turnaround in SEC history and play for a National Championship.
The offense was so effective that coaches such as Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Alabama’s Nick Saban – Malzahn and his Tigers upset in the SEC Championship – lobbied for a rules change to slow down college football.
What worked at Auburn and at other schools with lesser talent certainly can work at Florida. If the fast-paced offense can blend well with Muschamp’s always-stingy defense, then fans could be feeling the vibe well into 2014 season.
For now, Driskel said the team enters the offseason on a high. He called the team “re-energized” thanks to the “new start” Roper’s offense has provided.
“There’s something about (the offense) where you can get rolling,” Driskel said. “When you start getting completion after completion, it builds your confidence and gets you into a rhythm that sometimes is tough for the defense to break.”
Aug. 30 – Idaho – Gainesville, Fla.
Sept. 6 – E. Michigan – Gainesville, Fla.
Sept. 13 – Kentucky – Gainesville, Fla.
Sept. 20 – Alabama – Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Oct. 4 – Tennessee – Knoxville, Tenn.
Oct. 11 – LSU – Gainesville, Fla.
Oct. 18 – Missouri – Gainesville, Fla.
Nov. 1 – Georgia – Jacksonville, Fla.
Nov. 8 – Vanderbilt – Nashville, Tenn.
Nov. 15 – South Carolina – Gainesville, Fla.
Nov. 22 – E. Kentucky – Gainesville, Fla.
Nov. 29 – Florida State – Tallahassee, Fla.