A lot has been written about Florida’s 42-16 drubbing at the hands of Missouri.
Most of the criticism has focused on the players’ effort. Some of that was because of the product on the field. But some of that was because of linebacker David Reese’s comments after the game. “I hate the way we represented our coaches like today with this game. Those guys really care for us and gave us a real good game plan to do what we had to do.”
All due respect to Reese, but I disagree. The coach’s game plan – particularly on offense – was ill-suited to the players on the field. This isn’t news. It’s been this way all season.
The hope was that the removal of Jim McElwain – and subsequent insertion of QB Malik Zaire – would allow offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to show that he was being held back. Instead, it just showed that Nussmeier was just as culpable as McElwain for the play of redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and now Zaire.
The most telling play came with 10:09 left in the second quarter. This play is a standard read option scheme that is commonplace in college football.
It utilizes Zaire (8) to read defensive end Marcell Frazier (16) and forces him to make a choice. Either he collapses down the line to tackle running back Mark Thompson (24), or he stays with Zaire and cannot be in on the tackle of the running back.
Frazier decides to collapse to tackle the running back, which allows Zaire to pull the ball and run for five yards. In his haste to get back into the play, Frazier gets called for a facemask and the play ends up netting Florida 20 yards.
I say this is the most telling play for two reasons. First, it was the first time Florida ran a read option look with Zaire – a read option quarterback – in the game, even though it was the Gators 14th offensive play. Second, it was the only time they ran it the entire first half.
This isn’t an isolated occurrence either. Florida’s opponents know that the Gators QBs don’t run the ball. Nowhere was this clearer than against Tennessee.
It was second-and-4, a clear running down, and so Tennessee brought defensive back Rashaan Gaulden (7) on a blitz off the edge. Notice how Gaulden doesn’t even attempt to go after Franks. Neither does the defensive end – Jonathan Kongbo (1) – on the other side. Everything collapses and Kongbo tackles Perine.
But if you look closely right as Perine is receiving the handoff, there isn’t any defender on either side of the field who could tackle Franks if he pulls the ball and runs with it. Both Kongbo and Gaulden have sold out to stop Perine. This should be an easy first down.
As isolated incidents, these are not particularly damning for the offensive coordinator. Lots of coaches choose to run offenses without relying heavily on the read option. And the play with Franks could have been up to him to read the defensive end and he just misread the play.
But that’s being really generous considering I can’t remember Franks pulling the ball on a read option all year and considering that Zaire’s read option was successful and Florida didn’t come back to it the entire first half.
This has been a concern of mine about Nussmeier since the offseason. The offensive coordinator doesn’t like running his quarterbacks.
At Notre Dame, Zaire had four games where he threw more than 15 passes. In those games, he averaged 11.8 rushing attempts for 54.3 yards. At Florida, Zaire has two games with more than 15 pass attempts. He has totaled 14 rushing attempts for -6 yards. Some of that is due to the 6 sacks he has taken, but that means when he has played meaningful minutes, Zaire has had a total of 8 rushing attempts.
This isn’t just about Zaire. I’ve noted before Nussmeier’s track record with QBs, particularly mobile ones. Here are the rushing yards of quarterbacks with and without Nussmeier.
Brandstater and McCarron were traditional pocket passers. Locker, Gardner and Harris were not. It’s not a coincidence that the offenses at Fresno State and Alabama were decent while other offenses, particularly at Michigan and Florida, have struggled.
There also has been a shift in college football towards dual-threat quarterbacks. A.J. McCarron was the perfect fit for Alabama back in 2011, but I’m not sure he could play for the Tide in 2017. Sophomore QB Jalen Hurts now runs the offense, and he’s only thrown for more than 200 yards once this season.
Nussmeier just doesn’t want to change. And his inability to change with the times or with a mobile QB is turning the Gators offense from potentially functional to just downright bad.
Why is this important this week? Well, I said in my preview against Georgia that running the ball with Feleipe Franks would be the only way Florida would be able to move the ball. They steadfastly refused to do so and were unable to move the ball.
Kirby Smart is a Nick Saban disciple who runs many of the same kinds of sets that Saban runs. Another Saban disciple is on the other side of the field this week in South Carolina coach Will Muschamp.
Say what you will about Muschamp’s time with the Gators, but his defenses were always ferocious. The South Carolina defense isn’t quite to that level yet, but it is ranked 30th in scoring and 41st in yards per play against FBS teams.
The Gamecocks sport a rather anemic offense themselves (87 in scoring and 76 in yards per play against FBS teams), so how Florida’s offense is able to fare against South Carolina’s defense will likely determine the game.
And I just don’t see any way that Florida can move the ball unless they run Zaire extensively. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that the offensive coordinator feels the same way.
South Carolina wins 27-13.