If you predicted that Florida would be 5-0 at this point in the season, I would like you to also tell me next week’s lottery numbers.
Even the most optimistic Gators fans probably wouldn’t have predicted an undefeated start heading into Week 6 for a few reasons. First, and most obvious, was the major coaching changes. Coach Jim McElwain was not only using players he didn’t recruit, but the team was adjusting to a new coaching staff. Offensive line woes presented another problem. At one point during spring camp, Florida had only seven scholarship linemen available to play. That was predicted as their weakest unit. And finally, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position.
Those were Florida’s main concerns heading into the season, and, for the most part, the remained the team’s main concerns entering the matchup against Ole Miss.
But after watching Saturday’s impressive 38-10 victory, it has become clear that those concerns haven’t just been overcome, they are becoming the strengths of the team.
Starting up front, let’s examine how McElwain was able to neutralize the toughest front four they will likely face all season.
Shaking Up The Trenches
Ole Miss came to the Swamp just two weeks removed from an encouraging road win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa — something few teams can say they’ve ever done. One of the main factors in that victory was Ole Miss’ defensive front dominating the line of scrimmage and earning eight tackles for loss.
Former No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche may be the household name, but there are some mean dudes all along that line. What aids the Rebels’ obvious talent on the line is their delay attack. Normally, the phrase “delay blitz” means a linebacker or corner back waits two seconds before trying to shoot a gap in the offensive line, but calling this a “delay attack” is more appropriate because of common stunt plays like this.
This play against Alabama demonstrates how only four rushers can still create an unpredictable pass rush. The defensive tackles both push outside instead of straight up the field, and in doing so take two blockers each. When executed correctly, this leaves a guaranteed one-on-one matchup with the stunting defensive ends and the interior offensive linemen. It’s the kind of call that Ole Miss loves to take advantage of with such strong defensive linemen.
Many believed that this strategy would present a problem for Florida as its offensive line chemistry had been shaky all year. Florida only has two senior linemen on it’s depth chart, and after that, it’s all freshmen and sophomores.
So what does a team do with a raw offensive line going against a strong pass rush?
You get them help.
If you’ve followed Florida this year, you know McElwain loves to get his tight ends involved in the game plan in any way he can. He has made stars out of players like DeAndre Goolsby, Jake McGee and C’yontai Lewis by not only using them as red zone targets, but vertical threats, too.
This week, however, the tight ends’ more prominent roll was in aiding the offensive line. In the vine above, Goolsby is lined up off the line in what appears to be a blocking position. But instead of blocking directly in front of him, he ran to the opposite side of the backfield to lay his block. The purpose of this goes beyond just his block. The line knew the running play was designed to go to the left, and also knew Goolsby was coming across to take the edge rusher, each blocking assignment was shifted to the left, which gave the left guard and the center the freedom to get to the second level and guide Florida running back Kelvin Taylor further down the field.
Next we’ll see how the tight ends were used to counter Ole Miss’ bread and butter, the delayed attack.
Because Goolsby again came across the play to block, the left tackle was able to chip the shifting defensive tackle and still pick up the stunting player coming to the outside. This gave Florida even numbers on the right side, which negates the effect of a stunt blitz. Because the tight end was able to take the pressure off the edge, even though the Gators’ offensive line didn’t know a stunt blitz was coming, they were ready for it because they had numbers in the right positions for the direction of the play.
Will Grier Flu Game
Adding a wrinkle of uncertainty and intrigue to the post-game hype was the fact that the Gators had up to 21 players dealing with flu-like symptoms during the week. Florida quarterback Will Grier was one of them. His ability to play in the game was even in question up until kickoff. Well, Grier played, and boy, did he put on a show with four touchdown passes in the first half — hence the “flu game” reference to Michael Jordan’s famous flu game in 1997.
The reason Florida fans are so excited about Grier is because he offers something they haven’t seen from a Gators’ quarterback in quite some time. No it’s not just a great arm or mobility or ideal size; it’s confidence.
The Vine above is a perfect example. Grier sold the play-action well, stayed poised in the pocket, got hit by Nkemdiche, but launched a throw off of his back foot right in the hands of his receiver. On this play, Grier showed the confidence he has in his arm to get the ball where it needs to be when it needs to be there.
This second example shows a different kind of confidence, or, more accurately, his lack of hesitation. It’s pounded into the minds of college football quarterbacks that if they turn the ball over, their team will lose. That often creates a sense of fear in the back of a quarterback’s mind. Grier shows none of that, and hasn’t shown any of that all season, really. Maybe it’s because he hasn’t thrown a game-losing pick yet, or misread a play that cost his team points. Whatever the case, the window to throw that touchdown is about one second long. Grier read it, threw it and didn’t look back.
Final note is how Grier managed the two-minute offense. The two-minute mark came while on second down at Florida’s own 25 yard line; the result of the drive was a touchdown 90 seconds later. On that drive, Grier not only went 8-for-8 passing, but was also allowed to audible routes and kill certain plays. This was really the first week McElwain let him take full control of audibles like that. Grier recognized soft coverage and completed three or four passes of less than five yards where the receiver was able to get to the sideline and continue the drive. That, again, is encouraging.
Though his performance was Player of the Week-worthy, it wasn’t a perfect game for Grier. He needs to be more aware of pressure coming from his back side. Grier made quite a few throws with a lot of pressure in his face, and did a good job standing his ground in the pocket. But he does need to do a better job of taking the space in front of him when it’s available and moving up in the pocket. In the SEC, that space won’t be available too often, so it’s key that he takes advantage of a well formed pocket.
Up next for Florida is a road game against Missouri. The Tigers are another solid defensive group, and should be a good challenge for Florida before they square off against LSU the following week in Death Valley.