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The Real Reason For Florida’s Offensive Struggles

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Florida has struggled on offense for far too long

It’s become the same old song and dance for the Florida Gators. Every offseason, questions arise as to what the offense is doing to improve after being dismal in the previous season. And every offseason press conference is met with high praise from the Florida coaching staff, saying the players have improved in areas in which they were once weak. The fact is, Florida’s offense still hasn’t improved. Even after winning back-to-back SEC East titles, the offense is still a hindrance. 

The common link that most people like to point out is that Florida hasn’t had a steady quarterback to lead the offense since Tim Tebow held the job. In fact, the Gators have now seen 10 different quarterbacks start since 2010. Feleipe Franks became the latest quarterback to make his debut for the orange and blue in the Gators’ 2017 season opener against Michigan. A redshirt freshman, Franks at times looked like the quarterback Florida has needed, lofting deep passes and letting his receivers go up and make plays.

Franks finished his debut with just 75 yards passing, with an average of 15 yards per completion. To his credit, Franks did what was asked of him but with the offense not producing as much as they would have liked, on top of a costly fumble early in the third quarter, the Florida coaching staff opted to bring in Malik Zaire. Zaire didn’t fare much better, completing 9-of-17 passes for 106 yards.

However, the whole purpose of bringing Zaire in was not for his arm, but what he can do with his legs. Coaches thought by bringing Zaire in he would be able to escape the relentless pressure from the Michigan defense. That turned out to be nothing more than just a pipe dream with Zaire getting sacked five times, including once where he fumbled in the endzone resulting in a Michigan touchdown.

And while fans can point to the ineffectiveness of the quarterbacks, running backs, and the offensive line, the root of the problem comes down to one thing. That one thing is the offensive scheme employed by offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. 

If there’s one thing that Nussmeier can hang his hat on, it’s being a great scripter of the first drive of every game. Nussmeier has shown that even against the great defenses of Alabama, Florida State, and Michigan (last week especially) that if he has time to prepare and perfect the opening drive, he will catch his opponent off guard. In those three games, the Gators’ offense put up opening drives of 64 yards (touchdown), 73 yards (turnover on downs), and 46 yards (field goal) against each team respectively. And while the Florida State drive did not result in a score, the Gators were able to drive the ball down to the Seminoles’ two-yard line.

However, that success is really as far as it goes for Nussmeier in those contests. Only one time did Florida surmount a better drive in those games, which was a 10-play 92-yard touchdown drive against Alabama. Minus those successful drives, Nussmeier has not been able to make the proper adjustments to overcome the adjustments the opposing defenses have made.

Look no further than this past week against Michigan. Apart from its opening drive and its closing drive (6 plays, 39 yards), Florida’s offense was only able to amass 107 yards. Most critics were quick to point out an ineffective offensive line that broke down far too often.

Poor line play should not be an excuse for this offense though. There are plenty of ways to minimize the weakness of the line. For instance, Nussmeier could have chosen to go up tempo or use more of a spread scheme. He also failed to use power when situations called for it and were badly outnumbered personnel wise.  

Florida seemed to abandon passing principles that have been successful for the team in the past. For one, Franks’ strength is throwing the deep ball, and after hitting one completion for 34 yards, Nussmeier seemed to go conservative instead of attacking the secondary. The Gators also deserted more advanced crossing routes with Antonio Callaway being sidelined due to suspension. However, that doesn’t excuse Nussmeier from trying more slants or post routes against a defense that often had seven players stacked in the box.

The offense has not shown any signs of improvement since Nussmeier and McElwain have taken over the program. Florida has ranked 116th (2016) and 112th (2015) in total offense since Nussmeier has been named offensive coordinator.  This begs the question, where do the Gators go from here?

Some say the solution is simple by stripping Nussmeier of his play calling duties. However, after going through just one game with a freshman quarterback, I don’t think that’s the best answer. Instead, Florida needs to stick with Franks as the starting quarterback and give him full reigns to the offense. Before Will Grier was suspended for the remainder of the 2015 season, Nussmeier showed he could develop a young quarterback, and there’s hope that he can do that with Franks.

With that being said, Nussmeier’s days are numbered, especially if Florida can’t get its offense going against Tennessee and Kentucky in the coming weeks. Without a tune up game against Northern Colorado, the Tennessee game could have much bigger implications for the offensive coordinator. If the offense doesn’t show any signs of improvement, it could be time for McElwain to find another play caller.

Who was the last Florida Gators quarterback to throw for over 2,000 yards in a season?
Created 9/8/17
  1. Tim Tebow
  2. John Brantley
  3. Will Grier
  4. Jeff Driskel

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