No. 8 Florida on 1st down: run, run, run
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)
The best one might be predictable.
The eighth-ranked Gators are running the ball on 78.1 percent of their first downs, the highest of any team in a Bowl Championship Series conference.
Army, New Mexico, Air Force and Navy - teams that run option schemes - are the only programs in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision that run the ball more than Florida on first down.
''Probably a little predictable,'' Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease admitted this week. ''Now, we're never going to get it back to balanced because the numbers are so skewed at this time in the season, but we kind of go on a game-to-game basis.''
The Gators (7-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) get a chance to be more balanced Saturday against Missouri (4-4, 1-4). Then again, facing the Tigers' talented defensive front might prompt the Gators to be even more cautious.
Florida's run-pass ratio has been tilted even more over the past four games, with the Gators running the ball 81 percent of the time on first down. They ran 23 of 24 times on first down against South Carolina and 19 of 27 against Georgia.
''Obviously, we haven't made that many plays in the passing game,'' quarterback Jeff Driskel said. ''But we have confidence that when we get one-on-one matchups we're going to be able to beat them. We have good receivers and we have good playmakers, and we're just going to have to start hitting some big plays.''
Florida's predictability seemed like a fluke early in the season, especially since the offense was moving the ball pretty well behind running back Mike Gillislee.
The senior led the Southeastern Conference in rushing for much of the year, but he has tailed off over the last three weeks. Gillislee has averaged just 60 yards rushing against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia.
It has become clear that defenses are focused on stopping Gillislee, but that hasn't stopped Pease from calling his number on first down.
Gillislee has accounted for more than half of Florida's first-down runs (56.4 percent). That number increases to 64.4 percent over Florida's last four games.
It's fine when the Gators are getting significant chunks on first down. But when they're not, it leaves them in second- and third-and-long situations.
And Florida is hardly equipped to handle those.
Driskel holds the ball too long at times, struggling to make quick decisions. The offensive line has been shaky all season in pass protection, giving up 26 sacks. Running backs and tight ends need to be better at picking up blitzes. And the receiving corps has to get more separation, run more precise routes and not drop balls.
And force feeding Florida's best option, tight end Jordan Reed, comes with problems, too.
''There's coverage on him,'' Pease said. ''We had a couple in the (Georgia) game where we were going to him, but they had him sniffed out. You've got to go to your alternatives. You can't just do things where it's one guy because then what are you going to do? They've got an idea that he's kind of built into the game plan. It's there, but sometimes it isn't there, you know?''
When asked about the first-down numbers, coach Will Muschamp tried to blame them on certain situations. But when reminded that eight games is a pretty significant sample size, he relented.
''That's something we're aware of,'' he said.