No. 9 Florida looking for faster starts on offense
Pick an excuse, any excuse.
Inexperienced quarterback. Shuffled offensive line. Suspensions.
Injuries. Fumbles. Botched snaps. Conservative play-calling.
Each of them has been an issue for Florida’s offense, which
ranks 11th in the Southeastern Conference and 92nd in the country
this season. Together, they have the ninth-ranked Gators (3-0, 1-0
SEC) in a funk, especially early in games. Coach Urban Meyer used
one word to describe his team’s first-quarter performance:
”It’s awful,” Meyer said.
The Gators have failed to score in the opening 15 minutes
against Miami (Ohio), South Florida and Tennessee. The numbers
explain why. Florida has managed a combined 58 yards, minus-26
yards rushing, seven first downs, three punts, two turnovers and
two failed fourth-down runs.
”It’s football. The ball doesn’t bounce up and down,” guard
Carl Johnson said. ”At the end of the day, I don’t really care how
the offense is really going as long as we win. Isn’t that the main
objective? To walk out with a W? No one remembers how the offense
performed when you’re holding that crystal ball. They just know you
won. You know what I mean?”
So far, Florida has masked its first-quarter problems with solid
defense and second-half domination. The Gators have trailed in
every game, but the defense hasn’t allowed the team to get too far
behind and the offense has found its rhythm after halftime.
The Gators, though, realize they won’t be able to keep winning
that way. Kentucky (3-0) visits Gainesville on Saturday, bringing
with it a veteran offense led by quarterback Mike Hartline, running
back Derrick Locke and receiver Randall Cobb.
Although Florida has won 23 in a row in the series, the last two
bolstered by fast starts. The Gators scored 28 points in the first
quarter against the Wildcats in 2008 and a staggering 31 in the
opening 15 minutes last year.
”It’s important for us to start fast,” Kentucky coach Joker
Phillips said. ”It’s important for us to play for 60 minutes. This
has got to be our best football game. We’ve got to play for four
With former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow running Florida’s
spread-option offense, the Gators jumped on opponents early the
last three years. They scored in the first quarter in 36 of Tebow’s
41 career starts, and scored on their opening possession in 24 of
Florida can point to several reasons for the drop-off in
-Quarterback John Brantley made his first career start after
spending three years playing mostly in mop-up duty.
-The offensive line was in flux the first two games because of
left tackle Xavier Nixon’s knee surgery, guard James Wilson’s knee
injury and Johnson’s one-game suspension.
-Receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. missed the first two games because
of suspension, and tight end Jordan Reed missed the opener because
of a knee injury.
-Ball security has been the biggest culprit. Center Mike Pouncey
had several bad snaps in the opener and another one last week at
Tennessee, accounting for four of the team’s 14 fumbles (five
lost). Throw in three dropped passes by Deonte Thompson, some
penalties and a few poor throws, and the Gators have struggled to
move the chains early.
”There’s no question that we’re slow starting,” offensive
coordinator Steve Addazio said. ”A little bit’s got to do with
we’re young. … We had spurts where we looked pretty good, we look
real good at times, then we have the little spurts where it doesn’t
look as good at all. We’ve got to even that out.
”I think that’s going to come with more experience and more
familiarity with what we do best.”
Addazio said execution is the main problem right now, so he’s
not ready to change the offense’s routine or start scripting
But with games against top-ranked Alabama and No. 15 LSU
looming, the Gators want to start playing first quarters like they
have second halves.
”Florida’s restarting, if you really want to look at,” Johnson
said. ”It’s going to be slow. We’re going to have problems. …
Right now we’re stagnant, but we’re still strong. We show off (in
the) fourth quarter. Second-half dominance. That means more to me
than winning by 80 points.
”I know in crunch time … we can fight hard in the fourth
quarter and pull away from a hard battle. That means a lot more to
me. It shows the team has a lot of character and will than beating
somebody by 60 points.”