A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He has returned to continue sharing his musings through the 2013 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.
It has been about eight months since I last got these fingers working on my laptop’s keyboard, so as an old man these days, I’m sure I’m experiencing the same soreness and pain as the Gators as they conclude fall camp. All joking aside, the offseason seemed like it dragged on forever and the return of college football is long overdue.
The first game of the season is by far the most important game for every program. It may sound like coach-speak when they say they take the season “one game at a time,” but it is – for the most part – an accurate statement.
For the coaches and players, it is the first chance to evaluate all the hard work that was put into spring football, offseason work outs and fall camp. It’s the first true measuring stick of where you are as a program.
As Florida prepares to square off with Toledo, I thought it would be a good idea to share some inside knowledge about how a coaching staff puts together a game plan for a season opener, especially considering most people do not get to see what goes on behind the scenes and the extensive preparation that leads into the first week.
Simply put, preparation for the first game was quite different than for a game midway through the season.
We watch a lot of opponent film. This can be a super-long, tedious and difficult process because you’re not watching film of that opponent from the current season but rather the year or two prior. There is obviously nothing current on tape because, like you, that team has not seen the field yet.
Additionally, while rosters may be similar from the year before, chances are high that the depth chart has changed drastically. Seniors graduate, players transfer and others get injured. Not only that, but the offense or defense that was run in prior years could be totally different due to a change in coordinator or major adjustments to scheme.
Many times what the coaching staff will do is pull film of comparable teams that are regularly on the schedule, like Tennessee, for example. If Toledo happened to play a similar style of defense, it would make perfect sense to add some Tennessee film in order to explain certain concepts or spacing.
Of course the players are not the same – and neither is the talent level in most cases – but coaches can gain a lot of knowledge by looking back at plays that were successful against certain defenses (as well as those that were not).
This is how game plans and playbooks are created for any one specific week. Back when I was playing for Steve Spurrier, we had approximately 130 offensive plays in our overall playbook. While not all could, would or should be used for any given opponent, the variety allowed Spurrier to pick and choose the plays he thought would work best each week against whatever defensive scheme we were facing.
Most good offensive teams have 100+ plays or variations of plays in their playbooks. This gives a coach or coordinator the ability to trim out 50-60 plays that he believes will be successful headed into any single game.
The problem with doing this for the season opener is that no team wants to “show their whole hand” the first week, especially against an opponent of lesser quality in a non-conference showdown. So while the Gators may prepare 50-60 different plays/variations for Saturday, the way offensive coordinator Brent Pease will call the plays for his side of the ball will not be as creative or explosive as fans might hope.
Miami will more than likely be the first true test of the season for Florida. If the Gators were to use a majority of their best and most effective plays in a season opener they will likely win anyway, it will give the Hurricanes an edge as the one game of film they have on UF would give away the vast majority of the playbook.
They will have current film of recently-used plays to game plan, meaning any element of surprise Florida wished to maintain would be eliminated.
It is very tough for any team to adjust in the middle of a game, even though some coaches are very good at it. Head coach Will Muschamp appears to be one of those. The less a team knows about you, the more likely they will be unable to stop you no matter how much adjusting they try to do at halftime – plain and simple.
With that being said, expect a very “vanilla” show from the Gators this week. They will probably run a lot of plays from 2012 and leave some of their new plays and gadgets in the book for their first road test of the season.
Remember folks, the SEC regular season like a chess match. A 12-game chess match.