Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media this week to provide some thoughts on the Gators and their first opponent of 2014, the Idaho Vandals ahead of Saturday evening’s showdown at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
PLANNING TO MEET EXPECTATIONS
Do not worry, fans, Roper is well-aware of what you expect to see out of his offense on Saturday. In his first year at the helm of Florida’s offense, Roper has every intention on lighting the scoreboard up and winning games with his up-tempo system, though it will be up to the players on the field to execute his vision.
In fact, he not only senses the pressure but embraces it and hopes that Gators fans will have smiles on their faces by the time they leave The Swamp late Saturday evening.
“I hope they’re excited. I want them to be excited. I hope we meet the expectations,” he said on Thursday. “Whenever you are coaching at the University of Florida, the expectations are to win football games. I think that’s really the bottom line.
“I hope we can do it with exciting offense and a lot of points. Obviously, I don’t want to let anybody down, much less the guys that we’re working with all the time. We want to go out and play well. I hope, at the end of the day, they’re happy I’m here.”
Roper is not nervous about his debut…at least not yet. By the time Saturday afternoon rolls around, the butterflies will be firmly planted in his stomach until he is under the spotlight after the opening kickoff.
“When the lights come on, that changes everything. It makes it real,” he explained.
“You learn about players individually, how they handle it. You learn if some of the scheme you’ve been teaching is ready to go, if they’ve handled the changes. You try to cross every T and dot every I with what you’re doing schematically, but you can’t prepare them for everything.”
HOT TOPICS: OFFENSE
» Roper on how he will decide how much to run redshirt junior starting quarterback Jeff Driskel: “It’s always the debate. It’s an interesting discussion that we’re having all the time as a staff. The number one thing is to win a football game, to try and find a way to win a football game. And Jeff does give us the ability, with his feet, to add to the run game and cause defenses more issues, so you definitely want to use that. At the same time, you want to be smart. He doesn’t need to take any unnecessary hits. He needs to know when a player is over and get down. The discussion always goes back to, and what I try to hang my hat on and believe, is that Jeff got hurt last year in a drop-back pass. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re running the football or throwing a football, you’re always at a risk. We want to be smart. We want to minimize the amount of contact that we possibly can, but we need to be able to use his ability to run the football. It’s a balance.”
» Roper on why he chose freshman Treon Harris over classmate Will Grier as second-string quarterback: “I think he was a guy that made a lot of plays. That’s really what it gets down to. He was a decisive quarterback when you watched him in high school. He was going to make decisions whether it was in the passing game or decisions running the football versus a good pass rush or whatever it was. But I think I saw a decisive football player. He’s working hard to get better every day. He’s obviously a talented guy who has a really strong arm, a fast arm, and he can make plays with his feet.”
» Roper on how much redshirt senior transfer tight end Jake McGee will be on the field Saturday: “He’s going to be heavily involved in the passing game. He’s going to be running routes just like we did with the tight ends at Duke last year. … He’s going to have a lot of opportunities to make some plays. … He’s going to have to be involved all year.”
» Roper on whether he believes in not opening the entire playbook against less-threatening opponents: “[Each] game is so important, you’re trying to figure out how to win the game. And then what happens next week, defenses are structurally different. SO you end up creating different things to answer what the defenses are doing. So always you have your base stuff and you’re going to run your base stuff, but there’s always a couple new things created every week to offset what the defense is doing.”
» Roper on how many wide receivers may see action each week: “That’s going to be something that evolves as the year goes on with guys that are playing well, making plays and all those things. … We’ve talked about five guys or so outside plus three guys or so inside. The ones that make plays get to stay longer. We play three wide receivers quite a bit. Ten [wide receivers playing] is probably going too far, but we got a chance to [play eight]. It all depends on health, and again, who is productive and all the little things.”
EVALUATING THE OPPONENT: IDAHO
» Roper on Idaho’s defense: “I think they’ve got a good front. I think they’ve got some guys that can rush the passer, got some active guys inside that have played a lot of football, that do a good job getting off blocks and can create some issues in the pass rush and then they’ve got some experience in the back end, guys that have played some football. …I think they’ve got some good football players.”
» Durkin on the Vandals’ offense: “There’s some unique things they do in the run game with the zone read and getting different personnel groups. The routes they run in their pass game, again, they really test you and we got to be disciplined with our eyes. They give you some issues; they do some things that we don’t really see week-in and week-out. It has been good preparation for us. It has really kept our guys locked-in and in-tune with the game plan. They see it on tape. You can look dumb really fast based on what they do.”
YOUNG SECONDARY REMAINS A CONCERN
No matter how successful Florida’s front seven winds up being this season, the fact of the matter is that the Gators will be pushing a very young and inexperienced secondary out on the field each week. The last time Florida did that, during the 2007 campaign, the greenness of the players was just as noticeable as their talent.
Head coach Will Muschamp only believes the Gators have two permanent secondary starters entering the 2014 campaign – sophomores cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal. Hargreaves is very much a known quantity after bursting onto the scene in 2013, but Neal made his chops mostly on special teams during his freshman campaign.
Neal should be helped out by senior Jabari Gorman, who will start next to him at safety in Saturday’s opener. The oldest player in the secondary, Gorman has limited starting experience but has seen the field plenty in his four years with the program.
“Obviously that’s something you always lean on a little bit. It helps knowing those guys have been out there before,” said Durkin on what Gorman brings to the table. “Things they see, usually it’s not the first time they see it. We’re not shy about playing young guys. We’ve always done it, and we’re going to continue to do it.”
To that end, Durkin “feels really good about the guys” he has in the secondary from a talent perspective. He also notes that rotating players “is the way you keep developing guys in your program.”
Nevertheless, there are going to be plenty of bumps and mistakes along the way. He does not seem to mind those occurring as long as Florida’s defensive backs learn quickly and try not to make the same miscue twice.
“We talk to guys a lot about, ‘Don’t worry: Play hard, play fast.’ If you prepare the right way, you do it,” he explained.
“It’s not that mistakes are allowed or given, but they’re going to happen. No one has played a perfect game. We don’t want them feeling that way or thinking that way or being worried about making mistakes. … I want our guys truly believing that, feeling that and playing that way.”