Snell’s Slant: Mind the gaps, respect Death Valley

By Adam Silverstein
October 9, 2013

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.

With the team facing so much adversity over the last few weeks, it was pleasing to see the Gators put together such a convincing win over an above average Southeastern Conference opponent (at least as far as physicality is concerned). This was the first week that I thought Florida would truly be tested on both sides of the ball, and for the most part the Gators passed with flying colors. That is not to say everything was perfect; there is plenty of room for opportunity and growth.

Florida finally seems to be finding some chemistry in the passing game, especially between Tyler Murphy and Solomon Patton, but I cannot help but concentrate on the issues in the running game. There is a severe lack of explosive plays on the ground save for Matt Jones’s 67-yard gain at Kentucky, an outlier.

As head coach Will Muschamp indicated after Saturday’s game, the offensive linemen are not getting any movement on their blocks. It is not necessary for these guys to absolutely maul and knock their counterparts flat on their backs every single play (a pancake block) for the running game to be successful.

What Muschamp is referring to is the offensive line struggling to move defenders out of what are supposed to be gaps for the running backs to hit.

In case you’re lost…

The gap between the center and the guard is called the “A” gap; between the guard and tackle is the “B” gap; and between the tackle and tight end is the “C” gap. Any play designed to be run into one of these gaps is considered an inside run and everything else beyond that are outside plays, whether direct hand-offs or otherwise.

Though it depends on the defense, most defenders are assigned specific gaps to cover. And most inside run plays are dependent on the offensive lineman moving the assigned defender out of that particular gap so the running back has room to run, whether squeezing by for a few yards or breaking through for a huge gain.

The Gators’ offensive line has no choice but to find a way to start being more successful and consistent in moving defenders out of these gaps. One option offensive coordinator Brent Pease may consider is throwing in some zone runs plays to mix things up. This would allow the running backs to choose one of multiple gaps on to hit, and it is often beneficial for teams that are struggling to run the ball between the tackles.

While on the topic, but moving to the other side of the ball, success defending gaps is one of the main reasons why Dominique Easley was having a top-notch season before being injured. He is stout enough to rarely ever get blocked out of his gap and is actually a two-gap player who is strong and quick enough to cover two gaps without making a lot of mistakes. Even above average defensive tackles struggle with that kind of assignment; Easley thrived in his role with UF this season.

During the Arkansas game, I tweeted that Murphy’s pocket presence and ability to extend plays with his legs stood out to me in a major way.

When I played for Denver in 2004, I got to block for Jake Plummer a few times. He would have been a good quarterback otherwise but what made him great was his ability to escape from pressure and either make an accurate throw on the run or pick up the first down with his legs. As an offensive lineman, if I missed my block, I knew there was a better chance that a guy like Plummer then and Murphy now could potentially make a defender miss and turn it into a positive play.

Jeff Driskel may be a better athlete than Murphy, but the latter’s combination of natural talent and football IQ have him performing at a higher level.

Florida has a lot to be proud of but must quickly drain the success from their consciousness because a tough task is ahead Saturday when the team takes on LSU in Death Valley. Simply put, it is one of the most intimidating places to play in all of college football. For Muschamp and his troops, this is as close as they will come to understanding how opposing teams feel when they play a game in The Swamp.

Having played at Tiger Stadium twice in the middle of the afternoon as the featured game on CBS (2001, 2003), I can tell you first hand the Tigers are dangerous at home. My Gators were lucky enough to go 2-0 in Death Valley, but Florida this year will be going up against a hungry LSU team still seething from its loss to Georgia two weeks ago and ready to exact revenge on a UF squad that manhandled it just last year.

4 Comments

  1. SWFL Joe says:

    Shannon, in your opinion is the offensive lines inability to get movement on their blocks a result of poor technique, lack of strength or lack of talent?

  2. kinggator says:

    I agree with this article 100 %, we have a,major issue with our rushing attack, but i am very pleased with tylers progress

  3. Zee Kay says:

    I’m worried that it’s more of a running back problem. Gaps won’t always be where you planned them to be. Great running backs with a savyness about them will find a gap when the intended gap is closed. Jones has zero ability to do this. He lacks the creativity and shiftiness that we saw Alex Collins and other great SEC backs use. They need to start using Kelvin and Mack as the 1,2 punch. Muschamp is beating a dead horse in jones like he did with Driskel.

  4. G2 says:

    They just have to give KT the ball. He is the only one with the power and quicks to break off a long one. This 2-3 yards up the middle isn’t going to cut it this week, we have to score some points to win this one. \

    Guess we’ll see how good our D really is as we haven’t played a great offense yet. If we can stuff Hill we win!

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