For weeks now, the Florida Gators coaching staff has claimed that redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel is only part of the problem when it comes to the offense’s ineptitude. Last Saturday, the Gators proved head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper right as drops, protection and other miscues – plus Driskel’s mistakes – seriously limited how effective Florida’s offense was through the first three quarters of the Tennessee game.
On Wednesday, Muschamp made it quite clear that the onus will not solely be on Driskel to play better in Saturday night’s showdown with the LSU Tigers. The skill players in particular must drastically improve, too.
“Fifteen drops at the [wide receiver] position, which is, you know…” said an exasperated Muschamp. “I look at the situation with the receivers, we’re trying to get some things going in the throwing game and we drop a slant on the first drive. And it’s like the air comes out of it a little bit. We’ve got to overcome those situations. We’ve got to finish on some plays; we’ve got to be able to place the ball on 3rd and 6 to an out route to a tight end on the money. There’s a lot of things involved in it. I think from the standpoint of us making some plays, creating some confidence for our guys is critical.”
In an effort to show the Gators’ playmakers how their minor mistakes – jumping too early for a pass, running the wrong route, failing to block effectively or altogether – are affecting Driskel and the offense as a whole, Muschamp addressed the unit Monday and stressed that the players need to take ownership of their roles on the team.
By doing so, he also attempted to take some pressure off of Driskel by pointing out to his teammates how the signal caller is not the only one causing the offense to appear as if it is stuck in the mud during games.
“The passing game takes a lot of components to work well,” he explained.
“It starts with protection, which I think we’ve protected extremely well this year. You go down to a tipped ball interception, we have an a-gap blitz which the running back doesn’t pick up, Jeff’s got to force the ball a little bit quicker than he would like to. You have a receiver across the middle that is open, it hits off his hands, probably should have caught the ball and it’s an interception, so we’re all going to blame that on Jeff Driskel? That’s not all Jeff Driskel’s fault.
“We took about 15 plays from the game and illustrated to our players – and not to defend Jeff but to defend the quarterback position – –that people around them need to execute better and take ownership in what they need to do better. You’ve got 15 drops at the receiver position in four games. You know, that’s a bunch.
“You want to talk about confidence and timing and getting things going and those sort of things? Those are things that we’ve addressed within the ownership of the position. Take ownership of your play and how you play and how you perform instead of pointing a finger at somebody else, which is the easiest thing to do and what we do in our society in most situations.”
Roper has his players focused on executing in the passing game, noting that the receivers have been working especially hard on the Jugs machine whenever they’re not involved in film study or other drills.
He thinks consistency in practice and an ever-growing comfort level with the offense will ultimately result in improved confidence and performance on Saturdays.
Florida must also find a way to get a wider variety of players involved.
For one, sophomore wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood, a bright spot for the Gators at the end of the 2013 campaign and throughout training camp, has been noticeably absent from the field and box score without a single reception in the last two games.
“We need to get Ahmad more involved. We certainly do,” Muschamp said.
Added Roper: “I think you’ll see Ahmad more in this game; you’re going to see a larger role for him. And when I say ‘larger role,’ I mean you’re going to see him out on the field more. Hopefully that creates some opportunities to make some plays.”
Junior Latroy Pittman, Florida’s starter in the slot, will have some company there with freshman C.J. Worton returning after fracturing his hand in the team’s season opener.
“C.J. is just one of those guys that can catch the football,” Roper said. “He’s got really good ball skills, and he’s got really good short-area quickness.”
Though the lack of offensive touches for redshirt senior wideout Andre Debose remains a mystery – Muschamp praised him endlessly in the 2013 offseason before his injury and once again this summer – the Gators will get another quick-twitch player back for Saturday’s game in freshman running back Brandon Powell (hamstring).
“Brandon Powell, getting him back and putting him in some different roles, will be very good for us,” Muschamp said. “We wanted to expand his role in the off week and we were unable to when he pulled his hamstring. But he looks great.”
With three young potential weapons set to see more snaps and the veterans – Florida hopes – entering the LSU game with a renewed focus, the Gators could very well see an uptick in offensive production if all the puzzle pieces finally come together.