Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media on Tuesday to provide some thoughts on Florida’s second loss (at home against LSU) and the Gators’ upcoming contest against the Missouri Tigers, which is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
To say that Florida’s approach to running the football last Saturday was questionable is an understatement. The Gators entered the game with their starter, junior running back Matt Jones, injured (ankle) and questionable. UF planned to run redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel a lot in the contest, too.
Despite Jones’s health and the prospect of overworking a quarterback who had not carried the ball that much in any other game this season as very real concerns, Florida did not appear to have a power rushing backup plan.
Sophomore Kelvin Taylor and redshirt senior Mack Brown, who combined to tote the rock 259 times for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013, touched the ball early in the contest but were not used late when it mattered the most – on 1st and Goal at the 2-yard line, 2nd and Goal at the 1-yard line, and 3rd and Goal at the 1-yard line.
Instead, the Gators ran 5-foot-9, 177-pound freshman tailback Brandon Powell on first down, gave Driskel a chance to run it in out of the shotgun on second down, and ran a triple option on third down (that would have succeeded had the pass not been dropped).
Here is how Roper explained the personnel decision:
“We ran inside zone. … Brandon Powell is a little lighter; physical guy, tough guy, felt really good with the ball in his hands and had been playing a lot of football, had been in that series and made some plays. So we just, that was the decision that we made at that point to put it in his hands. And so we felt pretty confident; we knew what we were going to get schematically, and it’s what we felt our best thought was at that point. And then the next down, we obviously put a lead blocker in there and tried to run the quarterback to get our numbers right and put a heavier guy in there on second down. But we felt like we could number up. That’s the best way I can say it on the scheme right there.”
Why were Taylor and/or Brown not in the game?
“I thought Brandon made a lot of plays as the game went on. We had a protection issue early in the game and in those situations, it just affects the thought process through the game. … He is really good with the ball in his hands. He’s a guy that, when you hand it to him, does a good job. But you have to manage the rest of the package.”
In other words, neither Taylor nor Brown were given the opportunity to be a pure rusher – something both did with success one season ago behind a less-effective offensive line – because they have issues doing things (pass protection, pass catching) that were not necessary traits for a couple of straight runs inside the five.
Powell, it should be noted, was quite effective in the passing game. He proved to be a playmaker and spark plug as he gained 66 yards on six receptions with a long of 21 yards. As a rusher, however, he moved just six yards on three carries. Perhaps he was not the best option for that particular scenario, given the experience and prior success of others in that position group.
Florida refusing to run Taylor and Brown may not be an issue much longer for the Gators as Jones is expected to be back in action on Saturday. He returned to practice Monday and said Tuesday that he is “definitely” ready for a full workload in the game.
“I feel good about my health. I practiced [Monday], came in, no swelling in the knee, no swelling in the ankle. I feel great about this week, the game plan and everything,” Jones said.
Jones admitted that he wished he “would have played through” what Muschamp described as a “loose ankle” on Saturday, but noted that he wanted to be healthy for Florida throughout the rest of the season. “I got a lot of football to play here,” he said.
Roper is also excited to have his primary ball carrier back.
“He’s a guy that’s … he’s just so powerful. He’s hard to bring down, and the situation at the end of the game, that’s when you really benefit from a guy that’s 230 pounds and hard for one guy to tackle,” Roper said.
There’s nothing senior tight end Tevin Westbrook can do about it now. He dropped a go-ahead touchdown pass that may have won Saturday’s game for the Gators. It hit him in the hands and fell right to the ground. His body soon followed as he hit the grass on all fours in shock that he could let such a big play slip right through his fingers.
“I just didn’t focus hard enough on the ball, had too much emotions in [the game],” he told the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson on Tuesday. “It was just a roller coaster the whoel game and so when it happened, I just wasn’t locked in on the ball. [I was] more just focused on scoring the touchdown, not really securing the ball before I had it.”
Westbrook says his mistake was that he did not “look the ball in,” though he knows that is not a mistake he will make twice this season.
“I took it for granted thinking that it was such an easy pass. And then when it hit my hands I was too excited to go celebrate with the team that I forgot that I had to secure the ball,” he explained. “The SEC is a tough conference and that play is going to come up again where I’ve got to make a tough catch and now I know what I’ve got to do to make it happen. So the next time when I make that catch I’m going to come back in here and say the same thing – I looked it in this time.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Jones on what he saw from Powell against LSU: “It was good for him to get some more experience. He’s a talented back. He remind some of me sometimes because he plays as big as me and he’s got a lot of heart. I love the way he catches the ball, and I’m happy for him.”
» Roper said junior wide receiver Latroy Pittman was “in the pit” on Monday, meaning he did not participate in contact practice and was instead working on his own.
» Roper, asked why sophomore WR Ahmad Fulwood was not being targeted more often, provided this response: “Here’s the biggest thing: no matter what route you’re running, you have to think you’re the primary. You have to think the ball is coming to you so you don’t see any change of speed or [get surprised when you see the ball]. … A quarterback will throw a ball the receiver had no idea [was coming], thought there was no way he’s getting it. And those are lessons learned. You know that every route is real. And every route they do run is real. They’ve got to be ready for it. I think Ahmad does a good job of running his routes full speed all the time.”
» Roper on how the coaches can help the wideouts catch the ball more consistently: “The biggest thing is truly making whatever drill we’re doing as much like a game as we possibly might make it like a game. It doesn’t matter if we’re going through the ladder and catching a ball at the end of the ladder or just doing top end of route, catching it at the top end of the route but at full speed and bursting and getting up field. The Jugs [Machine] and all that stuff is good, but I learned from coach [David] Cutcliffe a long time ago, ‘Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.’ So what you have to do is practice at the speed of the game, make it a game rep. And the more we do that, hopefully it transitions to being more successful. But really it gets down to those guys having confidence in themselves.”
» Roper on whether the receivers’ struggles are all mental: “Absolutely. I think right now, they’re like anybody else. They don’t want to let anybody down. They don’t want to let down the guys on the team. I don’t see it as a lack of concentration for the most part. I see it as trying not to make a mistake. And it maybe leads to that.”
» Roper on running the triple option with Driskel on 3rd and Goal late in the game: “You try to call several of those all the time, and with a guy like Jeff, you know getting him out on the edge is a huge advantage because he can run and pass. You got to pick your situations and pick your areas to do it, but it’s obviously a huge deal on that play. I mean, Jeff was amazing on that play because what he had to do was burst flat because they had an extra guy back over there; they actually had two extra guys over there. He had to burst flat to stop their feet and then he had to retreat to be able to get the throw done. It was just a heck of a play on his part. But it takes a guy that’s pretty athletic. … You’ve got to have a guy that can buy a little ground, buy a little time, manipulate some space for himself, and Jeff’s capable of doing that.”