Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media on Tuesday to provide some thoughts on Florida’s recent struggles and the Gators’ upcoming contest against the No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs, which is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
FIXING AN OFFENSIVE OFFENSE
When Roper was hired to take over after Brent Pease’s ouster, it was expected that he would inject some life into the Gators’ offense. Florida would supposedly spread the ball out, throw it down the field and take chances that it had not in the past.
However, after posting 101 points in its first two games, UF has combined for just 72 in its last four contests. For Roper, it all comes down to a pair of major issues – the downfield passing game and turnovers.
“Right now, turnovers. Sometimes it’s a different theme, week-to-week. We obviously haven’t been as good in the passing game all season long. But specifically, in the last game, it’s turning the football over,” he explained.
“If you look at it, it’s kind of the trend. We were good in the first game, second game we were pretty good in, I think we had one. It’s been a theme of three until we doubled the three. We’re an offense that has to take care of the football better right now. It’s the primary goal going into this next opportunity.”
With head coach Will Muschamp on the (scorching) hot seat, Roper’s tenure with the Gators looks like it may last for just one full season. He is not concerned about the ramped up pressure but rather ensuring that Florida improves on a weekly basis.
“As coach-speak as it sounds, after a game if you win, you sleep pretty good and you still wake up pretty early. If you don’t win, you don’t sleep very good; you usually wake up and your mind thinks about something. If you play as poorly as we did against Missouri, then you just don’t sleep at all. You get started, so Sunday you’re in here,” Roper said.
“But once you get going and you start [asking questions], it really becomes almost your security blanket, if that makes sense. You get in and do what you do. That’s what you focus on because the next opportunity is coming. We can’t hold it off and keep it from happening. You’ve got to try to come up with as many answers as you can to get better, but you’ve got to move on. You’ve got to move on and get ready.”
Roper said the players and coaches alike take ownership in what is happening on the field. Losses are personal and everyone wants to get better but obviously the proof will be what occurs between the lines.
READY FOR PRIME TIME?
It will be freshman Treon Harris leading Florida’s offense into battle on Saturday when he becomes the first rookie quarterback since Chris Leak to do so entering the team’s annual rivalry game against Georgia. Leak, of course, led the Gators to a victory over the Bulldogs in 2004, but Harris will be going up against a much better UGA squad with a UF offense that is simply not as talented from a playmaking perspective.
Though Muschamp and Roper both said two weeks ago that Harris did not have a good enough handle on the full scope of the offense to start or even see extensive playing time for Florida, they agreed this week that Harris has picked up a great deal now that he is getting all of the first-team repetitions in practice.
“There’s not going to be a whole bunch of scale-back. The whole thought process is to not turn it over – the big thing right now – and try to take care of the football,” Roper said Tuesday. “I think he’s got a really good understanding of what our base is, and what I’ve been saying all along is that it’s really not that complicated … once you get the grasp of the overall scheme. So I think he has a pretty good feel of that. What we haven’t done is grown a whole bunch offensively because we’re trying to get better.”
Harris’s athletic ability and creativity may allow the Gators’ offense to take that step forward, that is if he is able to display it on Saturday. Roper has seen glimpses in practice.
“He makes things happen on the practice field that aren’t necessarily designed and are maybe outside the design. It’s not different than some of the plays in the game the other night,” he explained. “You’re hoping it doesn’t have to come to that necessarily, but he was still able to make some plays. That’s what we’re going to have to have happen on Saturday is him make some plays.”
In addition to getting plenty of reps over the last two weeks, Harris has also been able to dig deep into the Missouri tape, which Roper believes taught him “a lot of things,” such as “making sure you’ve got the right personnel on the field, making sure everybody’s lined up correctly, making sure you have control of the clock, making sure you know the down and distance.”
He continued: “There’s so many things going on in a guy’s head at one time, that’s where experience becomes your best teacher, and he’ll grow in that. But I think the biggest thing is that he learned from it was, hopefully, just to know when to quit competing and go on to the next play. I mean, he threw a touchdown pass, and man, it was exactly like we designed it [sarcasm]. And hopefully he comes off the field understanding that we’ve got to play smarter than that.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On what happened to redshirt junior QB Jeff Driskel, who does not have a specified role entering Saturday’s game: “You look back at it, there’s been ups and downs. LSU game there were a lot of good things, Kentucky game there were a lot of good things, Eastern Michigan [too]. Tennessee was a challenge for us. The last game. … Here’s the thing: He works hard, he’s prepared, he cares, it means a lot to him. [He] just made some mistakes in that last game that weren’t typical mistakes that weren’t necessarily mistakes he’d been making earlier in the year, and so I can’t necessarily put my finger on why. It just is what it is. Last game we couldn’t run him, we couldn’t help him with that aspect with trying to run him [due to his back injury]. … We lost that aspect to his game, which I think he’s really good at some of those things.”
» On balancing the deep running back position: “That’s been a challenge. You only get so many people you can put on the football field. It’s hard to put three tailbacks in the game at once unless one has multiple skills. We didn’t have Brandon Powell in the spring because of injury, and we lost him after that first off week for a couple weeks, but he’s a guy that has those and has the ability to do different things, the skill level. … Brandon is the guy that gives us some flexibility that way.”