Following Thursday’s 12th practice of Fall camp, members of Florida's offensive line and running backs faced the media. It’s obvious these players are enjoying digesting the new playbook. However, maintaining concentration and the mental aspect of the game are still in the works.
“I feel like we’ve prepared really well to be ready for the up-tempo offense, but sometimes it’s just like mental focus and guys just have to dial in, that’s all,” Junior right tackle Jawaan Taylor said.
To put it mildly, Florida’s offense has struggled in the nine years following Dan Mullen’s departure for Mississippi State. As head coach at Florida, Mullen is aiming to resurrect the Gators’ once high-powered offense, and envisions doing so by fielding a physical running team.
“I like it. We pound the rock and he wants to make sure we establish the run game in every game that we play. I feel like that’s a key to winning games. If you can run the ball on the team you can control the game,” redshirt junior tailback Jordan Scarlett said.
One season ago, Florida’s offensive unit severely suffered in the rushing attack, averaging only 156.6 yards per game, which was ninth best in the conference. With a new coaching staff in place and improved teaching methods, Florida’s senior offensive lineman, Fred Johnson, weighed his thoughts if they can enhance the running game.
“Yeah we can do that. We can run the ball with the best of everyone. Really just hone in on our skills as an offensive line and know the assignments, even when they bring funky looks and they’re giving us good work at that.”
Tempo, temp, tempo. It’s the word that’s been spread around the college football world in the past decade. Coaches devise strategies to keep the defense off balance and the offense moving at a rapid pace. During the two previous administrations, tempo wasn’t in their vocabulary, and over the last eight years, Florida’s offense has been almost dead last in plays per game and averaging a 97th ranking in this category.
Despite being a walk-on, redshirt junior center Nick Villano is in the mix for the starting job to be the anchor of the offensive line. On Thursday, he explained the new up-beat offensive scheme.
“It’s real up-tempo. It’s quick, quick, quick, quick, get the ball, get on the ball, get set, make sure the defense is not lined up. Snap the ball and go. That’s the biggest thing.”
Fred Johnson later gave an example from practice of the up-tempo offense confusing the defense.
“The other day we went fast and literally a defender came on the field with a towel still on their helmet. It was funny, but you catch them all in one spot and can throw it the other way. Coverage is blown, and all sorts of stuff.”
Running backs feast on wearing down opponents. With fatigue setting in on the defensive side of the ball, it allows the offense to generate scoring opportunities and continue to move at a quick speed. Scarlett voiced his opinion on the new up-tempo scheme.
“I say the fast pace. I like it. It’s more spread and it gives you good numbers in the box. As he [Mullen] says, football is all about a numbers game and what you know. So, if we actually know what we’re doing and go and execute it right I feel like we’ll be successful.”
Florida bolsters a plethora of experience on the offensive line, bringing back the ninth most experienced line in the country, and their development in this new playbook is essential for their offensive success.
John Hevesy’s teaching techniques are furthering the process from his offensive live. During position meetings, Coach Hevesy has shown film from former Gators center Maurkice Pouncey. The former All-American at Florida is one of the best offensive linemen to come through this university.
Redshirt junior lineman T.J. McCoy described the film and techniques Coach Hevesy displays to his players.
“The thing he said Maurkice [Pouncey] is good about is snapping the ball fast. You know, it’s all about technique with our coach—always getting your feet right. So, that’s what he’s been showing us about Maurkice. With him, it’s not doing it one play, it’s every play. He keeps his feet every play right. That’s one thing that he’s been stressing to us. That’s something that’s really good about our coach.”
As Fall camp continues and the first Saturday of September approaches, Florida’s offensive line will seek consistency and building a tougher mental approach. The success of the offensive line will determine how improved this Gators’ offense will be on the field, and tailback Adarius Lemons understands the importance of the front-five gelling as one.
"Our offensive line, they have gotten a lot better just under coach Hevesy. He's really hard on those guys and I like that, because in order for us to run plays you have to have a line. So the linemen is key. With no lines, no running backs, no quarterback, no nothing. So Hevesy is doing a really good job with the linemen.”