If Graham Mertz plays every week like he did on Thursday night, the Gators will win games. However, if Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne have a repeat performance every week, the Gators will be hard pressed to win many games at all.
Last week in my preview, I said that one of the biggest questions for the Gators offense was how would they protect their running game. You saw a couple examples last night, but the game state after halftime allowed Utah to load the box and play 3 deep coverage. They were content to stop the run and not allow explosives in the passing game. Utah consistently put 7 men in the box against Florida’s 11 (1 back 1 tight end) personnel grouping and 8 in the box against the Gators 12 (1 back 2 tight ends) personnel.
Florida tried a variety of ways to protect their run game, but I felt like there were a couple more that would have yielded great results. Let’s look at what they tried and then we’ll discuss what else they could have done.
Early in the game Florida tried to protect the run game with a little modern triple option. The running back is the dive player and the wide receiver in motion is the pitch open. The QB also has the option to keep it if both the RB and WR are taken away. That’s what happened on Thursday and Mertz kept the ball for an easy 5 yards on first down.
Florida also used screens much more and in better ways than last year. You had some beautiful screens to backs.
You also had some great designs for the receivers.
Florida also combined two screens into one play a few times. The plays looked something like this.
The QB reads the defense and decides if he is going to throw the bubble to the motion man or come back the other way to the running back. In the clip below, Mertz throws to the wide receiver that went in motion. If you look up top, you can see the running back starting to leak out on his screen path.
Screens are great but there isn’t always a hard run action associated with them. Utah was flying downhill to stop the Florida run game. This aggressiveness provided some opportunities in the play action game. Florida was about to hit a couple of boot plays against the grain of a pursuing defense.
I do think Florida could have used the boot and similar concepts a little more. One of their bigger gains of the day came on an intermediate crossing route off play action.
I think there was more opportunity for throws in the area. If the defense is going to fill for run so aggressively, you have to make them pay more often. You can see below how many defenders Utah has inside the tackle box. You also have corners and safeties playing downhill on the run.
Some more intermediate play action throws could have taken advantage of this aggressiveness.
A little more use of 2nd level Run-Pass option (RPO) concepts would have been helpful as well. It looks like Florida ran one and it could have been pulled and thrown to the receiver for a decent gain.
I think Utah gave a pretty good blueprint on how to defend the Gators. Utah loaded the box, mostly played coverage over the top and Florida was not able to get them out of it. Teams will try to do the same going forward and limit the Gators run game.
If Billy Napier and co. can’t make teams pay for playing this aggressive style then it could be tough sledding for the Florida run game going forward.