After a difficult opening game against Utah, the pressure began to mount on head coach Bill Napier and the Florida Gators. The rough showing in the opener coupled with a first season devoid of a rivalry win meant that the third game of this 2023 season was the biggest game of the Billy Napier era in the eyes of some. The team and staff needed to find a pressure relief valve, and they certainly seemed to find one and Saturday night’s win against the Tennessee Volunteers.
Tennessee came into the game with a defense that has been feasting on the opponent’s running games and creating a ton of negative plays. The Volunteer offense is always gonna be a problem under head coach Josh Heupel. The system causes defenses to have to make some tough decisions and their tempo forces a lot of mistakes.
On Saturday night, however, the Gators were able to pull some wrinkles on both sides of the ball to help secure the victory over their division rival. Let’s take a look at a couple wrinkles that Florida pulled out to establish their big lead in the first half.
If you listened to Gators Breakdown last Monday night, Dave and I talked about some different ways that Florida could get the run game going. I said I thought utilizing motion was important and Florida did that from the very first snap of the game giving some jet sweeps to Eugene Wilson. Another way to juice the running game, in my mind, was to incorporate a few more gap runs.
Gap runs typically involve some down blocks at the point of attack and some pullers. This can be a great complement to a zone running scheme. Florida has been really good at the zone run game the past couple of seasons, and adding in some more gap schemes could help accentuate that even more. A typical zone run play may look like this.
There is movement by all lineman towards a play side gap. Everybody looks to be moving in unison to the play side or the direction of the run.On a gap run, the down block may look similar to a zone play initially but they are going opposite the play call. Your pullers will lead the way to the play side. In the picture below, I only changed the assignment of the center, right tackle and running back from the zone picture above.
Some teams start to fly over the top to your zone runs, thinking they can jump whatever side they see the lineman move. When they do that, come back the other way with some gap schemes. Florida did that and generated some big plays, including the long Trevor Etienne touchdown run. The picture above is the design of the long touchdown.This could be a pin and pull change up to the zone or a called counter. Either way the Gators blocked it up really well and sprang Trevor Etienne for a huge touchdown.
The center kicks out the end man and the backside tackle wraps for the backer. Both guys get enough of their man to give Etienne the clear lane and he does the rest from there.
Florida comes back later in the game with what is more of a true counter scheme. Here you’re pulling a backside guard and an H-Back.
The guard kicks out the end man and the H-Back wraps inside for the backer. The running back isn’t touched until he’s already 11 yards downfield.
What makes a Tennessee office so difficult to stop is their commitment to running the football. If you consistently show them light boxes, they will be able to run the ball on you. If you load up the box to stop the run, that’s when they hurt you with the perimeter screen game and shots down the field. This puts defenses in a major bind. How can I stop the run without committing too many bodies to the box?
One front structure that has become very popular is the Tite front. Initially popularized by Iowa State to combat the wide open Big 12 offenses, the Tite front has made its way all across college football. The front involves three down lineman with all the lineman between the tackle on either side of the ball you have your ends and what it’s called a 4i alignment, which is the inside shade of the tackle. Typically you also have a nose lined up on the center. You’ll typically have two linebackers behind it and the players defending the outside gaps will be wide. The idea behind it was to give the illusion of a light box to run but you still have players should the ball be bounced outside. Clog the middle, make the ball bounce.
Regardless of what front you choose to use, you can’t stay static against good offenses. Florida did a great job in the first half of moving and shifting their front late in the play clock to confuse Tennessee. Florida would show a six man box and then move to a five man box and vice versa several times.
To the boundary Florida’s defensive end would drop late if there was a two receiver side, to give the offense the initial impression of wanting to throw the screen.The QB sees a six man box and throws the screen.
Then there are other times where the Florida would move the end out wide early and shift into the Tite front. The five man box tells the QB to keep it and run, but Florida screws down the safety at the snap to basically makes it a six man box again.
Florida did a good job in the first half of keeping the Tennessee offense off-balance with this line movement. It seemed like they weren’t exactly sure when they should pull out the ball and take the easy perimeter throws or when they should be handing the ball off. It certainly helps that Florida’s interior defensive line played pretty well against the run and didn’t give up any wide rushing lanes.
All in all I thought Florida played a really solid game. Defensively anytime you can hold that offense to 16 points it’s a huge accomplishment. Offensively, you played pretty well in the first half and had a good plan to attack the Tennessee defense. The unit executed in high leverage situations and you probably should’ve scored 30 points in the first half. There are still a few things that need to be cleaned up and that’s encouraging. You didn’t play a perfect game but you soundly beat a rival that was a borderline top 10 team. And now the pressure is off… at least for a couple more weeks.