If you listen to enough press conferences, you’ll hear Billy Napier (and almost all coaches) talk about complementary football. In an ideal world, complementary football is when both sides of the ball play well and make it easier for the other side of the ball. For instance, if I defer at the beginning of the game and kick a touchback the other team starts with the ball at the 25 yard line. If my defense forces a three and out, the offense should get the ball in really good field position. If my offense then goes down and scores, we will kick off again and the cycle hopefully continues. That all makes sense but it rarely happens that perfectly. The tougher question is how do you play complementary football when one side of the ball is not playing well.
That was the dilemma the Billy Napier in the Florida Gators were faced with against Georgia on Saturday. You could tell pretty early in the game that the defense was gonna have some problems stopping Georgia.In the realm of complementary football, if one side of the ball is playing poorly the other side must play much better to compensate for that. If you have an elite offense, maybe that just makes it play a little faster or you change the tempo up a little bit. If the defense is not gonna be great, you might as well get as many plays as you can on offense. If you don’t have an elite offense, the proposition becomes a little trickier. You still have to get more plays on offense but it may also require you to be a little bit more risky. In his post game press conference Billy Napier stated that they knew early they were going to have to get to a certain point threshold to win this game. That probably informs how the game plays out on the offensive side of the ball a little bit.
We have seen this from Napier before. Last season against Tennessee we saw Florida go for a lot of fourth downs and try to keep the ball as much as possible, even in risky field position. Napier knew going into the game that his defense wasn’t going to slow down Tennessee much so we had to maximize his chances on offense. It seems like Napier came to a similar conclusion after a couple of drives against Georgia. Florida called a beautiful, opening drive, going right down the field to score.The defense turned right around and allowed a long drive to the Bulldogs. After a sack forced Florida to punt on its next drive, Georgia went right down the field quickly to take the lead. Napier knew by then what kind of game this was gonna be and you saw that play out on the next drive.
Since 1997, underdogs of 14.5 to 17 points cover the spread just over 48% of the time and win outright just over 13% of the time. The question for a coach is which would you rather do: would you rather keep it close for appearances, and never have a chance to win the game, or do you want to give yourself a chance to win the game and risk being blown out? This is something that actually happens in college football. You will see coaches that are big underdogs play to not get blown out just for appearances. Now playing this way, almost eliminates your chance to win the game but if you keep it close enough, maybe the fans won’t be mean to you on Twitter. Since he’s been at Florida, I don’t think Napier has coached in this way. Regardless of what you think of play calling or some decision making, they try to play to win. That is certainly how they played Georgia on Saturday as evidenced by going for it on fourth and one deep in their own territory. I actually didn’t hate the playcall and will get into the scheme below. You use a little deception to put the ball in one of your best players hands and you just didn’t execute the play as it was called.
This decision also showed Napier’s risk appetite. He still may have gotten some criticism for going for it that early, but if he would’ve called a quarterback, sneak and failed, most people wouldn’t be up in arms about it. Now is a quarterback sneak when you’re not very strong up the middle against Georgia a great call from the yard out? Probably not but it’s conventional. And if something is not gonna work, it’s much easier to be conventional to save yourself from criticism. But being conventional doesn’t always maximize your chance of winning a game.
Let’s take a look at the play call by Florida on that early fourth down. Florida has used about four or five different quarterback sneak looks this season including one last game at South Carolina. After a sneak early in that game, Florida faked one later and pitched it out to their tail back. Everybody loved that one because it worked. This time you get into a 12 personnel double wing look and snap the ball between the quarterback legs to the tailback. This actually isn’t a brand new thing. A few teams have run this type of play with some success. Here’s a couple of examples.
South Dakota State ran a similar play. They snapped the ball between the quarterback legs and the back threw a pop pass.
William and Mary ran a different version. They snapped it through somebody’s legs and ran speed option.
The Lions even ran a version of the play against the Panthers.
The Lions version was a straight run play. Florida’s play gave the running back a run/pass option.
They snap the ball between the quarterback’s legs to the running back who had the option to run or throw to the receiver coming across the formation into the flat.
Georgia played it well, but if the ball is thrown on target in Florida likely converts.
Instead the back never throws the ball and we’ve got journalists writing articles about how stupid the play was. Such is life as a coach.
Florida knew coming in that this was going to be a difficult game. They started off great on offense and the defense just couldn’t respond. Being a big underdog, you’ll need a few breaks to go your way. Turnovers, short fields, big plays on special teams, and getting some favorable calls would all go a long way towards springing an upset. When those types of plays go in the opposite direction, you are going to have a really hard time keeping up.
Emotionally, the Georgia game is always one of the biggest on the schedule. Logically, I’d argue this next game is much bigger. Unlike a lot of fans, you have to avoid a killer hangover from the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. A win at home against Arkansas gets you into a bowl game and hits the over on your season win total. Bowl practices for a team as young as Florida are extremely important and can help kick off your next season. A loss next weekend opens up the possibility of losing out. That is not the type of momentum you want heading into signing day and a critical year three.