Mitchell: Why Bama Rolls Florida
Florida QB John Brantley
A team can only play the opponents on its schedule…but that doesn't mean we have to fawn over its wind-aided performance. A deeper look behind the curtain
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter @russmitchellcfb
Before we start putting too much stock into the Florida Gators' lofty start to the 2011 season, remember they were 4-0 this time last season, and while things were by no means perfect, the Gators were putting up a ton of points. 38 per game to be exact, including a crushing 48-14 number on the Kentucky Wildcats heading into the Tuscaloosa Massacre.
Yes, you'll tell me…this Florida offense holds no similarity whatsoever to last year's, Russ. Only it's quarterback, both running backs, and its leading receiver.
Where Florida IS similar to last year is in Passing Offense; through four games, the Gators are only averaging 15 ypg more than they did in 2010. But they're being more efficient, right? More on that below.
Clearly Florida's offense is different. It welcomed a new, brilliant offensive coordinator in Charlie Weis, who's putting in his own intricate schemes. There are much fewer zone-reads, more drop backs passing, and more classic "student body right/left" runs...likely a nod to its new, young, old school head coach, Will Muschamp. By all accounts, there also appears to be more discipline and attention to details/fundamentals.
IT'S THE RUSHING, DUMMY
However, the big difference for Florida so far this season has been its Rushing Offense.
Through the first four games of 2011, the Gators are averaging nearly 100 yards more rushing per game than they did in 2010. Senior Chris Rainey appears to have supplanted Jeff Demps on the first team depth chart. To date, Rainey has more yards than he did for all of last season. He's averaging a blinding 6.5 ypc on 63 carries – 411 yards.
Not that Demps is sitting idling by... A Coaches Preseason Second Team All-SEC selection, Demps is averaging 9.4 ypc on about half as many touches as Rainey (34), but has twice as many touchdowns (4). Perhaps this is Weis' strategy to keep the oft injured Demps on the roster.
So far, it's been very impressive.
Care to guess how stout the run defenses are of the four opponents the Gators have played thus far? Don't look – we'll do it for you.
Collectively they average a woeful 91st in the nation Florida Atlantic is 83rd, UAB 118th, UT 59th (67th the week before and after the Florida game), and UK 103rd.
On Saturday, Florida will butt heads with the nation's third best rushing defense, and second best defense overall. Quite a step up after a relative slate of "rushing defense patsies".
Yes, you can only play the teams on your schedule…but that doesn't mean we have to fawn over your wind-aided performance.
A PASS IS A PASS IS A PASS IS A PASS
As anyone reading CFN knows, a good rushing game is a quarterback's best friend. When the running game is working, opposing secondaries must cheat up to help, making the passing game easier…yet, as noted, Florida's is up only 15 ypg over 2010. You'll tell me…that's because Weis and quarterback John Brantley are being more efficient, Russ.
Right. Florida's Passing Efficiency offense through four games this year is 53rd in the nation. Last year? 55th. Material improvement.
Want more? Brantley has certainly thrown fewer attempts this year – that's down about 25%, from 114 to 86. Florida's rushing the ball better, after all.
However, Brantley's execution is, well, identical to this point last year. He's 55-of-86 for a 64% completion rating. In 2010? 73-of-114…64%. Again, with a better running game taking pressure off this year.
He does have more yards (752 vs. 700) on those fewer passes; however, again, the rushing attack has opened up opposing defenses, leading to more generous passing lanes...a luxury Brantley will not enjoy on Saturday. He also has twice as many interceptions on fewer attempts, and fewer touchdowns.
When Florida is unable to run like it has in its first four games, and the pressure begins stacking up on Brantley to execute, with a suspect corps of wide receivers, against a Bama secondary with perhaps the best safeties in the country and two NFL-caliber cornerbacks, all with only one returning offensive lineman while still digesting a new offense scheme… Pressure is a nutcracker. Ask your ex. And the Gators have faced none of it in 2011.
You'll tell me…none of that matters, Russ, we're going to win with our dominant front seven.
Sure you are.
Herein lies the problem with caressing one's on press clippings too fondly. As it relates to the Gators' fearsome front seven, care to guess how good their four opponents have been running the ball this year?
Florida Atlantic? 120th. Dead last. UAB? 114th. UT? 112th. And Kentucky? 90th.
Not exactly mettle-testing.
And no, these programs were bad at both Run Defense and Offense long before and since they met up with Florida.
On Saturday, The Gators' secondary will likely have to help the front seven more than at any time this season…which will make pass coverage more difficult. And as Muschamp himself said Wednesday, there have already been times where the Florida secondary has been "very average".
BAMA'S GOT AN OFFENSE TOO…WE THINK
Remember also that Bama's destruction of Florida last season was in spite of its abysmal offensive production. Mark Ingram rushed for just 47 yards, Julio Jones had a mere 19 yards in receptions, and quarterback Greg McElroy shined with a 11/17 for 84 yards, 0 TDs day.
A pulse on offense will be an improvement for the Tide over 2010.
These special teams units balance each other out. Both place kickers are good, both punters are average, and both teams have good kick returners and kick coverage. Call it a wash.
As for Florida's offense, it may have improved vs. 2010; against sub-par competition it certainly appears so. And it has one of the best offensive minds in the game steering it.
Yet it's not like this Alabama defense has been sitting by whittling. 10 of the starters that crushed the Gators last year return, and they've all improved. There are disciplined, ruthless, fast, ruthless, and ruthless. They will not be concerned with the Swamp crowd; these are seasoned, future NFL players. They will lead Bama to a healthy double digit win.
Florida will be lucky to rush for half of its 2011 average against this Tide defense.
When that happens, the pressure will fall squarely on the shoulders of Brantley. Against good defenses, Brantley has struggled for his entire college career.
On Saturday, he'll go up against the best defense he has ever seen.