GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense at Florida has produced two national titles and a Heisman winner, earning Meyer a reputation as one of college football’s most innovative offensive minds.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s no-huddle spread offense is currently all the rage.
“It’s pretty mesmerizing to watch Oregon play a college football game right now,’’ Meyer said Monday.
The No. 1-ranked Ducks lead the nation in scoring offense (54.8 points a game) and total offense (572.8 yards per game) with quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James causing fits for defensive coordinators.
The Ducks’ high-powered attack caught the Gators’ attention earlier this season when Florida was preparing to play at Tennessee. The previous week, Oregon scored 45 unanswered points in a 48-13 win at Tennessee after falling behind 13-3.
After the game, James was asked what adjustments the Ducks made to surge back and decimate the Vols.
“We didn't make any adjustments in the second half,’’ James told reporters. “It comes down to tempo. Once the tempo gets going, it's hard to stop. Once those guys got tired we kept rolling.’’
The Gators turned up the tempo in a 34-31 win over Georgia on Saturday in Jacksonville, installing a no-huddle up-tempo offense that included rotating quarterbacks John Brantley and Trey Burton around at times on the same play.
The tweaks produced 450 yards and what Meyer called his most important victory, snapping a three-game losing streak and keeping the Gators’ quest for a third consecutive trip to the SEC Championship Game alive.
“I just see the evolution of the game right now,’’ Meyer said. “Florida has got as good athletes as anybody in America. What’s our edge? We have to find that edge.
“In ’05, we really didn’t have one. In ’06 we had some edge when we recruited Percy [Harvin] and then Dallas [Baker] came on and then obviously Tim [Tebow] went crazy in ’07. In ’08, you had a bundle of them. We are just still trying to find what that edge is. You can’t play offensive football without it. If you don’t have that edge, then it’s just a mess. That’s kind of where we’ve been. So we’re looking at tempo as an edge, multiple quarterbacks as an edge, and development of players.’’
Senior center Mike Pouncey has seen enough of Oregon’s offense that he’s convinced the Gators’ attempt to install a more up-tempo offense in the middle of the season is a challenge worth taking on. As the Gators watched film earlier this season of Oregon’s dismantling of Tennessee, he was reminded of the way the Gators moved up and down the field in recent seasons.
“They’ve got the best tempo in college football,’’ Pouncey said. “You can tell why they put up so many points. They’ve got a lot of great athletes. In the second half, Tennessee was so gassed against that up-tempo offense.’’
Burton saw some of the same signs of fatigue in Georgia’s defense Saturday.
“It’s awesome,’’ said Burton, who rushed for a career-high 110 yards and scored two touchdowns. “It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done on offense. We try to snap the ball as fast as we can. It wears the defense down. In the first half, they were done. They were about to tap out.’’
Meyer said passing-game coordinator/receivers coach Zach Azzanni was instrumental in helping install the up-tempo offense the past three weeks. Azzanni was part of a similar attack as an assistant at Central Michigan the past three seasons.
The wrinkle the Gators have added is the consistent rotation of Brantley and Burton – and allowing Jordan Reed to take a few snaps as well – at quarterback. In Saturday’s win, Burton often lined up at quarterback, called the play, then Brantley would race over from his spot at slot receiver to take the snap – or vice versa.
“It’s just trying to confuse the defense,’’ Brantley said Monday. “They game plan for Trey being at quarterback and myself at quarterback. When they see Trey back there and myself out, they are going to call a defense for him. When I come back in, it just causes a little confusion.’’
By the time the switch is made, the defense doesn’t have time to make any checks. The defense is also scrambling around, exerting more energy than normal.
“It’s hard for the defense to get lined up,’’ Pouncey said. “It helps out the whole offense. It helps us out because the defense doesn’t get set a lot, so they are not coming off the ball as hard.’’
The Gators are working now to refine the offense and see if it can boost production the rest of the season. Florida enters Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt ranked ninth in the SEC in offense, averaging 344.1 yards.
With two of the team’s top playmakers – running back Jeff Demps and receiver/running back Chris Rainey back in the mix – and Brantley and Burton working well together sharing quarterback duties, optimism is as high as it has been all season following the offensive revival against Georgia.
“They believed in what we’re doing and knew that we could execute it at a higher level, that it was right around the corner,’’ offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said after the Georgia win. “That’s all that matters to me.’’
No one is ready to compare the Gators’ modified offense to Oregon’s explosive attack, but they appear to be moving in the right direction.
“It could be lethal,’’ Meyer said of the new approach. “We have to get this thing going and we’re still not done. We’ve got a lot of football left to play and we’ve got a lot of improvement to do.’’