GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There was no practice, but that didn’t stop Gators quarterback Jordan Reed and receiver Carl Moore from working out on their own inside The Swamp early Monday afternoon. Moore ran routes as Reed threw him passes inside the empty stadium.
A little while earlier in a meeting room underneath the south end zone bleachers, Gators coach Urban Meyer discussed the need for more energy from the offense. Reed and Moore weren’t in the room, but they obviously understand there is work to do, a message Meyer has made clear.
“Offensively is the area of prime concern right now,’’ Meyer said. “We’ve had the ability to fix issues around here. That’s our job. We’re pushing every button possible to get that fixed.’’
The Gators managed just 67 yards through three quarters in Saturday’s loss to South Carolina. They finished with 226 total yards, but the late surge was of little comfort to Meyer and his staff as the Gators lost their third consecutive game at home.
In back-to-back wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt, Florida averaged 465 yards per game and quieted their critics by going to a no-huddle offense that sped up the tempo and incorporated three quarterbacks: starter John Brantley, back-up Trey Burton and Reed, a redshirt freshman who is a powerful runner as well as an above-average passer.
However, in Saturday’s loss the offense sputtered and forced Meyer and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio to review what went wrong. Time is running out on finding the correct solution with only two regular-season games left. The Gators host Appalachian State on Saturday in the home finale before closing out the season at Florida State on Nov. 27.
“I'm not into blame. I'm not into excuses. We’re into solutions,’’ Meyer said Monday. “I know that's a coach-speak answer, especially around here. But that’s what we do. We started heading in the right direction. We’ve got to get the momentum back. We failed to capitalize on that last week offensively.
“I don’t see an offense full of life. That’s one thing that as a head coach concerns me. That’s all personnel-based and success-based. We’re trying to energize that group somehow. We’re a staff that believes energy equals production.’’
The Gators have scored 14 or fewer points in three of their four losses, far from the production Meyer’s prolific offenses have produced for most of his six seasons in Gainesville. The Gators are currently 10th in total offense in the SEC, which has offset a stellar defense that ranks second overall in the conference.
As for special teams, they have been good for the most part. The Gators lead the conference in kickoff returns – redshirt freshman Andre Debose’s 99-yard kickoff return to open Saturday’s game was his second return for a touchdown this season – and punting thanks to Chas Henry’s 47.4-yard average.
As is often the case when a team’s offense struggles, the offensive coordinator comes under the most scrutiny. Asked about a possible change, Meyer said Monday: “I don’t think that will happen.’’
To their credit, Meyer said the players have continued to work hard and buy into the system, praising seniors such as center Mike Pouncey for keeping the team united and leading by example.
Pouncey said he knows no other way.
“We have energy givers on this team,’’ Pouncey said. “I bleed orange and blue. I never give up on this program or this team. We obviously want to send our senior class out on the right note.’’
Like Addazio, Brantley has taken significant heat from fans for the roller-coaster ride on offense. Brantley has remained a steady presence in the huddle and in front of the media.
Meyer defended his junior quarterback on Monday.
“He’ll start at quarterback for Florida this weekend,’’ Meyer said. “We have to do a better job in a lot of areas. To say it’s all our quarterback, that’s not fair.’’
He also put some of the blame on himself in Saturday’s loss.
Meyer admitted that he panicked after Florida fell behind 15-7 at halftime, scrapping the quarterback rotation and going with more of a traditional passing attack.
“We felt panicked and we really shouldn't have because it was only 15-7, and I'm one of those guys who get panicky,” Meyer said. “I've got to learn to shut my mouth sometimes and say, 'We have a plan. Go with the plan.' I put that one on me.
“I wanted a big play. I'm used to plays around here. Let's get some plays. Let's make some hits. Let's do something, and that wasn't happening.”
For his part, Brantley is trying to make sure the offense remains united and that he stays focused. He offered some perspective on Monday, telling reporters that “football is only a game.’’ Brantley was reminded of that Sunday when he visited a family whose young son is undergoing open-heart surgery.
Back on the field, Brantley will do his part to keep the Gators offense energized.
“We try to keep as much energy as we can [during games],’’ he said. “That comes from us leaders. We’ve just got to do a better job of getting everybody up and keeping the energy on the team throughout the four quarters. I thought we’ve had some really good energy these past few weeks coming off that bye week.
“I still think it’s there.’’
As for Meyer’s future, he touched on it briefly Monday before saying that now is not the appropriate time to discuss the matter. He has other things on his mind.
“Well, the head coach will be back next year,’’ Meyer said. “I mean, I can't say that. I hope I am. I'm going to do the best I can to get this thing back at the elite level, which is what we all expect.’’