GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis now share offices next to one another. They’re both football junkies looking at the game from opposite sides.
Ten months ago at Qwest Field in Seattle Quinn and Weis lined up on opposite sides, Quinn as Seattle’s defensive line coach and Weis as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator.
The Chiefs won, 42-24, in the kind of explosive offensive performance indicative of a Weis offense on a good day.
Kansas City rolled up 503 yards of total offense and got everyone involved. Quarterback Matt Cassel threw for 233 yards, four touchdowns and wasn’t sacked. Running back Jamaal Charles racked up 173 yards and his backup, Thomas Jones, added 68 yards. Receiver Dwayne Bowe had 13 catches for 170 yards.
Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry walked off the field perplexed by how easy it was for the Chiefs.
“I would say just football-wise that is the worst anyone could play on defense, 200 yards on the ground alone, that's just the worst game ever,’’ Curry said afterward.
At the time, Quinn and Weis couldn’t have imagined that two months later they would be working together on Will Muschamp’s inaugural staff with the Gators.
As a first-time defensive coordinator, Quinn enjoys chats with Weis in the hallway about the finer points of the game. Sometimes he’ll bounce an idea off Weis, or sometimes they’ll talk about something they saw on tape of an opponent.
Quinn started his NFL coaching career by spending four years with the 49ers, an organization lifted into the limelight in the early 1980s by offensive mastermind Bill Walsh. While he earns his living coming up with ways to stop offense, Quinn is thankful Weis is now an ally.
“Charlie is in my opinion one of the sharpest offensive coordinators in football at any level,’’ Quinn said. “It’s been a good resource for me. We talk all the time about football.’’
Receiver Deonte Thompson was reminded of Weis’ wide influence on Monday night as he watched Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throw for a career-high 517 yards in a win over Miami. The plays the Patriots were running are some of the same ones Weis calls.
“The play Wes Welker caught, we have that play, too,’’ said Thompson, referring to Welker’s 99-yard touchdown reception on Monday. “I was like, ‘We run the same offense.’ It was very interesting. I knew what they were doing.’’
In his first two games as Florida’s offensive coordinator, the Gators have taken two completely opposite approaches. In the season opener against Florida Atlantic, the Gators passed 36 times and ran 33, the kind of balanced attack that has defined Weis’ play-calling over the years.
However, with the Gators struggling inside the red zone in their 39-0 win over UAB, Weis took the ball from the air and put it on the ground, calling just two passing plays in the second half.
Florida ran 75 plays, 55 of them rushing calls. To Weis, any drive inside the red zone that doesn’t result in a touchdown is a failure. So after three field goals earlier in the game, he opted to hand off to running backs Chris Rainey, Trey Burton, Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown in the second half on the way to 300 yards rushing.
“I told them we were going to change modes,” Weis said. “We play a lot of up-tempo. I told them I just want to get in there and pound them for the rest of the game.
“I said it will pay dividends down the road when you just want to be able to get to the line of scrimmage and say, ‘We're going to run it, you know we're going to run it, but we're running it anyway.’ ”
The Blazers had no answers as Florida ate up large chunks of yardage and time off the clock to register its first shutout in five years.
Muschamp gave the change in approach two thumbs up.
“The offense really responded at halftime,” he said. “We went in and really changed things. Charlie did a great job of explaining what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. We executed very well in the second half. Three hundred yards rushing, when you do that, you're going to win a lot of football games.”
While the adjustment paid immediate dividends against UAB, it also made it harder for Tennessee to game plan for Saturday’s SEC opener at The Swamp.
Will the Gators continue to run more Saturday? Will they go back to a more balanced approach like against FAU? Is this the game Weis finally lets Brantley throw 35 times?
Vols coach Derek Dooley said the Vols are planning for all three scenarios and more.
“We don't have a lot to go on because in both games they just overwhelmed their opponents and it's like watching a preseason game,’’ Dooley said. “I don't think they showed a lot. I know they are going to show a lot more against us. They are able to get two games under their belt and really not go into the deep end of their playbook.
“We are going to have to be prepared for a lot more than what we saw in the first two games.’’
Gators starting left guard Dan Wenger won’t be surprised if that’s the case. Wenger played for Weis at Notre Dame and knows that his mind is always working to create some type of advantage for the offense.
“He always has something in his bag of tricks that he can work up,’’ Wenger said. “There’s always stuff – even after four years with his offense – that he’ll bring out new this year that’s new to me. And when he does, I always get excited.’’
Although the Gators ran the ball 55 times against UAB, they opened the game with a flea-flicker. However, like two more drives in the first half, they stalled in the red zone and had to rely on kicker Caleb Sturgis for points.
After watching film, Weis seemed unconcerned about the red-zone issues carrying over against Tennessee.
“Rather than go into a long dissertation about what they were, they were very correctable,’’ Weis said. “It would be one thing if you just got [whipped]. There were just things if we did them right then or did it better, it would have been all touchdowns instead of having to settle for three field goals.”
Brantley didn’t seem to mind the change in plans at halftime. After a 21-for-30, 229-yard performance against FAU, Brantley was 12-for-19 for 195 yards against UAB. His only pass of the second half was an 18-yard completion to Quinton Dunbar on Florida’s first drive of the second half.
“Coach Weis’ philosophy is that if something is working, we’re going to keep on running it,’’ Brantley said. “We ran the ball real well. Field goals are nice, but you like to knock it in there.’’
That’s the plan as the Gators prepare to face Tennessee, a team much more talented than FAU or UAB. Maybe Brantley will come out throwing. Maybe Chris Rainey will get the same amount of touches. Maybe this is the game where Thompson becomes a factor in the vertical passing game.
Whatever unfolds on Saturday, with Weis calling the shots and a roster loaded with speed, Dooley is bracing for a unique challenge.
“They have really good coaching and they have playmakers. If they ran spread, I'd be nervous. They run pro-style, I'm nervous. If they ran wishbone, I'd be really concerned. If they ran the wing-T, because we don't see that very often, I'd be nervous,’’ Dooley said. “I don't think there's a scheme out there where we say, `We're in great shape.' We look at their guys and their coaches and see they have good players and good coaching.”