GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators won their season opener over a scrappy Mid-America Conference opponent by double-digits, yet there was UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease on the defensive amid criticism -- from the press, the talk-radio waves and fan site message boards -- about the lack of splashy, highlight-reel plays.
“This is a growing process. I want it to be more than what it is right now,” Pease said just one week into the regular season. “You are always going to see different things. I want to be more productive. I want to be better on third downs. I want to score more points. We need to create more first downs. I want to be more balanced in run and pass. Is that all going to happen in the first game?”
Those remarks, by the way, came almost one year ago to the day -- Sept. 4, 2012 -- in the wake of a 24-14 defeat of Bowling Green, which happened to be Pease’s first game as UF’s coordinator.
Now, here’s a sample of what he had to say a few hours ago, as he dissected his unit’s performance in a 24-6 victory over Toledo, another MAC opponent, three days earlier.
“Did we have to stretch the field at a certain point in time? No. Did we have it in the game plan? Yes,” Pease said Tuesday, after the Gators tallied 415 yards, including 262 on the ground, to kick off the season. “I’m not sure what everybody wants.”
Oh yes, he is.
Face it, everybody wants fireworks that have been synonymous with Florida football for a larger part of two decades.
The Gators didn’t fire rockets against the Rockets. They didn’t light up the scoreboard or cause collective “Oooooooohs” and “Ahhhhhhhs” to echo throughout Florida Field.
They just won.
And they did it the way Coach Will Muschamp felt they needed to against a Toledo team that came south hoping to control tempo, possess the ball for long periods of time and be in the game in the fourth quarter.
“We wanted to run the ball because of what they do offensively,” Muschamp said.
That’s not to say the same approach will be taken when the 12th-ranked Gators (1-0) head to South Florida this weekend to renew their dormant rivalry Saturday with a high-noon showdown against the cross-state foe Miami Hurricanes (1-0) at Sun Life Stadium.
“We’re capable of doing a lot more than maybe what we showed out there,” senior wide receiver Trey Burton said. “But we’re also more worried about winning games than how many points we score.”
That’s the standard line, but there will come a time -- maybe Saturday, but certainly down the line in SEC play -- when the Gators will have to stretch the field in order to generate more balance.
In the interim, Pease pointed to some statistical numbers to diffuse the chatter that mirrored reaction after his debut game a season ago.
- UF gained 50 more yards than its opener last season, with nine so-called “explosive” plays , which constitute runs of at least 12 yards and pass completions of 16 or more.
- The Gators were 6-for-12 (50 percent) on third versus 5-for-16 (31.2 percent) against Bowling Green.
- Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel completed 77 percent of his passes. That figure was 62 last year.
- UF went 3-for-3 on third-and-1 situations, compared to 1-for-10 in third- or fourth-and-2-or-less against Bowling Green.
- The Gators took possession of the ball with 6:49 to play and ran out the clock on the Toledo 4-yard line, putting an exclamation point on a 2-for-1 time-of-possession ratio (39:48 to 20:12).
It may not have been what UF fans wanted to see, but the end result was effective.
“There’s potential for us to do a lot more, for sure,” senior center Jon Harrison said. “By choice, Coach Pease chose not to throw the ball so much and establish the run, instead. This is our second year together. We trust him. So whatever he has in mind for a game, that’s what we’ll do. It worked.”
That’s not to say Pease left the stadium Saturday night overjoyed with how the Gators performed. There were missed opportunities downfield, including a dropped pass from Solomon Patton that would have gone for a big gain. There were two sacks, both of which resulted in Driskel fumbles (one lost). Looking back, a few more first-down passes (just eight of 30 in those situations) may have generated more balance.
Maybe. Turns out, things worked out just fine.
Somewhere between Saturday’s win and Tuesday’s meeting with reporters, though, Pease heard a certain word attached to his game plan that conjures up a definite connotation; a not-so-flashy one.
Left a bad taste in his mouth.
“I’ve never made a game plan from vanilla,” Pease said. “And I would feel too uncomfortable saying, ‘We’ve got to save this, save that.’ ”
Said Driskel: “We pretty much wanted to run the ball and that’s what we did. That really doesn’t change week to week. We’ve always got to run the ball. We did some things with some zone-read [option] stuff. We did some naked [bootlegs], some drop-backs, some empty [backfield], so I didn’t think it was too basic. We just didn’t have too many vertical plays because the defense was so loose.”
There’s no reason to think the UF objective won’t be the same this week; not against a Hurricanes defense that ranked 112th in the nation in stopping the run last season, allowing 217 rushing yards per game.
UM went into the season looking for huge improvements on defense. In its 34-6 defeat over Florida Atlantic, the Hurricanes surrendered 133 yards rushing, but on 43 carries; only about 3.1 per pop.
The Florida ground assault -- 262 yards against Toledo, without starting tailback Matt Jones, who will make his season debut this week -- figures to be a different challenge.
“We were missing some key components and we still moved the ball,” Harrison said. “Some of those components are starting to get back now.”
Plus, the Gators have wrinkles to throw off play-action -- whether it’s Jones or Mack Brown (112 yards vs. Toledo) -- that weren’t on display against the Rockets because the game’s tenor did not necessitate them.
“I’m not measuring [success] on yards,” Pease said. “That’s called trying to get your ‘guru’ card. Maybe when I was 30 years old, but I’m not 30 years old anymore.”
Along the way, he’s taken a liking to many flavors.
Not just vanilla.
“I’m starting to understand the methods to Coach Pease’s madness recently,” Harrison said. “It’s all starting to make sense.”
“And it’s not for me to disclose.”