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Florida's defense must be alert and disciplined against Georgia Southern's triple-option running attack.

Friday November 22, 2013Gators Gear Up to Face Patented Georgia Southern Triple Option

Florida's defense must be alert and disciplined against Georgia Southern's triple-option running attack.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer senior writers Chris Harry and Scott Carter preview Saturday's game.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators last faced Georgia Southern 17 years ago, a 62-14 win at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in which Florida rolled up 658 yards of offense, still good for eighth-best in school history.

The Fun N’ Gun didn’t cause many – if any -- visor tosses on that early September day in 1996.

Still, a lasting image from the Gators’ runaway win is of former UF coach Steve Spurrier barking at defensive coordinator Bob Stoops, in only his second game at Florida, on the sideline. Spurrier was not happy with Florida’s run defense as the Eagles rushed for 311 yards.

Georgia Southern’s triple-option attack took large chunks of time off the clock, enough to drive Spurrier mad.

“The way Georgia Southern ran the ball on us was scary,’’ Spurrier said after the game. “Maybe it will bring us back to earth after the first game [a 55-21 win against Southwestern Louisiana], because we gave up a lot of yards and a lot of first downs.”

Some things really don’t change.

Will Muschamp

Memo to Florida’s defense: Georgia Southern still runs a triple-option and still gains yards on the ground in bunches. The Eagles lead all FBS and FCS schools in rushing with an average of 353.5 yards per game.

Florida’s best defense might be its ball-control offense.

“It’s a huge concern just because it’s so different,’’ Florida head coach Will Muschamp said. “You just don’t ever see it. We need to make sure our guys are ready to go at 2 o’clock on Saturday.”

Georgia Southern has used the triple-option offense – its version often referred to as a “flexbone” formation – to win six national titles at the FCS level. Former Eagles coach Paul Johnson took it with him to Georgia Tech, where he runs a similar offense.

There are few FBS schools running the triple option other than Georgia Tech, Navy and Army.

Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken relies on the triple-option’s rarity to help neutralize some of the disadvantages his team faces against programs more talented and with deeper rosters.

“It really is a different brand of football in terms of the kinds of things defensive coaches are teaching their guys on a weekly basis in preparation for a more traditional offense,’’ Monken said. “That gives us a little bit of an advantage.”

The Gators faced Furman in 2011 during Muschamp’s first season. The Paladins surprised Florida by opening the game in a lot of triple-option formations to take a 22-7 lead. The Gators made the adjustments and came away with a 54-32 victory to become bowl eligible.

There are few mysteries according to Muschamp in defending a triple-option attack.

The offense is built around deception in the run game. Does the fullback diving into the middle of the line have the ball? If the quarterback faked to the fullback, is he going to keep it off the edge or pitch it to the slotback trailing him? Those are decisions and reactions the Gators will have to make in a matter of seconds.

“It’s all about eyes and execution, taking care of your responsibility on every snap,’’ Muschamp said. “It’s not just the [defensive] front guys. It’s the whole defense. They run it fast. Again, that’s why you have to make sure of assignment, [have] sound eyes and execution.”

Florida ranks third in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing 115.1 yards per game. The Gators have been hurt by their run defense at times during their five-game losing streak.

In last week’s 19-14 loss at South Carolina, Gamecocks running back Shon Carson broke free from the shadow of South Carolina’s goal line for a 58-yard gain in the fourth quarter. The drive ended with South Carolina kicking the go-ahead field goal.

Carson, Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Missouri’s Henry Josey and LSU’s Jeremy Hill have each had 100-yard rushing games against the Gators during their losing streak.

The Eagles use several different players to churn out yards on the ground, led by senior all-purpose back Jerick McKinnon (102.8 yards per game), quarterback Kevin Ellison (76.8 ypg) and running back William Banks (53.4 ypg).

“It’s a total technique change,’’ Gators defensive tackle Leon Orr said of defending the triple option. “It’s all about focus when it comes down to it. It’s something our defense has gotta hone in on and be able to focus on your role and not try to do too much.”

Gators middle linebacker Michael Taylor will play a critical role in slowing down the Eagles, who visit The Swamp coming off wins over Western Carolina and Elon. Saturday’s game against the Gators is the last for Georgia Southern before it completes its transition to an FBS program next season.

“I faced that [triple option] a lot in high school,’’ Taylor said. “I know if you don’t stop the dive you’re in a lot of trouble. We have our ways of stopping it this week. We’re ready for anything.”

The Gators are ready for a victory most of all. To get one, they can’t get run over by the Eagles.


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