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Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper during Saturday's Orange & Blue Debut.

Saturday April 12, 2014Roper Recharges Gators with Up-Tempo Offense

Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper during Saturday's Orange & Blue Debut.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Kurt Roper called the play “a big-pressure down-and-distance for most people.”

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, running the Blue team’s offense, faced a third-and-3 at the Orange’s 31-yard line Saturday. Team Blue led by four points and sought to extend its lead before halftime.

Of course, we’re not talking about Florida-LSU in a sold-out Swamp in October with SEC implications on the line. It was the Orange & Blue Debut on a gorgeous April afternoon – 112 days from when the Gators report to fall camp.

Still, it was difficult to tell from the way Roper barked into his headset.

“Get it out, get it out, get it out,’’ yelled Florida’s first-year offensive coordinator as Driskel dropped back to pass.

When Driskel took the shotgun snap and surveyed the defense, if nothing else, he expected to find running back Adam Lane open.

“I thought I was going to get the back in the flats,’’ Driskel said. “I think the nickel had flare control. He kind of ran into Adam instead of covering him. I was going to throw it hot, but after I saw him essentially blocked, I got to my next read.”

Demarcus Robinson

Driskel’s next option was receiver Demarcus Robinson. On this play, Robinson proved the right option.

Robinson hauled in Driskel’s pass, and then did the rest with his feet on the way to a 31-yard touchdown.

“Way to make a play,’’ Roper shouted as Driskel approached on the sideline. “Did you know nickel was coming?’’

“Yeah,’’ Driskel replied.

“It was a shallow-cross concept,’’ Roper later said. “He knows he’s got to play fast. He did a good job of getting the ball out of his hand in a hurry and responding to the pressure and getting through a progression. He made a good play.”

It was the kind of play the Gators did not make often during their 4-8 season last fall, and the kind Gators head coach Will Muschamp envisioned when he hired Roper to replace Brent Pease.

After a three-month cram course studying Roper’s up-tempo, no-huddle, spread offense, the Gators unveiled it before more than 35,000 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

For anyone paying close attention, the offense proved as advertised. The Gators ran 111 plays in a game that featured a running clock for half the game.

Goodbye huddles, hello shotguns.

Soon after he completed his pregame preparations Saturday, Roper did something he never does – he coached from the field.

“I want to work on the field to see if the communication is faster,’’ Roper said as he left the locker room.

Roper gazed into the stands as he walked onto the field, and quickly pulled on his headset once he reached the sideline. For the next couple of hours, it was “game on,’’ a phrase he repeated more than once during crucial plays in a 23-23 tie.

Roper coaches like his offense operates: fast and faster.

The first- and second-team offenses rolled up more than 600 yards, and fittingly, play was stopped with seven seconds left when Skyler Mornhinweg hit walk-on receiver Blair Diamond for a 10-yard touchdown on the game’s final play.

Florida fans wanted more offense and the Gators delivered to the end Saturday, closing what was an upbeat spring camp on a positive note.

“I was pleased with the function of the offense,’’ Roper said. “We got lined up well, we got the ball snapped in a timely manner, and we took care of the football in most instances. Those are the things you look for in every scrimmage, every game you play.”

Driskel looked sharp in the shotgun, which plays to his natural dual-threat ability, and made good decisions.

Kurt Roper

“He is doing what he was recruited here to do,’’ Muschamp said. “One of the better throws he made today was on a throwaway.”

His first pass of the game – a deep ball to Quinton Dunbar that was caught out of bounds – was a teaser for what was to come. He threw 33 times and completed 19 for 171 yards and a touchdown. Mornhinweg finished 14 of 18 for 149 yards and two touchdowns, and true freshman Will Grier, in his first appearance, was 8 of 15 for 72 yards and an interception.

Afterward, Driskel echoed the sentiments of those who clamored for change after the Gators finished last in the SEC a season ago in total offense.

“We feel it’s a new start,’’ he said.

Roper, former UF quarterback and now offensive graduate assistant Chris Leak, and two other staff members worked in concert on the sideline to get plays in as the offense worked strictly no huddle and in the shotgun.

Muschamp was impressed by the efficiency.

“That’s going to be our edge on offense,’’ Muschamp said. “I'm extremely pleased with the day offensively with 15 practices and how far we've come. I think you can attribute all that to Kurt Roper and the offensive staff and the job they've done.”

Roper hasn’t been around long, but long enough to make a good first impression -- and earn a nickname.

“Ropes always got something up his sleeve,’’ said receiver Ahmad Fulwood, who had four catches for 32 yards. “This offense is fun.”

It looked that way Saturday. The goal is for more of the same come Saturdays in the fall.

Not everything went as smoothly as Roper would have liked.

He got in Grier’s ear for running on a play in the second half instead of moving up in the pocket and throwing the ball. When Driskel missed a couple of throws on his first series of the second half, Roper ordered him “to get completions man.”

Once the game was over, Roper gathered the quarterbacks on the field and delivered some final instructions heading into the offseason.

“We left a lot of plays on the field,’’ he said. “We’ve got a ton of work to do going into camp.”

Roper is confident that work will get done.

“They are fun guys to be around,’’ he said. “This is a personality driven group. We are going to have fun playing this game.”

They sure seemed to Saturday.


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