This foe is getting a little too familiar. We never did a film post for last season's opener, but these guys are pretty much those guys plus two transfer receivers, a new center, and a massive upgrade in coaching. Last year's 4-7 debacle was enough to cut bait on McElwain, and after losing out on the Scott Frost sweepstakes Florida found former Meyer assistant/onetime Michigan candidate Dan Mullen all too happy to be rescued from post-Dak Starkville.
Despite four-stars galore and getting back some stars lost to injury/credit card fraud, this offense is still climbing out of last year's (108th to S&P, 111th in scoring) crater. The running game suffers from a lack of QB legs and line strength in the middle. The passing game suffers from the QB's wonky arm. Mullen makes up what he can with offensive tricks, and for big games he always has something prepared that the defense hasn't seen before. Against LSU it was a triple-option that read two backside edge players. Against Georgia it was a pistol screen and RPO package that debuted with a flea-flicker that got Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson open on the first play of the game.
The film: I didn't want to choose a midseason game for a new coach but Florida plays in the weaker half of a top-heavy conference that pads its win totals with a mere eight conference games and FCS opponents (Florida played two of them this year: S-E-C!) they schedule well into November. UF's normal end-of-the-year litmus rival, FSU, is terrible right now. That left South Carolina (61st in defensive S&P), Vanderbilt (80th), or blowout losses at the hands of Missouri and Georgia. I watched Georgia again to track any recent developments, but for scoring purposes I went back to October 6th versus then 5th-ranked LSU. Like Michigan, the Tigers run a mostly Cover 1 defense with a secondary full of NFL prospects, a defensive line that's excellent on the edges but shaky in the DT depth chart, and are led by an all-American linebacker named Devin, though the Butkus winner was truthfully more Gil than Bush in this game.
Personnel: My diagram:
The only new faces since Michigan's 2017 opener are C Nick Buchanan, and sophomore transfer WRs Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes, who are both more big body types. The rest of the receivers are speedsters: Tyrie Cleveland, the starter whom Grimes supplanted mid-season, and Slots Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Kadarius Toney.
The rest of the OL has been around forever, notably LT Martez Ivey, who was the #2 overall prospect to the 247 composite in 2015, has been starting since 2015, was all-SEC in 2016, and still occasionally looks like a true freshman. Ivey had two false starts in this game, though that sort of thing is often on the center not knowing the cadence. RT Jawaan Taylor and RG Frederick Johnson are a JBB/Onwenu mauler crew. On the other hand Taylor needed constant tight end/backfield help in pass protection, and Johnson got pulled for a long stretch after a pair of instant pressures he allowed. LG Tyler Jordan might be the best of the bunch—they're a right-handed running team because of the maul brothers but also because Jordan's their best pulling guard. RG Brett Heggie, who started 7 games last year, came in for Johnson and was fine, but seemed confused on the protections.
The caveat here is pass pro:
I did some UFR-style tracking of protections and came up with 41/56 (73%). That is bad. Buchanan is particularly bad in all facets of centerhood—including and especially not snapping it over your quarterback's head.
[the rest of the breakdown, after THE JUMP]
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Hybrid between Urban Meyer's modern spread and the flexbone stuff like Matt Canada uses. In this game they went 80% out of the shotgun with 15% bone and several wildcat snaps with their athlete Toney.
|Down Type||Spread||Flex TE||Bunch||2-wide||Bone||Wildcat||Avg WRs||Pass||PA||Run|
Florida will have a second tight end on the field as often as a slot receiver, but they're more effective as a spread (I'll come back to this in the overview). The spread portion of their offense reminds me a bit of Walt Bell-era Maryland. The receivers will often bunch together far away from the rest of the formation with nobody but a TE (or maybe no TE—they went unbalanced about 8% of the time) to the opposite side:
That strategy is all about getting defenders away from the edge you want to run out of, pitting your running back against an OLB or hybrid type for all the yards. The closer together the receivers the harder it is to use the width of the field to create space for the passing game, but this passing game—limited as it is by poor pass protection and Franks's wild arm—is mostly a sideshow anyway.
The other sideshow is the flexbone stuff, which starts out of an Ace Bunch and often sees both TEs flip to the other side of the formation before the snap.
This formation makes use of their speedy receivers, particularly ATH Kadarius Toney (#4), who's the designated jet motion guy. Toney is Florida's third-leading receiver with just 35(!) targets, but he's also got 19 carries for 11 YPC. Those that aren't jet sweeps come from a Wildcat package designed for him.
Toney events are always an adventure, especially when one of Buchanan's high snaps appears when the 6-6 quarterback isn't around to rebound them. As the season progressed true freshman run-first QB Emory Jones started getting those snaps instead.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Manball, i.e. Power and Inside Zone. While Urban's own offense has slowly transitioned toward zone—especially with Kevin Wilson running it now—the power basis of the offense he and Mullen ran in Florida is now back in Gainesville. In this game they were just over half inside zone/zone-read and related counters, 32% power (much of it with the QB running), and 15% a special package for this game that pulled the backside tackle and optioned both backside defenders. Yes I'll draw it up.
And here's what it looked like on on film:
They ran this six times—two passes, three handoffs and one keeper—for 20 yards, all from the first three instances. That's the spread-to-run coach inheriting a team built for pro-style passing, coming up with something that the defense hasn't seen before, and running it until the defense has it figured out, then running it a few more times because they're out of ideas.
Hurry it up or grind it out? They're just a bit slower than the national average to Bill C. I thought they took their time, though they don't huddle. A lot of incomplete passing and running outside might distort those numbers.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): A five. Franks is a very large quarterback, every inch of his listed 6-6 and 240 pounds. When he runs he looks like an NFL quarterback trying to run:
But Mullen's offense requires the quarterback to be a run threat, and Franks, though awkwardly Threet-like in this role, is at least game. While surveying in the pocket isn't his thing, his scrambles against LSU's Cover 1 were effective. He also has 450 rushing yards on 70 attempts (sacks excluded), which puts his rushing production ahead of all but one of his passing targets.
Backup Emory Jones has thrown just 16 passes—only six downfield—versus 11 called rushes and a sack. He's a runner.
Zook Frames Janklin Factor: Mullen is a modern guy but with this offense and the defensive nature of these games they got conservative. UF punted on 4th and 1 from their 30 and 17, and I think they meant to go for it on 4th and 1 from their 42 but Franks couldn't get the team set and they took a delay of game. They also punted from the LSU 40 on 4th and 10, but given Franks's accuracy issues beyond six yards that was defensible. It went into the endzone FWIW.
Dangerman: The biggest threat on the field is only on the field half the time. Ace scouted RB Jordan Scarlett a few summers ago and then had to flush the whole segment when Scarlett got himself suspended for leading the Gator Credit Card Ring. Through the magic of saved drafts we still have some of the original:
Jr. RB Jordan Scarlett. The bright spot on a bad offense last year, Scarlett willed his way to 5.0 yards per carry behind one of the worst run-blocking lines in the country. His workload should increase and the line should be better; if that’s the case, he’s in line for a major breakout.
The line is finally getting better but the "breakout" is just 5.9 YPC and 717 yards total while splitting time with his backup. The tape is more worrisome; when Scarlett doesn't get swarmed in the backfield he has the ability to leave the majority of Georgia's defense on the ground:
LSU fared no better at trying to corral this ball of knives:
And though his gap vision is about on par with Higdon's, Jordan is better than Karan at reversing course and making a wrong step look like the plan all along.
Scarlett now splits time evenly with last year's starter, RB Lamical Perine, which is pronounced "PEE-rine" for reasons passing understanding. Perine (let's just say "per-EEN" in our heads and nobody has to know) is bigger and has grown more north-southian over the last year, but isn't the constant tackle-breaker that Scarlett is. Still, when he gets a head of steam he's going to go safety bowling. Mullen built this draw counter option that's great at getting Perine steaming into the safety level (yes there are two different snaps in this clip):
The other guy I gave a star to is the receiver Michigan was trying to get in a package with Shea Patterson but couldn't get past admissions. Despite his sub-.500 catch rate thanks to some extremely SEC quarterbacking, WR Van Jefferson is quite clever on a fade:
That cornerback is Greedy Williams, who's skipping LSU's bowl game for the draft, and the safety is Grant Delpit, an all-SEC player who would be in the draft if he was eligible yet.
Jefferson's 48.4% catch rate has a lot to do with Feleipe Franks throwaways that take advantage of a loophole in intentional grounding in that "in the area" doesn't consider a 3rd axis—Florida's downfield passing game is often a lot of staring at Jefferson and deciding whether 'tis nobler to chuck and live another day or take a chance that he'll come down with it. That comes with a caveat: Jefferson doesn't make a lot of room for himself. This is a Felton Davis situation where singled up means he's open. Oddly the 6-5 Ohio State transfer isn't nearly as leapy.
He's also got five fumbles, including one against Georgia on his own 4 yard line.
Franks threw half a dozen amazeballs passes in these two games, hence the high PFF rating despite a 12/27 for 161 yards outing. He also wrecks more than half of their passing game on his own. After a couple of hits he had a couple of series vs. LSU of panicking at nothing. After a pair of bogglingly bad throws against Georgia he spent most of the second half throwing screens (and one incredible dart). He also has that weird Henne-like characteristic of getting a lot of passes batted despite being super tall because of his arm motion.
PFF paints a picture of a Dwayne Haskins in extreme (or John Navarre). Remember this guy is 140/248 versus FBS competition this season:
When kept clean, Florida QB Feleipe Franks saw a perfect passer rating – pacing the nation's QBs in the process pic.twitter.com/ra9uihjy03
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 25, 2018
Caveat: competition. Versus five ranked opponents Franks's line was a mediocre 73/139 (53%) with 4 TDs and 4 INTs and 5.8 YPA (not counting sacks). Against unranked/FCS teams he was 102/160 and 19-2 and 9.3 YPA. Like Haskins I think there's a lot of screen noise in there. Franks rarely surveys the field, and when he does, even when clean, he's capable of making some insane decisions.
I don't know, Gary! I don't know!
Twitter this year has also caught on to Franks trying to draw calls (as well as taunting his own fans). This was all in rare form in the Georgia game, by which point SEC officials had got wise to his James Harden impression.
The sum of all this is a janky but mostly effective offense. The standard 2018 Florida offensive play is Buchanan getting blown into the backfield, a blocker from the right side of the line blowing up the other DT, and Scarlett or Perine muscling a three-yard gain into five.
The passing game is very modern basketball, i.e. threes or layups. Everything is screens, bombs, or comebacks from bombs, with very little mid-range. This is most embodied by the statline for backup WR Freddie Swain: 24 targets, 14 catches, 265 yards, and five touchdowns (including that afore mentioned one from the Georgia game):
This is an offense trying to live off the SEC-ness of its natural talent while mitigating the SEC-ness of its educational capacities. Swain was the 127th recruit in the 2016 composite. Van Jefferson was 106th. Tyrie Cleveland and Trevon Grimes were top 50. Franks himself was just outside it. Like the Urban offenses of old, none of these gifted fellas knows how to run a route or come down to a third read.
The lack of a mid-range passing offense also shows on passing downs: Florida is 13th in the country in passing down run rate (43%) and that doesn't account for how much they'll throw a screen on 3rd and long.
Why did you say they're more effective from the spread?
On standard downs in this game they averaged six yards per play from the spread (three receivers or more), and dropped two full yards when both TEs were on the field (yes, I removed short situations).
The reason for that was also extremely apparent: the tight ends can't pass block for shit. Feleipe Franks got a lot of pressure in these games and several of those incidents were on a tight end who let a DE come inside of him. Because of this Florida often used their tight ends as full-on slot receivers—almost a quarter of their snaps had at least one TE flexed out. They're effective at that, particularly backup TE Moral Stephens, who's got a 73% catch rate and almost 10 yards per target to Bill C's stats, but just 11 targets. Stephens is more likely to bust huge, but I thought him the much better player than fellow senior starter TE C'yontai Lewis, who's just a guy. Stephens also has long arms that lead to the occasional blocking plus you never get from Lewis:
#82 the offset TE at the bottom of the screen
That safety is LSU's best player, and Stephens managed to make him wrong by shooting his arms out before contact and directing the defender into his chest instead of his playside shoulder. Perine may score anyway but it's the difference between running over a safety and walking in.
Prior to Urban Meyer Exoneration Day this is the kind of offense I'd say Michigan could pulverize. The experienced back seven mitigates whatever Mullen's cooked up, the talent in the secondary takes away that downfield passing game, and just because he's been skipping out on our Survivors of Jerryworld meetings doesn't mean Franks is past what happened the last time he was chased by rabid men in winged helmets (or what happened to his buddy).
Three things now give me pause. One is no more Gary, which would have been a very nice weapon in the spot Florida most prefers to attack. The second and third are the same problems that plagued Brown's defense all year, and which Florida has the talent to exploit. The best way to beat Florida's offense is to get pressure on Franks from your nose tackle and snuff out their right-side running game with a 3-tech who can stand up to doubles. Getting Solomon in either role could be huge, since Mone isn't a pass rush threat, and Kemp/Dwumfour are hardly run stoppers. And then there's the slants and crossing routes: like his former boss, Mullen has some very fast receivers ready to punish any Brandon Watson, Josh Metellus, or Tyree Kinnel who gives up inside leverage. Adjustments will be made. If the counter to those adjustments brings back the bad ol' slot fade this will be a game.