Evaluating Florida's Offense

ARE CHARLIE WEIS & THE FLORIDA OFFENSE READY FOR ALABAMA'S TOUGH DEFENSE?

By all early accounts, the Florida offense has improved tremendously from the 2010 debacle. Charlie Weis, former head coach at Notre Dame, was brought in as offensive coordinator by new head coach Will Muschamp to turn things around. The first REAL test for the Gators will come Saturday Night on national television.

Maybe this offense really has turned things around. Or, maybe a soft early schedule has generated too much hype and not enough reporting!

Of course, it's hard not to improve off 2010. Florida had too many series last year where they looked like the keystone cops. Bad snaps. Bad passes. Penalties. The amazing athletic talent that Urban Meyer had recruited was still able to bust lose and make some big plays. But, the simple basics of execution sometimes seemed to be beyond the grasp of quarterback John Brantley and many others on the field.

Since then...

  • Urban Meyer has retired from coaching, though that might only be temporary given his age and temperment.

  • Meyer's reputation took a hit as his former right-hand man Dan Mullen greatly improved Mississippi State upon taking over. Suddenly what Meyer had always gotten credit for was being attributed to Mullen (probably correctly)

  • Will Muschamp was hired away from Texas because Florida wanted young blood and Muschamp was tired of waiting for Mack Brown to retire.

  • Brantley has gotten over his "the guy who replaced Tebow" curse and gained some confidence in leading the team. Kids can mature quickly, and Brantley is showing signs of having doing that.

The results out of the gate have definitely been promising. Just look at the final scores.

Florida 41, Florida Atlantic 3
Florida 39, Alabama-Birmingham 0
Florida 33, Tennessee 23
Florida 48, Kentucky 10

If you're averaging about 40 points per game at the college level, you're obviously doing something right. That being said...

  • Florida Atlantic is bad this year...and Brantley didn't exactly set the world on fire in that game. He was 21-30-2-229 in the air. That's low passing yardage for that number of attempts against a bad opponent. And, he threw two interceptions in a "statement" performance against a bad opponent. It may not be fair to nitpick about a 41-3 win. But, if you convert what 21-30-2-229 looks like against somebody like Alabama...you get 15-30-3-179 or something worse. That season opener could just as easily have been an illusion rather than a breakout performance.

  • UAB is bad this year...and Brantley only threw the ball 19 times. The edge at the point of attack was so pronounced that Florida focused on the running game and coasted to a blowout. Brantley did avoid interceptions, and continued to show leadership on the field. We don't want to suggest at this point that he's just an indifferent jockey on a thoroughbred horse. But...let's just say that his performance may not quite have been what you were imagining from the combined 80-3 start on the scoreboard.

  • Tennessee is far from bad, but we need to see more of their defense before knowing how to rate them. And, frankly, the Florida offense didn't exactly sparkle in that game even though they scored 33 points. Brantley was 14-23-0-213 on the afternoon...with 83 of the yards coming on one play that happened to bust through and go the distance. He was 13-22-0-130 on all of his other passes, which is not a good harbinger against somebody like Alabama.

Also, the Gators converted just 31% of their third down tries, which had them settling for field goals much of the day. The rushing attack managed just 134 yards and 3.4 yards-per-carry. What would that equate to against Alabama? Oh...and there were 16 penalties for 150 yards on the day! That's offense and defense combined of course. But, that's obviously a mistake-filled performance against the first real opponent Florida faced this season.

  • Kentucky looks to be pretty bad this year too...but the Florida offense really did sparkle across the board in a road game that could have represented a danger spot on the schedule. The Gators weren't caught looking ahead to 'Bama. They truly had a stellar performance that even nitpickers like us couldn't complain about.

So, nitpickers like us, and handicappers like you have to determine of Brantley really has figured things out now...and is ready for a prime time national TV test against a team many are picking to win the BCS championship this year. Or...do the conversions from what happened the first three weeks toward an equivalent vs. Alabama spell doom with a capital "D?"

We have some ideas about that. We certainly think the Gators will fare better offensively and overall than they did last year in a one-sided 31-6 loss in Tuscaloosa. Have they improved so much that they'll cover a short spread at home? Or, even win outright? We will say this.

  • John Brantley is about to be challenged in a way that he hasn't been yet in 2011.

  • Charlie Weis is about to be challenged too...and he flunked almost every major challenge he faced as a head coach at Notre Dame. Maybe he's best suited to be an offensive coordinator...and he will help Muschamp get the Gators back to the top of the heap in the SEC and the nation. Or, maybe he's one of those guys who only knows how to bully bad teams.

  • Will Muschamp is about to face his toughest challenge in his short head coaching tenure. He certainly was involved in a lot of big games as an "assistant" head coach at Texas. We'll learn a lot about his abilities under fire during the CBS telecast.

We're not going to tell you on a Friday if we definitely have a big play in this game or not. It's surely on the radar...and could easily be part of our very popular TV Triple Crown feature. Other games in the mix for that are Nebraska-Wisconsin on ABC (which we'll preview in our Saturday edition of the NOTEBOOK), Clemson-Virginia Tech, Michigan State-Ohio State, Texas A&M-Arkansas, Notre Dame-Purdue, and a few others.

Sunday in the NOTEBOOK, we'll preview the much-anticipated Jets-Ravens Sunday Night game on NBC. Both teams have one loss already, and somebody's going to fall back to .500 when the evening's over. Monday will bring our weekly preview of the MNF game on ESPN. We have a few days to find an interesting angle in Indianapolis-Tampa Bay beyond "how bad is Indy going to be this year?"

JIM HURLEY has a huge weekend on tap for his clients. You can build your bankroll tonight with Utah State-BYU on ESPN. We've already talked a lot about BYU this season on these pages. Will they finally impress the first time they step down in class? Or, has Utah State improved enough (remember the Auburn game?) that BYU has a lot to worry about?  Saturday will feature a College Shocker of the Month that you'll have to see to believe. That will be our first major release of October. Our second will be the NFL Trap Game of the Month Sunday in the pro's.

If you have any questions bout NETWORK, call our office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to ask about postseason baseball when you call. The playoffs start FRIDAY with two games in the American League (Detroit at the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay at Texas). We had another great year on the diamonds in 2011. Don't blow off the baseball just because football is so busy on the weekends. Passing baseball is leaving money on the table!

See you early Saturday to talk about Nebraska-Wisconsin. Now...LINK UP with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for the best plays in all of cyberspace!

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