College Football, Florida Gators, Recruiting

Mailbag: Improvements in 2018, Mullen’s offensive effectiveness, and the one thing Florida has to do to consider 2018 a successful season

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I got a ton of great questions and just didn’t have the time to answer them all. Thank you so much for the response and for reading. I will likely turn some of them into full-scale articles during the offseason, and please keep sending questions via Twitter or to Will@readandreaction.com for the next mailbag.

What improvements will be apparent next year on the field with this new coaching staff in place? @sean_hankins

One of my many complaints about McElwain the past three seasons was that his players just didn’t show any discipline. It seemed like Florida jumped offsides constantly, and the stats bear that out. The Gators ranked 129th out of 130 FBS teams in penalties per play, which is a way of adjusting penalties per game for pace.

Mississippi State wasn’t great (83rd), but a 46 spot gain for Florida would be very noticable. Additionally, Florida averaged 112th in penalties per play during McElwain’s tenure, never ranking higher than 98th. Mullen’s average over that time at Mississippi State was 44th.

You don’t really think about false starts usually, but remember that the patented Nussmeier run on second-and-15 can’t happen without the penalty first. 

Do stats support the decline of the effectiveness of the offense after Mullen left Florida after 2008 (even before Meyer left)? @KenJr76

They certainly do. I wrote about this earlier in the year if you want more details, but the big takeaway came from the following chart:

Splits for the 2008 and 2009 Florida Gators football teams – Total, vs. FPI Top-25 and vs. non-FPI Top-25 teams. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

Florida performed almost equally as well on offense against run-of-the-mill opponents. However, against top-25 opponents (as measured by ESPN’s FPI), the Gators offense scored 11 points less per game. This was despite averaging virtually the same yards per play (6.7 in 2008 vs. 6.5 in 2009), yards per rush (5.6 vs. 5.2) and yards per pass (8.7 vs. 9.1).

Does Scarlett retake the starting job? @wes_yount

Jordan Scarlett is a good running back, and based on 247Sports composite rankings, he has the highest rating of any of the running backs on Florida’s roster (117th nationally). But he’s only averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his career, which is good but not spectacular (for reference, Georgia had three players who averaged more than 6.0 yards per rush in 2017).

There were 122 backs (who qualified for the NCAA rushing title) who averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry in 2017. There were 281 backs who qualified, which puts Scarlett’s performance as slightly better than average.

He’s also going to be competing for carries with Malik Davis, Lamical Perine, Adarius Lemons, Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement. This doesn’t even take into account the carries that will undoubtedly go to Kadarius Toney, Emory Jones and Justin Watkins.

I think people are underestimating two things about Scarlett. First, it is really difficult to take a year off from a sport and remain healthy, let alone play well. But second – and perhaps more relevant – is Scarlett was really bad at pass protection in his first two seasons. If that doesn’t improve – based on the increased discipline I expect to see – Mullen isn’t going to let him play, let alone start.

What’s the most important position for recruiting in 2019? @Matt_Peters86

Defensive line, and it’s not even close. The average star ranking for the top-5 defenses in the FBS in 2017 was 4.1 for defensive linemen, 3.4 for linebackers and 3.5 for defensive backs. Florida’s starting defensive line had an average national recruiting ranking of 130 (4.1 star average) in 2015, 348 (3.3 star average) in 2016 and 450 (3.3 star average) in 2017.

Mullen only brought in one true defensive lineman (Malik Langham) and hybrid rush end/outside linebacker (Andrew Chatfield) in his 2018 class, both rated 4-star players. This is an improvement on Jim McElwain’s recruiting, as McElwain averaged 1.3 top-300 ranked defensive linemen per recruiting cycle from 2015-2017.

But compare that to Florida State’s average of 3.0 top-300 defensive linemen during the same cycles (and another 3 in 2018) and it’s clear that Florida is falling behind at a spot where talent is necessary to field a top defense.

Defensive end CeCe Jefferson will graduate after the 2018 season, leaving sophomores Langham and  Chatfield, senior defensive end Antonneous Clayton, redshirt sophomore defensive end Zachary Carter and junior defensive tackle Tedarrell Slayton as the only top-300 players on the 2019 defensive line.

A talent influx at defensive end and defensive tackle is absolutely critical for Florida’s defense to return among the elite.

What are your personal expectations for the 2019 recruiting class? @rickybow001

So although I know the crystal ball predictions this early mean very little, I looked at the top 42 players and only one has Florida as an option and that was WR Jordan Whittington. This has got to change in order to try and close the gap. Do you think it will and when? @jeastburn2

This question was asked in a variety of ways by a bunch of different people. Quite simply, my expectations are for Florida to have a minimum of the third rated national class and 14-16 blue chip players.

Second year recruiting classes for the last four Florida head coaches. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

As the above chart shows, Zook, Meyer and Muschamp brought in elite talent in their second year. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Zook is credited for stocking the cupboard for Meyer and Meyer is the gold standard when it comes to Gators recruiting.

Muschamp’s classes were rated highly, but when you look at top-end talent, there was definitely less of it during his tenure and then the talent fell off a cliff with the McElwain regime.

Mullen’s first recruiting class matched what Zook, Meyer and Muschamp were able to do during their transition classes. But he’s going to have to match Zook or Meyer for Florida fans – and this writer – to give him any kudos in year two.

He missed on Silvera and Petit-Frere in year one. He’s not allowed to miss next season.

If you look at a lot of our big classes, we lost a significant number of players to transfer or other indiscretions. What is the possibility that this happens to Georgia’s class? @damulinksys

I’m sure some of Georgia’s highly touted recruits will wash out or transfer. Florida fans could point to 5-star recruits Gary Brown (2009) or Torrey Davis (2007) as examples.

But history says Florida fans shouldn’t count on it. From 2002-2018, Florida has signed 38 5-star players according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Of those, 27 (71%) have been drafted into the NFL and 11 (29%) have been drafted in the first round.

Georgia has signed 15 5-star recruits from 2015-2018. That means we can expect between 10 and 11 of those players to be drafted and between 4 and 5 of those players to be first round draft picks. Seven of those 5-stars were signed in the 2018 cycle, meaning that these players are going to be around for a while.

I’ve written previously about blue chip recruits and the probability that they become stars. The conclusion is that it’s far more likely that stars come from 4 and 5-star recruits, and unfortunately for Florida, Georgia leads 15-2 for 5-star recruits and 70-37 for total blue chip recruits since 2015.

The way Florida is going to compete with Georgia is to pick it up in recruiting, not hoping that Georgia’s recruits don’t pan out.

Can you fill in the blank for this question: “If the Gators _________, Dan Mullen will have had a successful first season.” Brandon Sloane

Beat Florida State.

If recruiting is the way Florida is going to overtake Georgia, then that means that the Gators have to dominate the state. To do that, they need to beat their main in-state rival.

I was upset at the close to this recruiting cycle because Florida State still beat Florida, even though both were going through transition classes. However, after looking at the recruiting numbers for the past four years, maybe I’ve been too hard on Mullen.

Florida versus Florida State recruiting from 2015-2018. (Will Miles/Read and Reaction)

Florida got absolutely trounced by Florida State in recruiting in 2015-2017. However, Mullen and Taggart had almost identical classes in 2018. That means that while Florida is behind Florida State in blue chips 57-37 over the past four seasons, the Gators are only behind 25-23 since 2017.

Since many of the elite players from FSU’s 2015 class are leaving for the NFL (Derwin James, Josh Sweat and Tarvarus McFadden), the talent gap between the two teams has closed further. Add to that Mullen’s reputation for developing QBs and the uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles with Deondre Francois’ knee injury and James Blackman’s average 2017 season and this may be the year to get them.

Yes, it seems silly to base a full season’s results on one game. But the Gators have won only one of the last eight against the Seminoles and have been outscored by an average of 29-14. Fans may remember the Gators’ dominance from 2004-2009, but 2019 recruits were 8 years old when that ended. To those recruits, Florida State is the better program.

Mullen can only change that perception one way. Beat Florida State.

How did you become the negative nelly and @realbsikes became the sunshine pumper??? @jab2375

Ever since Bill moved back to Florida, he’s been in a really good mood. Whether it’s the weather, the fishing or being closer to Gainesville, he’s just living the life.

Conversely, I live outside of Philadelphia and have just had to watch the “Iggles” win the Super Bowl while freezing my butt off. My son has learned the “Fly Eagles Fly” song in school and church and is an enormous front-runner. My daughter asked me why the police were greasing poles with Crisco and gear oil.

I’ll be back to my normal jovial self when the spring arrives. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for a trip every once in a while to visit Wawa, an Indian lady who lives just outside of Conshohocken.

FEATURED IMAGE USED and text added UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE FROm marcin wichery

3 Comments

  1. Randy

    Think Scarlett’s numbers may be a bit skewed. He had the misfortune of running behind some abysmal offensive lines. Think I read somewhere that he led the conference in yards after contact his second season. Indicating he did much of the work on his own.

  2. Sean Hankins

    Thanks Will for hitting on my question. I think doing a mailbag here and there will keep your audience more engaged with your following.

  3. CB

    Good stuff Will. Really enjoy your site and write-ups.

    Agree on the need for DL’s and the disappointment in not adding more to this last class. We’ll see what this new staff is made of soon enough (recruiting and on the field).

    Agree on Scarlett. If the kid can’t pass block, he can’t be on the field. Too much of a liability. Agree on beat FSU as well. I expect a 7 or 8 win (regular) season. If beating FSU is part of that, it will be a good ending.

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