College Football, Florida Gators

Florida puts exclamation point on 2018 season by dominating Michigan

Florida takes on Michigan in the 2018 Chickfila Peach Bowl. (Used via creative commons license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/) courtesy MGoBlog (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mgoblog/32644723718/sizes/l)

Florida came into its game against Michigan as an underdog. By the time the game was over, anyone who picked the Wolverines felt like a fool.

The Gators amassed 413 yards, 243 of it on the ground and outscored Michigan 28-5 in the second half. Clearly the missing Michigan players – particularly Rashan Gary and Devin Bush – affected the vaunted Michigan defense.

But the missing players don’t account for the domination that Florida showed in this game. Last season Florida’s offense generated 192 total yards in the entire game, 11 of them rushing. In this Peach Bowl, the Gators had 228 total yards and 128 rushing yards in the first half.

Florida had a 4-point lead at the half last year but the game felt like Michigan was ready to take control at any time. Conversely, the Gators only had a 3-point lead in this one but felt like they were the ones taking control.

Just as it was during the Florida State game last month, once Florida was able to punch the ball into the end zone rather than settle for field goals, the game very quickly tilted in its favor.

The result is that Florida finishes the 2018 season at 10-3 and has established itself as a deserving top-10 team. They also head into the offseason for the first time in nearly a decade without having to wonder whether it has a QB on the roster who can help win games.

Florida Offense

The Wolverines got dominated up-front and were continuously gashed for big plays. Florida had nine plays of over 20 yards and scored on any drive that contained an explosive play.

Perhaps more importantly though, Florida was able to force Michigan into choosing how to defend the Florida offense and regardless of what Michigan chose, Florida had an answer.

On this play, Florida is in a 5-wide receiver formation with four of them towards the bottom of the screen. There are only four defenders in the box and a blitzing safety at the snap. The other safety is 15-yards deep. That means there are four defenders for four receivers.

A point that color analyst Brock Huard made during the broadcast (and I pointed out in my preview) was that this play was only legal because Lamical Perine (#22) caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage. The key to this play is Kadarius Toney (#4) and his ability to occupy two defensive backs long enough to let Perine slip away from his man.

This is the exact same play call from the exact same formation. The only difference is that on this play Michigan has six men in the box, meaning that they are blitzing Franks instead of having a deep safety. That still leaves the same one-on-one coverage on the outside, Toney occupies two defensive backs and Perine goes in for an easy score.

On this play, Michigan moves the safety over towards the four wide receivers. That leaves the middle wide open for Franks to run for a TD. Note the great combo block by center Nick Buchanan (#66) who gets to the linebacker and allows Franks to cut back and extend a first-down run into a touchdown run.

But those are quick throws. What about when Florida wanted to take a shot deep?

On this play, Franks has a single-high safety look from Michigan again. Tight end Moral Stephens (#82) occupies two linebackers by running down the seam. Toney (#4) occupies the other linebacker and a corner by running a shallow crossing route. Note also that Perine (#22) chips the Michigan defensive end.

The result is that Florida has two receivers against three defensive backs and Franks has a completely clean pocket. Had the safety gotten over fast enough to take away the throw to Jefferson (#12), Franks could have thrown to the other wide receiver on a shorter route.

The clean pocket was the common theme for the big plays Franks was able to make. Though completions were few and far between – especially in the second half – he had the ability to step into his throws when he needed to.

On this play, Franks actually throws into double coverage. But he’s able to step into the throw and deliver it accurately with plenty of zip on the throw. Had it been thrown later or with less strength, it could have easily been an interception. Instead, it was a big play on the way to a touchdown that put the Gators up three scores.

This is the brilliance of Mullen’s game plan. No matter what Michigan did, he had a way to exploit it. His offensive line forced Michigan to blitz and when they did, most of the time he had a counter. Instead of trying to replicate exactly what Ohio State did a few weeks ago, he furthered those concepts in a way that allowed Franks to run up the middle as an added wrinkle.

And finally, the Gators executed well. That starts with Franks, who averaged 7.5 yards per throw, very close to his season average of 7.6. However, he also ran for 74 yards at a 5.3 yards per rush clip.

The result is that Franks had a yards above replacement (YAR ) of 0.91 even though he only had a QB rating of 134.1. Basically Franks was average through the air, not particularly accurate (56.5%) but was able to make up for it with his legs, which kept the chains moving and also were the primary weapon on the Gators drive to go ahead 13-10 in the first half.

Florida also only had five penalties and didn’t turn the ball over. But perhaps the best way to look at their ability to execute is to point out where they haven’t in the past.

This was two years ago against LSU. Florida was dominating up-front and McElwain was criticized for getting cute down by the goal line. There are a lot of things you can criticize McElwain and Nussmeier for, but this was a decision I defended at the time. The pitch was wide open for the touchdown, but it was a poor pitch by QB Austin Appleby and the offense looked rushed.

This is Saturday against Michigan. The rhythm of the play is better. Franks is actually a threat to run (Appleby was not in Nussmeier’s offense). The pitch is made on-time and accurately. The result is an incredibly easy TD run.

It’s the exact same concept. It was just run well this time.

Florida Defense

The Florida defense played well too, though it didn’t start out that way. Michigan hit three big plays in the first quarter and it felt like they were on the verge of breaking free for a TD at any time. However, they only turned one of those big plays into points and didn’t hit another big play in the rest of the game.

The building block of all of that was what they were able to do against the run. The Wolverines had 40 yards rushing in the first quarter, but finished with 69 yards rushing overall. Not coincidently, Shea Patterson averaged 11.8 yards per throw in the first quarter when the Gators defense was off-balance but didn’t average over 5.7 yards per throw in the remaining three quarters.

But the turning point of the game was after Michigan blocked a Tommy Townsend punt, was up 7-6 and had an opportunity to put pressure on the Gators. At the time the Gators had struggled converting in the red zone and it felt like they might end up paying for that.

Often after a big turnover or blocked punt, the opposition will try to strike quickly. It appears that’s what Michigan was trying to do.

Florida only rushes four defenders against five offensive linemen. Tackle Kyree Campbell (#55) runs a stunt, putting him on the edge where he pushes offensive lineman Jon Runyan (#75) back into QB Shea Patterson. The fact that Florida could get to Patterson only rushing four men meant they could protect against a deep strike and make Patterson uncomfortable.

From this point on, Florida was able to do just that. In fact, it happened again two plays later.

Here Jachai Polite (#99) beats his man at the snap and forces a fumble. Cece Jefferson (#96) also drills Patterson to disrupt any opportunity to dump the ball off.

Three plays prior Michigan was in a position to potentially put Florida on its heels. Because of the Gators defensive line, Michigan was only up 10-6 and Florida was able to take the lead on its next drive.

The constant pressure (5 sacks, 8 TFL) forced Patterson into one of his worst performances of the season. After that big first quarter, he wound up only averaging 6.6 yards per throw and completed 61 percent of his throws. Perhaps more importantly, after opening up the game with a 21-yard run, he finished the game with 9 more rushes for -16 yards.

Taken as a whole, he was inefficient through the air (114.2 QB rating) and inefficient overall (-1.23 YAR). Because of his struggles on the road, it would have been reasonable to expect Patterson to be average against the Gators. The fact that he played so poorly is directly attributable to the Florida defense, and particularly the pressure they were able to bring.

Takeaway

In Jim McElwain’s first season in Gainesville, the Gators went 10-4. Perhaps it’s because that team finished with three straights losses, but that felt different than this year.

The losses to FSU and Alabama in 2015 were expected. But the 41-7 shellacking to Michigan really set a tone that there was still a ton of work to do for Florida to get back to elite status.

This win doesn’t make me think this team is quite ready to take on Alabama, but it certainly does emphasize how strong player development is within Dan Mullen’s program. It also gives Florida wins over teams ranked 7th, 11th and 18th.

That is significant because from 2010-2017, Florida was 9-28 against teams that finished ranked in the top-25 at the end of the season (either CFP or AP Poll before the CFP), including 4-15 versus teams in the top-10. In his tenure in Gainesville, Jim McElwain went 3-9 with an average score of 18-30.

Mullen finishes 2018 at 3-3 with an average score of 22-24. He also finishes 1-1 versus top-10 teams (assuming Michigan stays within the top-10). But more importantly, the days of Florida being outclassed by the big boys appears to be over.

That doesn’t mean Florida will never lose. But even in the losses to Kentucky and Georgia, Florida had opportunities to win the game. The only game you can’t say that is the loss against Missouri.

But the days of 27-2 and 56-16 losses to Florida State and Alabama where the team looks listless and non-competitive appear to be over. Losing all hope when the opposition gets to 17 points is definitely a thing of the past.

That’s what we were always looking for under McElwain. Some hope that things were going to turn around.

Mullen has given us a team that competes every play and every game. He’s given us significant progress with the offense and at the QB position. He’s given us a mantra (Gator Standard and relentless effort).

But most of all, he’s given us hope that championships bigger than the Peach Bowl are coming, and coming in the not-too-distant-future.

 

7 Comments

  1. ivor whitehead

    Will,
    Great article keep it up. All your articles give me insight other sights usually don’t make toward have the Gators are really progressing.

  2. Cavrine Harris

    Will,

    Great analysis as usual.

    I was particularly proud of the throws Feleipe made to Hammond, Jefferson (those that you call out) & the throw to Lewis. 2 of the 3 came on 3rd and long which as you know, has been bad news for us.

    At the game, I immediately thought of you on the jet sweep to Toney (4th & 1). Such a great play call at the perfect time. I hope as the offense evolves, we incorporate more of those plays.

    Thanks again!

  3. David Flynn

    Incredible analysis!

  4. Mark

    Great article. Really summed it up perfectly.

    The most important throws Felipe made were the deep throws to wide open receivers. He didn’t hit 100% of them in this game, but he hit some. Mullen has proven that he can play call wide receivers open, so we absolutely need a QB who can hit them downfield. Franks did a good job executing those throws the past few games. His chance to keep the starting job next season depends on that!

    Great season, I can’t even describe how wonderful it feels to enter the offseason on a high note. A great weight has been lifted.

    Go gators!!!

  5. CGator

    The best takeaway from the season is that we look like an actual football team again. Even when Mac was winning, it often seemed as if we were losing; every game seemed to be a struggle. The offense usually looked as if it were playing in mud. It is amazing what a difference a good coaching staff makes. Mullen and his staff are really good, better than I thought, and I thought they were good to start with. They obviously can develop players. Mullen’s playcalling, overall, is amazing, and he has a knack for the right call at the right time, and sometimes what looks like a puzzling call is just setting up what he really wants. He outcoached Harbaugh, and he outcoached Smart. I have to believe that recruits look at this team, at this offense, and want to play in it. They must see a staff that can develop them, Franks being the poster child. If recruiting doesn’t ratchet up, I will be amazed.

  6. Julie B

    Will–
    Thank you so much for this & every other article you have written all year long–including your work with Gators Breakdown.
    This last year has been the most challenging of my life, personally. Details would be inappropriate. My life-long passion for the Gators has been a bastion against personal loss in every direction. Your website has given me a sense of connection to you & others who also love anything & everything U of F. Not to mention that the analysis is off the charts fantastic…
    LOVE the Shawshank still.
    “If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little bit further…”
    (Something like that)
    Just a beautiful reference for these Gators–and for me personally as well. A wonderful way to encapsulate this year & look forward with hope.
    What a great ride!
    Wishing you the best in 2019…
    And as always–GO GATORS!!!

  7. Chaz

    I appreciate your work in developing this insightful analysis. For me, Mullen and his staff separate themselves from the two preceding UF coaching regimes in two ways that stand out:

    1. Player development.
    2. Creative and perceptive play design made more powerful by excellent timing.

    I had heard on a podcast this year, an analyst likened Mullen to a skillful and creative chef who comes to a house, opens the refrigerator and pantry and figures out what ingredients are on hand. From there, he conjures up a tasty meal that astonishes and delights!

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