Coaches say Gators are evolving, but for now they defy definition - neither pass nor run is dominant.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published September 25, 2003
GAINESVILLE - Four games into the season, Gator fans nationwide are seeking answers to two questions: What is Florida's offensive philosophy and who really is calling the shots?
The players would like to know, too.
"I don't really think this team has an identity," running back DeShawn Wynn said. "We just do whatever works. If the run is going well, then we will stick with that. If we can pass because they have too many men in the box, then that's what we will do. We just stick to the game plan each week."
The offense is a hybrid, combining the philosophies that coach Ron Zook's assistants brought with them from Marshall and Middle Tennessee State.
"The tempo stuff is what Larry (Fedora, perimeter game coordinator) and Joe (Wickline, offensive line coach) did at Middle Tennessee more so than what Ed (Zaunbrecher, offensive coordinator) did at Marshall," Zook said. "The run game is a great deal of Middle Tennessee stuff. You always tweak your system in order to fit what your players do best. The system has the same origin though."
This season, Florida has run the ball 52 percent of the time and thrown 48 percent. Through four games last season, the Gators ran 142 times and passed 143. In Steve Spurrier's last season, Florida ran 41.1 percent and passed 58.9.
"I'd like to be an offense that can do both (run and pass) where you don't rely on one phase running or throwing," Zook said. "I think if you're a throwing team and that's all you're going to do, then it's all on the quarterback. If you're a running team, it takes some pressure off the quarterback and allows for some play action and to do some things that way. I'd like to be a football team that's 50-50."
During Spurrier's era, Gator fans and foes became accustomed to an aggressive offensive style that included quick scoring via deep passes.
Of late, the Gators have relied on short out-passes and quick slants. That, combined with the run, led Florida to the best scoring offense in the nation against the likes of San Jose State and FAMU. Against Tennessee it produced 10 points.
Don't expect to see Spurrier's kind of ball any time soon, at least one analyst said.
"They are never going to be as good as when Spurrier had that great run of those great players," ESPN analyst Lee Corso said. "They just had quarterbacks and receivers and running backs and they were just unbelievable, and they haven't been able to get those kind of guys recently. So they are going to take a dip. ... It happens sometimes."
Florida's offense has young players in key positions. Quarterback Chris Leak, who was named the starter this week, is a true freshman, and backups Ingle Martin and Gavin Dickey have limited collegiate experience. Receiver Andre Caldwell is being implemented into the system more, but still is learning the position. Last year he was a high school quarterback at Jefferson.
"There's no doubt this offense is still evolving and it's going to evolve every year because of personnel," Fedora said. "We've got some young guys right now out on the field playing, and you have to go at a pace they can handle and if not, you're wasting your time. You have to cut things back and keep it simple for them and hopefully still be able to have enough to take advantage of what people are doing."
Still, when the Gators hired former Marshall offensive coordinator Zaunbrecher, the belief was they would be throwing the ball all over the place like the Thundering Herd did with Chad Pennington, Randy Moss and Byron Leftwich.
When asked Tuesday afternoon if fans are seeing the offense he coordinated at Marshall, Zaunbrecher would only say he is doing what is necessary.
"We will do what we think gives us the best chance to win," he said. "That's the whole process and that's the bottom line. You don't do something just to be doing something. We do something to give us the best chance to win the game. You don't throw a long ball just to be throwing a long ball, but we do have them in the plan."
Zook said play calling is a collaborative effort before the game, but at game time he is allowing his coordinators to do their jobs.
"Based on my personal experience, I don't (overrule calls) during the game," he said. "When somebody is in your ear it is tough to get into a rhythm. Sometimes guys will ask for information in terms of where is the ball or advice, but I tend to just let him go until a critical situation arises."
The decision to abandon the two quarterback rotation and go with Leak as the starter has players believing things are about to change.
"We're going to start opening it up a little bit more," receiver Carlos Perez said. "We've been trying to use the run to move the chains and now we're going to start opening it up a little bit. With Chris starting, instead of him being in and out, he'll get comfortable, get in a rhythm and make some great plays."