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Meyer: Now let's try it my way

So far, he has adapted his scheme to Florida's players. It isn't working.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published October 7, 2005


GAINESVILLE - When Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen boarded the charter from Tuscaloosa Saturday, he was confronted by one of the toughest reporters he knows.

His wife.

A sports reporter who now works for the Golf Channel, Megan Mullen asked what most Florida fans were wondering: Where is the much-heralded spread offense he and coach Urban Meyer used to help Utah to an undefeated season last year?

"We've gotten away from it a little bit, doing different things," Mullen admitted this week, referring to the Utah version of the spread. "We've talked ourselves out of doing some stuff. The hardest part with any offense is when you're behind schedule, which it seems like we've been way too often so far this year, it's hard to stick with your plan of what you want to do."

For the past five weeks, the Gators have used a modified version of the Utah offense, incorporating the strengths of this Florida team: the arm of quarterback Chris Leak and the speed of its receivers.

But in games against its toughest opponents to date, Tennessee and Alabama, the Gators have scored one touchdown and totaled 19 points.

Critics charged from the day Meyer was hired that the spread offense would never work in the SEC. Leak is a drop-back passer; Meyer's offense requires a speedster to run the option.

The triple option and the shovel passes have been sparse or nonexistent. With a struggling offensive line has come an inconsistent running game, which takes away from the balance the Utah offense demanded.

"We were 50-50 run-pass," Mullen said. "Our running game, I would say 30 percent of it was option at Utah. I think reverse was probably at least once or twice a game, shovel pass was probably six times a game we'd like to see."

Leak admits he's still trying to get comfortable with the offense, but insists the team is further along than it appears. He said he's willing to run more, "if that's what it takes to help this team win." The key is trying to be more consistent. And not panic.

"We're going to keep the offense open like we always have," he said. "We're going to take shots downfield, stretch the field vertically, establish the run. All of those are important things that we have to do."

When junior Andre Caldwell - the fastest receiver on the team - went down with a broken leg in the third game, so did Florida's options. Alabama kept Florida's best receiver, Chad Jackson, blanketed and the others just didn't have enough speed to outrun Tide defenders.

So exactly how does Meyer fix what's obviously ailing?

"That's something we've met at length on," he said. "It's not a spread offense right now. What we're trying to do is utilize the things we do well. We're throwing the ball much more down the field than we ever have because that's kind of how we're making plays. ... I said this back years ago: there is no offense. The offense is doing what your players do well. There are elements in the spread, and we are more committed than ever, now we are going to do more and more what we know how to do."

Translation: The attempt to tailor the offense to Florida's players isn't working so well. Now it seems Leak and the rest of the Gators will have to tailor their strengths to Meyer's offense.

Starting with how they move the ball downfield.

"We have not done a great job of using 53 yards, the width of the field," Meyer said. "I think what we've done is kind of squeezed it down. That's how we beat Tennessee is play great defense, play great field position. ... How is Florida moving the ball right now? We're taking chunks. We don't have the style to methodically move it down the field right now."

Meyer reopened the competition at running back this week. Junior DeShawn Wynn has had games with multiple touchdowns, then games in which he struggled to gain any yards. Freshman Markus Manson is among the favorites to step in - if he can stop turning over the ball.

"He's got to come along," Mullen said. "That's all part of it. But you know what, he doesn't do us much good if he's fumbling the ball all the time. He's worked at it. I'd like to play him more than we've been playing him."

With the way the Gator offensive line has played, it may take more than Manson to improve the running game. And considering how much the offense has struggled, facing Mississippi State on Saturday won't be as easy as it probably should be, considering the Bulldogs' 2-3 record. But it is Florida's last opportunity to get the offense on track before its Oct.15 game at No.11 LSU.

"It's just getting back to the basics," Mullen said. "To me, it's all me having patience to sit there and say you know what, if the shovel doesn't work the first time we run it, don't scrap it, just keep going with it. Keep going with it, have that patience to let it develop."

And hope Florida fans do the same.