- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Nine games into Florida’s season and it’s pretty clear there’s a great wide receivers famine in Gainesville. And the Gators have two weeks to feed their passing game.
Florida might sport an impressive 8-1 record (7-1 SEC), but what it doesn’t sport is much of a threat to pass. There’s an abundance of speed and athleticism at receiver, but no complete packages.
When the Gators take on No. 10 Florida State on Nov. 24 in Tallahassee, something has to be different or they won’t stand much of a chance -- not with FSU owning the nation’s No. 1 defense and the fourth-best pass defense.
That leaves two weeks of cupcake ball against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State for the Gators to fine-tune that passing game and find some weapons not named Jordan Reed.
Outside of the junior tight end and his 33 catches, the Gators really don’t have any true receiving threats. Reed, who has been quarterback Jeff Driskel’s saving grace this season, leads Florida with 371 receiving yards and has three touchdowns. He’s the only receiving target with more than 20 receptions and more than 230 yards. He's Florida's only player with more than three catches in multiple games this season.
You can’t have your tight end be your best receiver and expect the offense to be balanced or threatening against good defenses, but that’s what the Gators are stuck with.
Since the Tennessee game on Sept. 15, Driskel has averaged just 122 passing yards with six touchdowns (four in the South Carolina game). He’s taken a good amount of criticism for his decision making, and some of it has certainly been appropriate, but if fans are going to groan about him holding onto the ball for too long, they should also groan about the lack of separation taking place down the field.
“We’re going to have to be more explosive,” Driskel said.
Yes, and more reliable.
“It is what it is,” coach Will Muschamp said about his passing game.
“It’s easy to go pick at that and that’s what everybody’s decided to do at this point.”
It’s obvious this part of Florida’s cupboard is pretty bare. Florida is last in the SEC in passing and is the only SEC team that doesn’t have a wide receiver with more than 20 catches this year. Right now, Quinton Dunbar leads all Florida wideouts with 20 receptions. He’s failed to record more than three catches and 40 yards in a single game.
Frankie Hammond had that 50-yard catch-and-run in the opener and a 75-yarder against Tennessee, but has caught just nine passes for 66 yards and a touchdown since.
Utility man Trey Burton has 11 receptions for 126 and no touchdowns. Omarius Hines has moved between tight end and running back, but has 12 catches, and Andre Debose, who has loads of talent but poor work ethic, has just two receptions on the season.
All of these players have been on campus for at least three years.
True freshman Latroy Pittman shined this spring, but has managed just two catches this fall.
Harp on Driskel's play all you want, but nudge some of that animosity over to the receivers as well.
Nothing exemplifies the Gators’ receiving woes quite like the past month. Florida went three games without 100 yards passing in that span and have just one touchdown in the past two games, including the 17-9 loss to Georgia.
Imagine Florida's SEC championship game hopes with a decent passing game.
It hasn’t helped that the Gators have had a lot of receiving recruiting misses over the years, starting with major ones from the Urban Meyer era. Muschamp also whiffed on two big 2012 recruits in ESPN 150 members Stefon Diggs (signed with Maryland) and Nelson Agholor (USC).
All decent offenses have at least one guy quarterbacks can rely on to make plays in the deep game. Florida doesn’t have that, and it’s hurting the creativity in Brent Pease’s offense. It’s hard to fool defenses when they don’t respect your passing game and continuously load the box without repercussions.
There’s no magic pill or new formation. This one comes down to outplaying your man and creating opportunities … and it can’t continue to only be Reed.
What the Gators have done this year has been very impressive. Soon, they’ll be 10-1. But if Florida is going to have a chance at a BCS berth -- or a bowl win -- the passing game has to improve. And that means the wide receivers have to show up.
2hGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough