- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Coming back from winter break, the foul taste of a 4-8 record last season a bit less prominent in their mouths, Florida players were given a reality check by head coach Will Muschamp before getting started on offseason conditioning work.
This is what he said: "You are what your record is. I’m a 4-8 coach and we’ve got a 4-8 ball club. We need to work hard to get better and improve in every facet."
With a defense that ranked second in the SEC last season, the biggest culprit at Florida was an offense that couldn't get out of its own way for a third consecutive season. The Gators averaged 316.7 yards a game, last in the SEC. For the sake of comparison, Texas A&M led the SEC in total offense, averaging 538.4 yards.
In each of Muschamp's three seasons, Florida has ranked among the worst offenses in the nation -- 105th in 2011, 103rd in 2012 and 113th last season.
The solution was not simply to fire offensive coordinator Brent Pease and find a replacement. No, Muschamp looked long and hard in the mirror and decided to change his approach.
"After the season was over, obviously needed to make some improvements on the offensive side of the ball," he said on Monday. "As I looked at it, we needed more tempo, we needed to create more snaps, we needed to create more space plays, continue to stay balanced, be diverse in our background moving forward. I felt like being in the gun would help some of our personnel, and that's where we're headed."
Enter Kurt Roper, the new offensive coordinator hired away from Duke.
"Our whole philosophy on offense is points per game," Roper said after being introduced on Monday. "It's not yards, it's not going up and down the field, it's how many points we can get. Hopefully we're a PPG team. But I think playing the game in space creates more opportunities to score points. ...
"If you can play the game with some tempo and speed and you can play it in space, you can create as many one-on-one tackle opportunities as you can. If you can create a bunch of one-on-one tackle opportunities then you have a chance to have positive yards and positive yards keep you on the field."
Tempo is the key word and the change that fans -- and opposing defenses -- will notice the most.
Last season, Florida led the SEC in time of possession, averaging 33 minutes and 49 seconds a game. That league-leading Texas A&M offense? Last in the SEC in possession, averaging 26:44.
Can Florida do an about-face when it comes to the clock?
"I don't think there’s any concern, I think there's an adjustment period," Roper said. "I don’t think it's something where the first practice they know what we're talking about necessarily.
"Over time I think they'll get to the point where they enjoy it. The skill players enjoy it probably more than the offensive linemen in the sense that sometimes it's hard to stay in a stance. Part of tempo offenses is getting lined up quickly. That's the whole key to it. If you get lined up quickly that means you can snap the ball quickly. If you don't get lined up quickly, then the defense knows you’re not going to snap the football."
Muschamp thinks the move to an uptempo offense also will help his defense, theorizing that practicing against one will better prepare UF's defense to stop fast-paced offenses.
"I wanted to be more uptempo at times. We struggled to do that," Muschamp said. "We struggled to make those adjustments. And then defensively, look at all the teams we played. Of the 12 games we played, probably eight of them are uptempo.
"You have to make those adjustments as you continue to move forward because that's really where the game is moving and it helps you defensively be able to do that. You will coach more on film. When you are in uptempo situations, you're not getting a lot of coaching down on the field. You pick your spots when you're able to do it."
It all adds up to a lot of work this offseason. A change this significant requires hours of evaluating players and recruits, hours of meetings to teach principles and new plays and, of course, hours of practice.
After a 4-8 season, Muschamp says bring on the hard work. It's the only way he knows how to turn his program around.
It can't hurt to have Roper's fresh voice, enthusiasm and experience in designing and running successful offenses.
"I don’t think I’ve ever gone into any season thinking we couldn’t win," Roper said. "All the tools are going to be in place for us to go and win football games.
"We’ll learn more about the players we have in place here. But obviously there’s guys that can catch the football, run the football, throw the football, and we’ve got to figure out the best way to structure it to put those guys in place to do that. I think there are some really good football players here."
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