Thursday, March 22, 2012
Take Two: Who faces steeper challenge?
By Edward Aschoff and Chris Low
SEC bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff will occasionally weigh in on different questions facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same opinion. We'll let you decide who's right.
Today's Take Two topic: Auburn's Scot Loeffler and Florida's Brent Pease are twoof six new offensive coordinators in the league. Who faces the steeper challenge in 2012 -- Loeffler or Pease?
Take 1: Chris Low
RB Onterio McCalebb should provide Auburn explosiveness out of the backfield in 2012.
The truth is that both offenses were hard to watch last season, and Auburn’s 17-6 victory over Florida was a clinic in bad offensive football. The two teams were a combined 4-of-26 on third down, and there were 16 punts in the game. Neither team passed for more than 128 yards. Loeffler takes over an Auburn offense that’s losing its most productive player by far. Running back Michael Dyer was suspended for the bowl game and then wound up transferring to Arkansas State. He rushed for 1,242 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Loeffler wants to bring a more physical style to Auburn’s offense, and even without Dyer, wants to be a run-first team. The Tigers aren’t lacking in talent at the running back position, and Onterio McCalebb has quietly been one of the league’s best breakaway threats the last two seasons. But the trick may be finding somebody who can make the tough yards and get it done between the tackles. Maybe that somebody is Florida transfer Mike Blakely. That’s what this spring is for.
The starting quarterback job is also up for grabs, although Loefller said he’s not in a rush to name a starter this spring. The Tigers also have to replace both offensive tackles. So there’s not a lot for Loeffler to hang his hat on this first season, at least in the way of proven offensive players. Loeffler has a vast coaching background, but he prefers more of a pro-style attack. It will help if the Tigers’ receivers can stay healthy. The passing game a year ago rarely produced any big plays down the field. Loeffler’s smart enough to realize that he has to play to his personnel. What makes that so difficult, though, is that it’s hard to say right now that the Tigers do anything particularly well on offense given what they have returning. Loeffler’s definitely going to need some new faces to emerge. He's also going to need a lot of focus out of everybody on offense this spring as the Tigers make the transition from Gus Malzahn's system. That transition isn't going to happen overnight, meaning it could take the Tigers a few games next season before they figure out what they do best.
Take 2: Edward Aschoff
I think both of these coaches will have their hands full this spring and fall. Both have to deal with inexperience at just about every position. But for Pease, he has to deal with more unproven players than Loeffler. Loeffler might have an interesting quarterback battle on his hands, but he at least has a proven running back in Onterio McCalebb and a proven receiver in Emory Blake. Pease has neither. Florida has three young quarterbacks -- Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy -- running backs that have had consistency issues, unproven wide receivers and an offensive line that returns most of the parts of a unit that struggled mightily last season. The good news is that it sounds like the offensive line added some bulk during the offseason, and when you have four starters returning, improvements are inevitable.
Florida still isn't sure which quarterback will step up and lead this team. Brissett had the edge heading into spring, but Driskel was the top high school quarterback in his class for a reason. No matter which one prevails, baby steps will still have to be taken this fall because the winner will still be a little bug-eyed come SEC play. What would help is if a receiver or two steps up during the offseason. Since Riley Cooper left after the 2009 season, the Gators have lacked a consistent go-to receiver. Quinton Dunbar has shown flashes this spring, but he did last spring as well and caught just 14 passes in 2011. Frankie Hammond gets a lot of praise in practice, too, but it hasn't consistently translated onto the field. Andre Debose was Florida's best deep threat, but it's time for him to do more for this offense and be more reliable in all types of situations, not just deep throws. One thing that will help is that the tight end position should be solid with Jordan Reed and A.C. Leonard coming back. As for running back, Mike Gillislee has the talent to be a solid starter this fall, but he has to do more than just carry the rock. He has to improve his blocking as well. Mack Brown has the tools as well, but getting the offense down is his first objective because it has kept him off the field for two years. Pease is Florida's third offensive coordinator in three years and brings new elements like the others did, so the Gators are having to learn even more. It will be a challenge, but there are bodies to work with. It's all about getting his guys to understand things before the season starts or Florida's offense will continue to struggle.