Gators' guessing game

Without film of Texas A&M under Kevin Sumlin, UF studies extra film from 2011

Updated: September 6, 2012, 11:20 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's coaches and players are likely going to end this week with a great deal of eye strain.

It's understandable, because they're watching almost three times as much film as they normally would to prepare for Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener at Texas A&M. Because of the Aggies' new coaching staff and their season opener being postponed, the Gators are having to watch 2011 game film of Houston, South Florida and Texas A&M.

They're watching Houston film to study coach Kevin Sumlin's offense, South Florida film to study Mark Snyder's defense, and Texas A&M film to get a feel for the returning players.

"You have this balance of, 'OK, I'd like to know who the opponent is, but at the same time know what the scheme is,' " Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "That's been the challenge for the players this week."

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum and Kevin Sumlin
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesAt Houston, coach Kevin Sumlin succeeded with quarterback Case Keenum, who broke three NCAA career records.
It's all because of Hurricane Isaac, which last week rolled over the Gulf Coast and caused Texas A&M's game at Louisiana Tech in Shreveport to be moved to Oct. 13. Instead of being able to see A&M's players running Sumlin's offense and Snyder's defense, the football video staff had to dig out footage of the Cougars and Bulls.

Watching the film took a certain amount of extrapolation and imagination. Offensive lineman Jon Halapio, for example, watched South Florida film to see what kind of schemes, fronts, blitzes and tendencies Snyder used as the Bulls' defensive coordinator. Then he watched Texas A&M film to see how the Aggies players -- notably tackle Spencer Nealy and linebackers Damontre Moore and Sean Porter -- looked. Are they bull-rushers or speed rushers? Are they short or tall? Are they dirty? Do they use their hands well?

Then Halapio will have to try folding those things together in his head to get a picture of what those Aggies players will look like running that defense.

"It is hard," Halapio said. "But that's what you've got to do."

It might be harder for Quinn and the defensive players. They are studying film of Sumlin's up-tempo, wide-open offense from last season -- when it was being run by quarterback Case Keenum, who finished his career as the NCAA's all-time leader in completions (1,546), passing yards (19,217) and touchdowns (155). Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will be the Aggies' quarterback, and there's no film available on him, either.

In studying A&M receivers Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, Quinn is trying to project how they fit into the plays that Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will call.

"I thought it was important for the players at least to see some of the returners for their team, their style, and who they are," Quinn said. "Is this guy tall? Is he bigger? What kind of runner is he? Is he a bounce-out runner? An inside runner? They certainly have some receivers with (good) production. OK, what's their size? How do they play? What's their speed? OK, I can see a little bit of them, but I still have to go back to the Houston tape to say, 'This is the route.' "

Since the 23rd-ranked Gators (1-0, 0-0 SEC) have no way of knowing for sure how the players will be used in the new systems -- and since Sumlin hasn't sent practice film like UF coach Will Muschamp joked he was hoping for -- the Gators are gambling a bit. They know there will be differences in the formations, plays and way the game is called, but they believe they're as prepared as they could possibly be.

"Will they tweak their scheme to their players? Certainly," Muschamp said. "They're good coaches. They do a good job. Kliff does a great job with their offense. That offensive staff has been together. They will tweak to what they have, but their base concepts, I think, will remain very similar going into it. Mark Snyder's been a very good coordinator at a lot of different spots. He's a guy that's not going to get far away from what he's done before, based on the talent he has there.

"We are in a little bit of a guessing game from the standpoint of them not playing, but that's always with the first game. You go through that as a coach. You kind of go through it when you go into a bowl game and you have that much time off with some different wrinkles that they may give you. We just need to adjust to what they're doing."

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter