Looking for balance

Florida's offense run-heavy on first down, perhaps excessively so

Updated: October 30, 2012, 8:53 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp screaming at an official.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesIf it's a Florida first down, there's a good chance the ball will be handed off to Mike Gillislee.
Caleb Sturgis down the middle from 50 yards.

Mike Gillislee running the ball on first down.

Those are three pretty easy forecasts of what's going to happen whenever Florida takes the field.

No team in a BCS conference is as predictable as the Gators have become on first down. Florida is running the ball on 78.1 percent of its first downs, which is slightly more than Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets' triple option attack runs the ball on 77.9 percent of first downs.

Army, New Mexico, Air Force and Navy -- all of whom play option football -- are the only teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision that run the ball on a higher percentage of first downs than Florida.

"Probably a little predictable," offensive coordinator Brent Pease admitted. "Now, we're never going to get it back to balanced is what we say, because the numbers are so skewed at this time in the season, but we kind of go on a game-to-game basis."

Pease isn't predictable because he wants to be. The Gators are limited in what they can do in the passing game. The offensive line, especially in the past two games, has struggled in pass protection, and the backs and tight ends have not been reliable enough in helping pick up rushers. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel has started only seven games and he's dealing with the issues that all young quarterbacks do: holding onto the ball too long, locking onto his receiver, and not being decisive.

Plus, the receivers have struggled to get open all season and the only consistent pass-catcher is tight end Jordan Reed.

So Pease's best option is running the ball, mainly with Gillislee. The senior has accounted for more than half of the Gators' first-down runs (56.4 percent) this season. That number increases to 64.4 percent in UF's last four games (LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Georgia). The Gators are averaging 5.5 yards per carry on first down, but that includes Driskel's 70-yard touchdown run against Vanderbilt, Trey Burton's 80-yard touchdown run against Tennessee, and Gillislee runs of 33, 38 and 45 yards. Driskel also had a 38-yard run against Kentucky.

UF has thrown 49 passes on first down, completing 30 for 269 yards with one interception.

The run-pass ratio on first down has been tilted even more toward the run in the past four games, with the Gators running the ball 81 percent of the time. UF ran the ball on 23 of 24 first downs against South Carolina and 19 of 27 first downs against Georgia.

UF coach Will Muschamp said the numbers are a bit skewed because they don't take into consideration where the Gators began a possession.

"When you get the ball on the 2-yard line against South Carolina you maybe want to run it," Muschamp said. "So I do think a lot of that's based on situational football. We self-scout ourselves hard. We look at what we're doing based on the personnel groupings we have, the field position, and the down and distance. That's something we studied pretty hard. We don't just look at just overall first downs. We look at the situations of first down."

But he also admitted that eight games is a big enough sample size for opponents to expect the Gators to run the ball on three out of every four first downs.

"That's something we're aware of," he said.

Below are charts of the most run- and pass-heavy BCS teams on first down. They were compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter