Second time around

Protections, shifts and solidified QB position all better for Gators

Updated: March 22, 2013, 5:15 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

Will Muschamp, Brent PeaseRob Foldy/US PresswireWill Muschamp (left) is hoping that the second year in Florida's new offense will see the Gators greatly improve.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's coaches and players have been saying it over and over again: The offense will be better in its second season under coordinator Brent Pease.

The players know the playbook, the system, the motions, and shifts. They know the sight adjustments and protection calls. Everything is second nature.

Therefore, the coaches and players are convinced the offense won't be a liability for the Gators. It won't rank 103rd nationally in yards per game or 114th nationally in passing in 2013.

They're probably right.

Other SEC teams can back up their claim. The first and second seasons under other conference teams' most recent offensive coordinator at the school for multiple seasons showed improvement in the second year. Not in every case -- Kentucky under Randy Sanders in 2010 and 2011, for example -- and sometimes the numbers weren't markedly different, but offenses generally performed better in year two.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Stephen M. Dowell/Getty ImagesFlorida is hoping it will not have to rely so much on Jeff Driskel's mobility to avoid sacks in 2013.

Alabama (Jim McElwain in 2008-09), Arkansas (Paul Petrino in 2008-09), Auburn (Gus Malzahn in 2009-10), Mississippi State (Les Koenning in 2009-10) , South Carolina (Steve Spurrier in 2005-06) and Vanderbilt (John Donovan in 2011-12) showed the most significant improvements in the coordinators' second season. Scoring went up an average of 5.6 points per game, total yardage increased by an average of 53.0 yards per game, and the touchdown-to-interception ratio went from 1.2:1 to 2.7:1.

Surprisingly, improved production wasn't dependent on having the same quarterback each season. Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and MSU had different starters in year two. That is, at least, something the Gators don't have to worry about, though junior Jeff Driskell will have to be much better if the Gators are indeed going to improve.

"I think in year two, you're looking at execution being much cleaner in what we're doing offensively, and obviously Jeff being in his second year [helps]," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "… Year two in the system, the game slows down a little bit. [Driskel will have] a better understanding of the protection, a better understanding of where the ball needs to go, where you're protected and where you're not protected. … That'll slow down for him in his second year."

Driskel held onto the ball too long, was indecisive with this throws, didn't have good pocket awareness, and struggled with changing protections in his first season as a starter. As a result, he averaged just 137.2 passing yards per game and threw only 12 touchdown passes.

He also wasn't helped by an under-performing group of receivers that struggled to get open and offered little in the way of big-play ability. UF's main target was tight end Jordan Reed (team-high 45 catches), but only one wide receiver caught more than 22 passes (Quinton Dunbar had 36).

The offensive line was inconsistent, too, and left tackle Xavier Nixon struggled to protect Driskel's blind side and ended up getting benched at one point because of his effort.

Even so, it starts with Driskel in 2013 -- and so far this spring, Pease has seen enough to believe that he will be better.

"We've got to be a better throwing team, and that starts with him," Pease said. "… A lot of [Driskel's improvement] is based around understanding the protections a lot better and when he has to get rid of the ball and where he has to see his reads -- just seeing the field better as a quarterback and seeing what the coverages are doing and how they're trying to attack him and confuse him."

Driskel said he has spent more time this offseason watching film and has a complete understanding of the offense. This spring the Gators can concentrate on cleaning things up instead of trying to learn Pease's system.

Driskel's biggest focus will be on shoring up the protection issues. The Gators gave up 23 sacks last season, which isn't a particularly high number, but Driskel was able to avoid a lot of potential sacks because of his mobility. The goal is not to have to have to scramble as much.

And a somewhat overlooked reason to expect that Driskel will be better is the fact that he's no longer splitting first-team reps with Jacoby Brissett. He's essentially getting twice as much practice time.

Aside from better quarterback play, the Gators need to reduce the number of discipline penalties and turnovers if the offense is going to improve. Of UF's 45 penalties on offense, 19 were false starts. Those additional five yards are drive-killers when you have an offense that struggles to move the ball consistently.

The Gators cut down on turnovers significantly in 2012. They had 15, which was 11 fewer than 2011, but nine came in the two games they lost. UF turned it over six times against Georgia (including four by Driskel) and three times against Louisville.

"Let's eliminate 20 penalties that we can really control," Pease said. "OK, then we've cut our penalties in half. We were very good about turnovers. But still, looking back on it, how many of those were interceptions that we really can control? How many are just ball-security things? We're going to get hit sometimes. You're going to have some interceptions, but how many are controllable? We can probably get ourselves down around nine to 10 and be smart."

Fix those issues and the offense will be able to sustain more drives and therefore score more points (UF averaged 26.5 per game, the second-lowest season total since 2002). That will allow the Gators to overcome the (theoretically) fewer mistakes they do make.

In the end, however, the biggest factor will simply be comfort.

"We've had all these plays. This isn't the first time we've seen them drawn up and the first time going through them," Driskel said. "We're definitely a lot farther than we were last year. This year we only have a couple new guys on offense. Last year everybody was a new guy to the system, so [now] you don't have to teach as much."

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter