As everyone is fully aware by now Tennessee’s next opponent is the arch-rival Florida Gators. Is it even still a rivalry? I mean, I hate the Florida Gators. Coach Pruitt hates the Florida Gators. But, in a rivalry two teams need to hate each other. And, it doesn’t really feel like the Florida Gators hate us as much as they see us as just another win the on their schedule. Gators head coach Dan Mullen held a press conference earlier this week, and was asked just one question about the upcoming game with Tennessee — which came at the tail end of over half an hour of questions and answers. At this point, who could blame Florida for being somewhat dismissive of the Tennessee Vols? The two teams have met annually since 1990, but the Vols have managed to win just seven of these 29 match-ups. To achieve their eighth win out of the last 30 games against the Gators all the Vols need to do is beat a back-up Florida quarterback. Piece of cake, right?
Let’s take a look at what Florida does well on offense and defense, and see what the Vols can do to have success on Saturday.
Dan Mullen is a spread offense loyalist. Very simply, the goal of his offense is to make a defense account for the entire field. This happens through the use of formations and concepts that provide both a horizontal and a vertical stress to the defense. By spreading the field Mullen is able to get the ball to his play-makers in space where they are much harder to bring down.
The spread offense also limits the defense from disguising its intent prior to the snap. This makes reading the defense much easier for both the coaching staff and the quarterback on the field. Ultimately, it is all about identifying a numerical advantage, and attacking that area.
A great example of Florida identifying a numerical advantage came early in their opening game against the Miami Hurricanes. The Gators faced 2nd & 10, and ran a simple ‘Split-Zone’ play from a ‘Trips Bunch’ formation. Prior to the snap the outside receiver ran in motion across the formation, but the Miami defense never adjusted. As you can see below, Miami has a 4-2 front defensively. I drew a red line over the center, which I hope helps to illustrate how many defenders are to the center’s right — the offensive strength — relative to the left. We know this is a single high safety look because the remaining 10 players are within view — and at least six of these defenders are well toward the offense’s strong side.
Though the play was successful for a gain of six, Florida identified a weakness that they could exploit for even more yardage. After failing to convert on third down the Gators successfully ran a fake punt, which brought the offense right back to the field. They aligned in the same formation as the example above, with the same receiver motion. This time, though, it was the dynamic Kadarius Toney in motion across the formation. Again, the Miami defense doesn’t budge. You can see the defenders concentrated over the offense’s strong side. Franks fakes the handoff, the right guard and right tackle sneak out to the perimeter, and suddenly Florida has the ball to their most explosive weapon, in space, and with blockers in front.
Was that poor tackling by the Miami defense? Sure, but contact wasn’t initially made until beyond 15-yards down the field. Even if the defense made the tackle at first contact this would have been an explosive play for the Florida offense. Also, credit must be given to Toney for making the defense miss — which he does often. Now, I know neither Franks nor Toney will be playing for the Gators on Saturday. Their offensive philosophy, however, will remain the same. The Gators still have excellent weapons on the perimeter, and back-up quarterback Kyle Trask can easily make throws similar to the example above.
From what little film is available it seems unlikely that the Florida offense will look considerably different with back-up quarterback Kyle Trask taking over for the injured Franks. Earlier this week Coach Pruitt noted that there wasn’t a significant change in play-calling when Trask entered the Kentucky game — and led the Gators to a come from behind win. Coach Mullen will continue to look for areas where his offense can exploit the numbers. A great example of this can be found on Trask’s go-ahead touchdown run from last week.
The Gators were in a ‘Trips Closed’ formation, one that they use quite often. Kentucky’s defense played three defensive backs over the trips receivers, likely in some sort of man coverage. This left eight defenders over Florida’s eight offensive players. Below is the pre-snap look.
Hopefully the red line over the center again helps to provide some perspective. The Kentucky defense, despite having equal numbers to the offense, has five defenders to the strong-side and only two to the weak-side — the eighth man being the nose guard, directly over the center. On this play the left tackle and center are able to gain inside position on the defenders over them, the weak-side middle linebacker is sealed off by the left guard, and the strong-side middle linebacker follows the running back out of the play. This allows Trask to walk across the goal line untouched.
Trask and Franks both pale in comparison to previous Mullen quarterbacks like Tebow and Prescott in terms of pure running ability. But, at 6’5” and 240-pounds Trask is a load to bring down. While I don’t anticipate Coach Mullen will be changing his play-calling I do think we will see a slight change in personnel. Down to just two realistic quarterback options it seems unlikely that Coach Mullen will emphasize Trask in the running game. Should Trask get injured as well the Gators would be down to just two quarterbacks on the roster, both freshmen. Not an ideal situation for a Top-10 team competing for a College Football Playoff spot. However, Emory Jones is an elite running quarterback, and it would not be surprising to see the Gators use him as a running threat in a package of plays. This would allow Coach Mullen to continue to stress a defense with quarterback runs in certain circumstances, while keeping the redshirt junior Trask relatively protected.
Below is an example of how Florida has used Jones so far this season in the running game.
The Gators are aligned again in their ‘Trips Closed’ formation. The UT-Martin defense has a linebacker walked out toward the three receivers, creating a triangle of four defenders over three offensive players. This is an easy pre-snap read for Jones who can receive the snap, and run QB-Power in the opposite direction with seven blockers for seven defenders.
As you can see Jones falls forward for a gain of nine, and was stopped only by the last line of defense. Jones is certainly capable of making this defender miss and breaking off even longer gains. An obvious counter to this for the defense would be to sneak that linebacker away from the receivers and closer to the box. This, however, would give Jones the opportunity to fire a quick screen to the perimeter where one missed tackle could lead to a touchdown. Jones hasn’t shown a great arm so far this year, but he is definitely capable of pre-snap reads, short throws, and punishing a defense with his legs. Coach Mullen has already stated that both quarterbacks will see some time this week against Tennessee. When you see Jones enter the game be mindful of the quarterback run and quick passing game.
The Florida offense isn’t complicated to understand. Their run game is a mix of basic zone plays, reads, and powers. Their passing game includes many screens, and less often intermediate to deep throws — usually with play action to hold linebackers. Their ability to get play-makers in space, however, makes this an offense that is difficult to defend.
Honestly, not much needs to be said in regards to understanding Florida’s defense. Their structure, under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, is extremely similar to the style that Tennessee plays. Both teams base as a 3-4 defense, but play more like a 4-2-5 — or in the ‘Nickel’ package — to combat the spread formations and personnel so common in modern college football.
This is the same style of defense that Nick Saban and Kirby Smart utilize at Alabama and Georgia, respectively. In fact, Grantham runs the exact same rip/liz pattern matching scheme out of single high safety looks that many other SEC schools run — including Tennessee.
If there is one area Tennessee has an advantage it’s with our receivers against the Gators defensive backs. This advantage is tilted even more in our favor considering starting Florida safety Donovan Stiner will miss the first half due to a late targeting penalty last week. And, starting corner CJ Henderson is battling an injury.
Earlier this week I tweeted, albeit tongue in cheek, that Tennessee should look for pass interference penalties from Florida’s defensive backs. While this isn’t a serious suggestion for winning the game it’s worth mentioning that Florida’s defensive backs have been willing to commit defensive pass interference this season on critical downs. Against Miami, three of Florida’s nine penalties were defensive pass interference calls, including this blunder on 4th & 34 late in the game.
Tennessee’s offensive line is blocking much better this season than they did a year ago. Should this trend continue Jarrett Guarantano could have success with his receivers on the outside, similar to last year’s Auburn upset. These types of plays give the talented Vols receivers the opportunity to win jump balls, or gain first downs if interfered with. The only question is, can Guarantano provide consistently accurate deliveries?
That’s all for now on the Florida Gators. If something you read above stirred a thought in you please keep the conversation going in the comments below, or over on Twitter. As always, go big orange!