What Should We Expect From Florida's New OC?
Florida hired Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to take over the Gators’ offense, and because we only offer you the best at Football.com, I watched some of Roper’s offense and also reached out to veteran Duke sports blogger Mike Kline of Duke Sports Blog for some sage advice on Roper’s style.
This season, Duke ran a lot of read-option plays from both the shotgun and pistol formations. They emphasized the running game to set up play-action passes for big gains. Kline, who watched this offense since Roper arrived, pointed out that Roper tailors his schemes to his players' skill sets. With Duke’s pocket passers, Roper didn’t run much read-option; instead it passed out of standard sets, Kline said.
According to Kline, Roper shifted focus toward the run and the read option after the arrival of dual-threat quarterback Anthony Boone and the most talented offensive line in head coach David Cutcliffe’s tenure.
Having a coach that is willing to adapt his offense to the skills of his players is always a good thing. The most recent version of Roper’s offense will translate well to Florida’s skill set. Returning quarterback Jeff Driskel came to Gainesville as the top dual-threat high school quarterback in the country. Urban Meyer brought him in to run the spread offense. Then Florida asked him to fit into former offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s power running, pro-style game plan. Driskel can run the football and run it well. He is an athlete and has been successful in the few read-option plays called for him. Driskel should rack up the rushing yards under Roper.
The effectiveness of this scheme will rely on the offensive line. The unit did not perform up to expectations last year, and was one of the worst in the SEC. While Florida fans hope that new line coach Mike Summers will fix the poor play, if he can’t get the line to play well, this offense will look just as muddled and frustrating as last year.
The read-option will open up wide running lanes for the running back and should benefit returnees Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor. After his stellar play last season, including almost singlehandedly beating South Carolina, Taylor probably will be named the starter in the offseason.
However, the X factor in the running back race will be the receiving capabilities of the halfbacks. Roper doesn’t call many standard runs from common schemes like the I-formation or single back. Instead, he uses the swing pass to supplement the read-option and round out his running game. So catching the ball in the backfield will determine who gets the lion’s share of the snaps at running back. Kline said Roper called so many swing passes that Duke fans constantly complained about predictability. So expect a lot of them, Gators fans.
Another positive: Roper’s offense is more modern and more complex than Pease’s offense. Florida fans should rejoice over Roper’s packaged plays, which are becoming a stalwart of today’s offenses, but curiously were absent from Florida’s playbook under Pease. These packaged plays will create more big-yardage gains while demanding more from Driskel.
Driskel will execute a lot of fakes and evaluate numerous reads on each play. Under Pease, Driskel knew if it was a run or a pass before he broke the huddle. If it was a pass, Driskel commonly had three reads and a safety valve. Often, because of the lack of protection, Driskel would only progress through one read before he had to check down and throw to the running back. In this new offense, Driskel will be asked to read the defense before the snap, like he has been doing, and then determine in the process of play if he will hand the ball off for a run or throw it. Roper’s offense should get guys open, or at least in favorable 1-on-1 matchups nearly every play. So if Driskel can make the right decisions, this offense will be potent. It’s all on his shoulders.
One disappointing circumstance of Roper’s arrival is that Trey Burton won’t be around to be a part of it. Duke used a special short-yardage formation across the field and especially in the red zone that centered around running his big backup quarterback to great success, Kline said. I’m sure Roper will find another big body with a versatile skill set to execute power runs and throws from heavy packages, a lot like the “Power Tebow” formations that were so popular when Meyer and Steve Addazio were around, but Burton would have been perfect in this role.
This looks like a promising hire overall. Roper was successful at Duke with less talent than he has at Florida. His flexible offensive philosophy and packaged plays will generate points, but will take time to click. Expect SEC defenses to run soft zone coverages and bottle up Driskel, so Driskel will have to make good decisions and the line will have to play better.
Kline cautions Gators fans to give Roper some time: “I'd urge patience … [Early on], Duke fans … were ready for him to go, but once the talent level improved and the on-field results yielded wins, most are sad to see him go.”