Will Muschamp’s tenure at the University of Florida has been very up and down, and that can be tied directly to his ability, or inability, to make the right hire at offensive coordinator.
Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley backed up a Brinks truck. They made Charlie Weis the first offensive coordinator hire of the Muschamp era and also the highest paid assistant coach in Florida football history. Here’s what Weis transformed the Florida offense into:
During his lone season at UF, Weis came under intense criticism from Gator Nation for the underwhelming performance of his offense in 2011. Hired as part of Muschamp’s first UF coaching staff, Weis took an offense that was 43rd in points per game (29.9) and 82nd in total offense per game (350.9 yards) in 2010 and transformed it into an offense that finished 72nd (25.6) and 102nd (334.2), respectively, in 2011.
The Gators lucked out and Kansas made Charlie Weis its head coach. That freed Florida from his pricey three-year contract and gave Muschamp a second chance to make the right hire at offensive coordinator.
Muschamp studied the Chris Petersen coaching tree and nabbed Boise State OC/QB coach Brent Pease. In 2012, the offense continued to sputter but Florida managed to win 11 games on the strength of its defense. Moreover, the Gators did show significant improvement in the turnover department (turning it over only 15 times as compared to 26 in 2011 under Weis and 27 in 2010 under Steve Addazio). In 2013, injuries and many other factors contributed to the Florida offense being one of the worst in college football:
The Gators finished the season ranked 112th in total offense. Florida managed just 279 yards in a 26-20 loss to lower-division Georgia Southern on Nov. 23 and then 193 against the Seminoles.
In December, after a dreadful 4-8 season, Florida fired Pease. This gave Muschamp his third (and potentially last) opportunity to make the right hire at OC.
Enter Kurt Roper.
Roper coached under David Cutcliffe at Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Duke. Along with Cutcliffe, Roper made the Duke offense one of the best in the ACC. Instead of going after name recognition (Weis) or a trend (hiring a Boise State assistant coach), this time Muschamp went after someone who seems to be more steak than sizzle. Hindsight is 20/20 but if you line up all three hires, this one makes the most sense and looks like it has the best chance to succeed.
Roper isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel at Florida. He will do some things that look familiar to Florida fans (the SB Nation blog Alligator Army does a good job of breaking down the offense here), but he will also create a passing game that picks apart opponents underneath. Florida will also attempt to pick up the tempo of its offense. Expect the Gators to play faster in an attempt to wear down opposing defenses.
Whether or not Roper can be successful at Florida will be largely dependent on his quarterback, Jeff Driskel, who is now in his fourth year at Florida and has seen a lot of ups and downs. Coming out of high school, Driskel was ranked by 24/7 as the #1 dual threat quarterback prospect in the nation. Talent is not the issue for Driskel but success has eluded him on the field at Florida. With Roper, Florida might have found the right coach to harness his talents. Here’s what Roper has to say about Driskel:
He’s talented. I mean he is a really physically gifted football player and he’s played enough football now that the speed of game is not shocking him. I think once he got to the point where he got comfortable with our offense, he was making pretty good, fast decisions.
He has everything physically. He does have great size, but he can really run. He’s a fast guy. He can start quickly. He can change direction. His top-end speed is really good for a quarterback. He has a really good arm. He’s accurate. I like his throwing motion. It’s fast-twitch. He possesses everything.
His touch throws and his down-the-field throws are our focus fundamentally right now. If you were building a quarterback, you’d start with what this guy has.
This is Driskel’s final chance to realize his talent in college, and it will be very interesting to watch him from week one and see how he progresses. One thing in the Gators’ favor is the schedule, as the first three games pit the Gators against the likes of Idaho, Eastern Michigan, and Kentucky. All of those games are at home.
Over the last two years, Florida quarterbacks have been sacked 66 times. One of Roper’s focuses during spring and fall practices has been on getting his quarterbacks to make quick decisions and get the ball out quickly. The Florida offensive line was a weakness last year, in part because of injuries, but will return five players who have starting experience. Playing faster and making quicker decisions with the football will help Florida up front and could help the Gators become a threat on both sides of the football.
During the Muschamp era, the issues with the Gators have not been on defense. In each of his three years, Muschamp’s defense has been in the top five in the SEC in points allowed (2nd in 2012 and 3rd in 2013) and total defense (2nd in both 2012 and 2013). Adding a competent offense to the fold could vault Florida back into contention for the SEC East with Georgia, South Carolina, and (potentially) Missouri.
Florida still needs to find a consistent running attack, and receiving threats need to emerge as well, but it looks like Muschamp has finally made the right decision at offensive coordinator. The biggest question is if his two previous mistakes have made this hire too little and too late.