Urban Meyer said on his television show Sunday that the Gators needed to fix some things between now and next season. He wasn’t specific, but it’s pretty obvious where the fixes need to come.
Here’s what needs to be fixed:
1. The passing game
It deteriorated to the point where the Gators could not complete a pass downfield against a quality defense in the second half of the season. Third-and-8 might as well have been third-and-38 because UF could not make plays in the passing game. After the FSU loss, Meyer described the passing game as “awful.” That is truly what it had become. John Brantley lost his confidence, defenses knew when he was in the game he was going to throw and dropped players into coverage, and the wide receivers and whole passing scheme seemed way out of sync. Whatever Meyer decides to do with the offense (and offensive coordinator), the passing game needs to be broken down and rebuilt into a more efficient aspect of the offense. It may mean bringing in a new assistant who understands the passing game and can coordinate one that will work. The Gators have some talented wide receivers ready to step up next season — Chris Dunkley, Robert Clark, Andre Debose, Solomon Patton and Quinton Dunbar — and the coaching staff needs to find a way to get them involved. Meyer’s spread offense has been at its best when it’s balanced. There was no balance in this year’s offense because the passing game became all but non-existent. This has to be the No. 1 fix on offense.
2. The pass rush
The Gators didn’t have one this season. The front four was incapable of getting to opposing quarterbacks, and when the Gators tried to generate pressure with blitzes, they got burned more often that not. With no pass rush to speak of, opposing quarterbacks were able to pick apart a UF secondary that got off to a strong start this season, but regressed over the course of the year and started giving up too many plays in the passing game. As a result, the defense could not get off the field. The biggest problem on defense was that the defensive ends were no threat to get to the quarterback. Duke Lemmens and Justin Trattou played with great effort, but they could not get there. Here’s a potential fix: Move Ronald Powell back to end and turn him loose and get redshirt freshman Chris Martin, a highly regarded transfer from Cal, up to speed and ready to go. Powell and Martin have the potential to give the Gators the outside rush they so sorely lacked in 2010.
3. The play-calling
Everyone knows it, the play-calling became way too predictable over the course of the season. When Brantley was in the game, it was a pass. When Trey Burton was in the game, it was a run. The only time there was any doubt (and very little at that) was when dual-threat Jordan Reed lined up in the shotgun. Because the coaches were so worried about getting off schedule (and getting into third-and-long) the play-calling became too conservative and too predictable. And the Gators rarely stretched the field vertically. It allowed opposing defenses to defend a much smaller area, crowding 11 players within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Maybe Steve Addazio thought he didn’t have the personnel to be creative and open up the playbook. Whatever it was, the play-calling became way too predictable. Certainly, Meyer will evaluate the offense and the job Addazio has done. The fix here could entail making a change at offensive coordinator.
4. The offensive philosophy
The Gators need to decide what they want to be on offense, then go be it — whether that’s be a spread-option team or more of a traditional drop-back passing team with the tailback in the I. UF tried to incorporate both philosophies in 2010 and the plan failed miserably. Meyer needs to evaluate his offensive personnel, then decide which direction to go. Going in two different directions (with three quarterbacks) did not work this season.
5. The plan to win
Meyer’s well-known plan to win, which the Gators executed so effectively in past years, seemed lost on this year’s team. The Gators did not take care of the football, did not score enough in the red zone, did not play great defense, did not win the field-position battle with a strong kicking game. The Gators need to start following the plan to win again.
6. The sense of entitlement
Too many young players on this team seemed to have it. They thought because they were Gators, because this was Florida, they would be part of an elite team playing for championships. As we’ve seen in the past, it doesn’t work that way. Playing time and playing for championships are things that have to be earned through hard work and a passion for the game, not by simply coming in here with a five-star ranking out of high school. Maybe Meyer needs to do what he did when he first got here in 2005: take away locker room privileges (and Gator workout attire) for a while and make the players earn their way back in. It worked before, it can work again.
These seem to be the most crucial things that need fixing. It’s going to take a lot of work (and probably some tough decisions on Meyer’s part concerning his coaching staff), but these fixes are all doable.