After a 5-0 start, the Gators get into the meat of their schedule. As we talked about previously, the UF offense is a work in progress. Kyle Trask and the offense will need to play a great game in order to top a Top-20 defense. Let’s take a look at what Dan Mullen will need to do to send the War Tigers packing.
Throw the ever-loving ball
It’s time to have a throwback game – specifically, to the Old Ballcoach’s Fun ‘n’ Gun. You’ve got the receivers, the protection (sometimes), and the QB to get the ball out. Sure, it won’t be an exact replica of Spurrier’s innovative offense, but the point remains – throw the ball. 40 times if you have to. If the run game isn’t there, forget it. College Football has changed drastically since then, but let’s not overthink things.
Kyle Trask is a serviceable quarterback who can get the ball downfield quickly. Trask needs to work on his pocket presence – especially behind an inconsistent offensive line. You’ve got the receivers and the backs to establish a short/intermediate passing game, which can help negate the fact that the Auburn D Line will probably pitch a tent in UF’s backfield. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mullen picks up the tempo, which would help mask the issues along the line. Mullen is going to have to rely on his pass game to win unless Auburn chooses to not defend the run.
All this is great from the offensive side of things, but Auburn’s secondary isn’t very good either. Mullen will use matchups to his advantage as he always does to pick on these smaller defensive backs that Auburn has. This is why Billy Gonzales recruited the way he did, as most of his receivers are tall and can go get the ball when needed, such as Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes. Can’t forget the beast at tight end in Kyle Pitts, and he should have a field day against a mediocre Auburn secondary.
Give Dameon Pierce more touches
This is a double-edged sword, as Perine is the best receiving back on the team. Whether pass blocking or catching out of the backfield, Perine has proved he is a 3-down back. On the other hand, Pierce has been the best pure running back this season. Pierce is averaging 5.9 YPC, compared to Perine’s 3.6. Pierce’s love of contact helps the O-Line out. Pierce has also broken multiple runs of 37 and 31 yards, as compared to Perine’s long of 15.
Maybe it’s recency bias, but Perine hasn’t been the same back as he was last year. Perine had 15 yards against an FCS team, 10 of which came on one run. That leaves 5 yards on 6 carries. On the same amount of carries against the same team, Pierce put up 84 yards. Sure, blame the offensive line, but if you have a back that will help the line out, you’ve got to play him. If I was Mullen I’d give Perine a short leash before going to Pierce. Considering the atrocity of UF’s run game, the ball needs to go to Pierce – even if he takes those touches from Malik Davis.
Change the Offensive Line rotation
Richard Gouraige should get serious reps this week, as the Gators have done significantly better with him in the rotation. Most of the film I’ve seen calls for Gouraige to play LG, which pushes Brent Heggie to RG in relief of Chris Bleich. This has worked well so far this season, as the right side of the line has been weaker. Although we haven’t seen him play much this year, bringing in a guy like Ethan White may also help the run game.
Leaving a tight end in to block would be another way Mullen and Co. could minimize the issue, as Kemore Gamble is a very solid blocker and is used often in running scenarios in the red zone. Last week, he finally got some reps outside of the red zone, one of which was Pierce’s 37-yard touchdown run. Kyle Pitts is the best tight end on the roster, and can also run block proficiently.
This is still a gift from the McElwain era, as they truly left no depth on the offensive line. This left Mullen to play underclassmen before they were ready. You can’t do anything about it now if you’re John Hevesy, but you can only work with what you have and make the most of it. The offensive line needs a spark – whether that’s a certain lineup or scheme change in order to get everyone comfortable with their position. This group also seems to be softer than in years past – they don’t seem to have the same cutthroat attitude of past linemen. These guys need to realize what’s at stake – the season is ride or die with them.
Regardless of how this game plays out, we will learn about both of these teams. Personally, I’m not buying the Auburn hype the media is feeding us. Nix is a great talent and will be very good, but he’s still a freshman who hasn’t looked overly impressive against good competition. However, the media loves recency bias, and it never hurts for a true freshman to throw all over an inexperienced defense at home before a big game. The Auburn defensive line is legitimately one of the best in the country. The media is right to hype the unit as much as they are. Aside from their defensive line, though, Auburn is just a mediocre team. The rest of their defense is nothing to be afraid of, and as long as Trask can make quick decisions, I like UF’s chances. Auburn has not seen anything like Florida’s defense, and at full health, it’ll be a tall task for Bo Nix. Either way, I don’t see this game being a blowout, as both teams are questionable at scoring against quality opponents. It should be a classic in Gainesville, and it will absolutely be the game to watch this week in college football.