10 Questions Florida Football Must Answer This Offseason
10 Questions Florida Must Answer This Offseason
The 2014 season for the Florida Gators may be the last one for head coach Will Muschamp if he doesn't turn the program around. After starting the 2013 season 4-1, Florida lost seven consecutive games including an embarrassing home loss to Georgia Southern who is an FCS team. Georgia Southern beat Florida without completing a pass the entire game, but ran the ball 54 times for 429 yards and four TDs.
Florida finished the season with three different starting quarterbacks and three different starting running backs. After a leg injury suffered by Jeff Driskel, Florida turned to Junior Tyler Murphy, who had never played a snap of college football. After Murphy was injured, the Gators started Skyler Mornhinweg for the final three games. Combined, the three QBs finished the season with a 64 percent completion rate, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
After Matt Brown was ineffective and injured, the Gators turned to Mack Brown and then finally to freshman Kelvin Taylor. Taylor, who was the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation, was going to be redshirted, but because of injuries was forced to play. He showed flashes of being a future star by carrying the ball 111 times for 508 yards and four TDs. Even with most defenses stacking the box knowing that Florida couldn't pass the ball, he was still very effective.
The defense lost a lot of talent to the NFL last year with Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam, Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Josh Evans all being selected. Their deepest group going into the year was the cornerback position with Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and freshman Vernon Hargreaves. However, their best and most important player was defensive tackle Dominique Easley. He suffered a torn ACL in practice in September, but decided to turn pro even though he was only a junior. They also are losing Roberson, Purifoy and pass rushing specialist Ronald Powell.
Going into 2014, they will be a very young and inexperienced defense and an offense that needs an identity. Muschamp has the personnel designed to run the spread, but he continues to run a prostyle offense. With new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the Gators offense will need to carry the team and allow the defense to catch up. That, along with other things, will need to be answered before the season begins if the Gators hope to contend in the SEC East.
10. How to get Better at Third Down Conversions?
The Florida Gators ranked 77th in the country in third down conversions in 2013. For a team that has no playmakers on the outside, they need to be able to convert third downs and keep drives going to score points.
9. Who is their Punter?
Punting was thought to be one of the Gators' biggest strengths going into the season with Kyle Christy on most preseason award watch lists. After being ineffective, he was replaced by Johnny Townsend, who wasn't much better. Florida finished the season 65th in punting average and both guys will be back next year.
8. Who is the No. 2 and 3 Receivers?
Since the Florida Gators have lost the likes of Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, Louis Murphy and David Nelson to the NFL, they have had issues at the receiver position. They have gotten by with Solomon Patton, Frankie Hammond Jr. and Deonte Thompson, but none of those guys were able to be consistent threats. They are losing Patton this year, as well as Trey Burton, which leaves Quinton Dunbar as the only player with more than 20 receptions from last year. He is likely to be the No. 1 receiver followed by a group that includes Ahmad Fullwood, Demarcus Robinson, Latroy Pittman and Marqui Hawkins for the No. 2 and 3 spots.
7. Who Replaces Dominique Easley?
Dominique Easley was the anchor for the Gators defense until he tore his ACL. After that they had trouble stopping the run and getting a consistent pass rush without blitzing. He declared early for the NFL Draft, so Florida will need to find a replacement on its roster. Someone from a group that includes Leon Orr, Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick could be the initial starters. The Gators have commitments from the No. 2 and 3 ranked defensive tackles in Gerald Willis III and Thomas Holley.
6. Who is the Starting Kicker?
Florida went from having one of the best kicking situations in college football with Caleb Sturgis to one of the worst in 2013. They had three different guys try to nail down the job and none of them were able to. Brad Phillips was 2-for-2, but didn't attempt a kick outside of 30 yards. Francisco Velez was 6-for-8, but was just 2-for-4 outside of 30 yards. Austin Hardin went 4-for-12 and was just 2-for-10 outside of 30 yards. Hardin and Velez are returning in 2014 and unless they improve greatly during the offseason, the Gators will be going for it on fourth down a lot next season.
5. How to get Production from the Tight End Position?
The Florida Gators have been very reliant on the tight end position over the last six years. They had Cornelius Ingram, Aaron Hernandez and Jordan Reed all as mismatches at the position. Last year, they failed to get any production from the position with Clay Burton finishing the season with one catch for 12 yards. While Burton clearly isn't the answer at the position, they still have 2012 top recruit Colin Thompson, but lost their other top tight end recruit Kent Taylor to the Kansas Jayhawks. If they intend on running a pro style offense, they will need more production from this position.
4. How can they Generate a Pass Rush?
The Florida Gators are losing their top two pass rushers in Ronald Powell and Dominique Easley. For a team that had trouble generating a pass rush without blitzing, they will need to figure out how to get pressure from their front four. Dante Fowler, Leon Orr and Bryan Cox Jr. will all be important players on the defensive line. Starting linebackers Michael Taylor and Antonio Morrison did not register a sack last year and will need to be better if the Gators are going to get any sacks next year.
3. Who Starts Opposite of Vernon Hargreaves III?
The strongest unit for the Florida Gators last year was their secondary. Juniors Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy are both coming out and are likely to be selected in the first two days of the draft. That leaves Vernon Hargreaves III, who was a true freshman last year, but who will be the other starter? A group that includes Jabari Gorman and Brian Poole return and they have top recruits Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson coming in.
2. What Offense Should They Run?
The Florida Gators have the personnel to run a spread offense, but a coach that wants to run a pro style offense. That has given quarterback Jeff Driskel problems since he became the starter and has decreased the value of players like Andre DeBose. With new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper coming in from Duke, they have to decide if they are going to run the offense that they have the personnel for, or the one that their coach wants to use.
1. Who is the Starting Quarterback
The Florida Gators had three different starting quarterbacks last season. Jeff Driskel was the opening game starter, but a broken leg suffered against Tennessee knocked him out for the remainder of the season. Junior Tyler Murphy got his first action of his career and was solid in his first three games, but was also knocked out because of injury with three games remaining. The Gators turned to Skyler Mornhinweg, who was a game manager and didn't show the ability to complete a pass further than 10 yards.
Murphy transferred at the end of the season while Driskel and Mornhinweg remain. Florida also has the No. 3 QB recruit Will Grier coming in. Mornhinweg might be the better QB for the system that Muschamp wants to run, while Driskel is more talented but struggles in this system. Once they decide what system they will run, they will need to decide who is the better QB for that system.