Since 2008, Kurt Roper helped churn out four 1,000-yard pass catchers, two All-ACC wide receivers and three players topping Duke’s all-time career receptions list.
Coach Will Muschamp said there’s no such thing as an “add water, instant player,” but if Roper can at least plant the seed of productivity in the Gators’ receiving corps like he did with the Blue Devils, Florida fans could see some life from a position that hasn’t flourished in years.
In UF’s pro-style offense under Muschamp, no receiver has recorded more than 600 yards in a single season. But Florida’s receiving problems go back beyond Muschamp.
Under Urban Meyer, only Riley Cooper came close to a 1,000-yard season when he caught 51 passes for 961 yards in 2009.
To find the Gators’ last 1,000-yard pass catcher, you have to go back to the Rex Grossman and Ron Zook era. In 2002, Taylor Jacobs needed a 95-yard performance in the final regular-season game against Florida State in order to earn exactly 1,000 yards on the year.
Before Jacobs, Florida boasted at least one 1,000-yard receiver every year since 1995.
So why is it that the Gators have struggled at the wide receiver position since then?
There is no one reason, but the biggest is that Florida consistently uses the ground attack more than the passing game. The last time UF had more passing attempts than rushing attempts was 2002.
Second, the Gators have missed out on the nation’s top receiving talent in recent years. Javares McRoy and Ja’Juan Story were each four-star recruits in Muschamp’s first recruiting class, but they both transferred before playing a single snap for Florida.
Latroy Pittman, Jr. and Raphael Andrades, each members of Muschamp’s 2012 recruiting class, were four and three-star players in high school, respectively. In their first two years in Gainesville, the duo has combined for just six receptions.
But with Roper installing a spread offense for 2014, the receiving corps should have more open field to work with and Driskel should have more time to get his targets the ball.
“The great thing, we’ve got a lot of competition at the (wide receiver) position, so it’s going to make those guys work harder,” Muschamp said. “I think they have done a great job with Jeff (Driskel) and our quarterbacks this summer. I’m excited to see those guys go out and compete. I certainly feel like we have improved ourselves at that position.”
Andre Debose is returning to the lineup after sitting out last year due to a torn ACL Now entering his sixth season at UF, Debose has one last chance to prove his worth at the collegiate level and is confident that Roper’s system is the one that will put him and the Gators over the top.
“Well I can tell you that in this offense there will be a lot of explosive plays,” he said. “It’ll be fun to watch. I can tell you, the fans, it’ll be really fun to watch.”
Jonathan Czupryn is the Sports Editor of the Alligator and a 21-year-old senior journalism major. He has yet to be drafted by the Chicago Cubs, but he's hoping this writing stuff works out until then.