Coach Dan Mullen went into Saturday’s matchup against the Miami Hurricanes hoping to win with a conservative mindset. He expected short passes and outside run plays to compensate for an inexperienced offensive line that was sure to have trouble with a Miami defensive line that started four upperclassmen.
Mullen hoped this game plan would grind down the defense in a war of attrition while limiting turnovers and keeping his defense off the field. The end result, however, was four turnovers, 1.9 yards per carry and an offense that was stagnant for most of the contest.
While the offensive line was a predictable issue, Mullen also showed that he did not trust his starting quarterback Feleipe Franks to make plays when it mattered, and it nearly cost them the game.
Cautious playcalling hindered the offense early and often — especially on third downs. Florida converted just two of 10 on third downs against the Hurricanes, most notably one third-down play in the third quarter in UM’s redzone. Third and goal on the 8-yard line, Mullen elected to run a quarterback draw with Franks instead of letting him drop back and take a shot into the end zone.
The questionable play-calling will need to be addressed by the time Florida enters the meat of its schedule. Mullen must place more trust in his offense to get it done when it matters.
Aggressive playcalling did work the few times it was tried. The Gators converted all four of their attempts on fourth down. Franks also hit wide receiver Josh Hammond on a deep throw in the fourth quarter for 65 yards, undoubtedly Franks’ best pass of the night.
Even Franks’ first interception, which came on another throw deep down the field, had two receivers open in the area and hit receiver Freddie Swain in the hands. The risk certainly seemed to be worth the reward.
More aggressive playcalling would also mean getting the receiver unit, thought to be Florida’s deepest position group entering the season, more involved than they did against Miami. Receivers Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland, who combined for 715 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018, were targeted just four times on Saturday.
Though looking downfield more will force Mullen to run more max protection to counterbalance a weaker offensive line, it may result in a higher number of explosive plays and more points. Franks handled the pressure well against the aggressive Hurricane defense, often avoiding would-be tacklers in the pocket to make throws and was sacked just once despite constant harassment by Miami’s front.
Mullen must make a decision soon in order to live up to the lofty preseason expectations he and the Gators set for themselves. Luckily, he has two weeks to reflect and decide whether to change things up, because the offense everyone saw in Orlando was not good enough.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks went 17 of 27 with 254 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a fumble in UF's 24-20 win over Miami Saturday.