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Florida Gators hope to score with major changes

GAINESVILLE — Will Muschamp spent a significant amount of time in the spring traveling the state, telling Florida fans the Gators will be a much better football team this season.

After a 4-8 record in 2013 and no bowl bid, Muschamp is putting a great deal of faith in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and a brand new up-tempo system — "a drastic offensive, schematic change" — he believes will improve the Gators.

In many ways, Florida's season is being decided right now, because how well the players can perfect the system during the months heading into August's preseason camp will go a long way in determining what happens in the fall.

"The summer is for timing on the offensive side," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "We're going to have to throw a lot and get our timing down. You can't go back into fall camp without being in rhythm. So we're going to have to do that, but we're used to that.

"It's not getting back to a new start. We weren't used to (an up-tempo offense). We were used to huddling, so this is different."

For UF and Roper, time isn't a luxury they can afford as a disgruntled fan base watches closely to see if the changes are successful — quickly.

"Obviously, the expectations are great," Roper said. "I understand that going in, and the challenge is to meet those expectations."

A complete change in one season isn't easy, but it's possible, say those who have succeeded with this system.

"I haven't had an experience with (a complete offensive change), but I would think you would have to have somebody that has a good understanding of that or you could end up (badly)," said Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze, who has successfully run the up-tempo offense for many years.

"The worst thing about it is if you have a bunch of 3-and-outs, it's not real good. I don't know how many people are wholesale shifting like that, but I would think they would certainly have to bring someone in who could do that if that's what they're going to hang their hat on."

Roper's offense helped lead Duke to a 10-win season last year, and at the end of spring practice, Florida players raved about it. But the Gators have had just 15 practices to work on it. The players are working among themselves all summer and say video study is critical, but preseason camp will have added significance because of the need for repetition.

"I think it's like anything else. You've got to get used to something," said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, whose up-tempo offense revamped the Tigers' program in one year last season and landed it in the BCS title game. "The more experience you have in something, the better, more efficient you'll be. But in my experience, it doesn't take long. Thinking back to when I used to huddle up and then the next year we went to no-huddle and playing fast … you know, it just took a period of time."

There was a time not so long ago when scoring enough points to earn a lead, then holding on with defense was the standard in the SEC. But many in the league — and the rest of college football — have taken a different path. The SEC title game last season featured two up-tempo offenses, Auburn and Missouri.

So, too, did the national title game between the Tigers and Florida State. The Seminoles were able to rally from a 21-3 deficit and win with their ability to play fast.

Freeze said if the offense is successful, it can lead not only to victories but greater fan interest.

"It's what I've always done," he said. "It's what I believe in, what I believe gives our kids the best chance to compete. It's difficult running any kind of offense in this league because of the talent and speed and size that you face on the other side of the ball. But it is growing. I know it's a fun brand of football for people to watch."

Which, along with victories, is what the Gators desperately need.

Antonya English can be reached at aenglish@tampabay.com.

Florida Gators hope to score with major changes 06/20/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2014 10:05pm]
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