GAINESVILLE — In the month before facing Oklahoma in the national championship game in January 2009, Florida coach Urban Meyer became enthralled with the Sooners' no-huddle, up-tempo offense. By the time the Gators won the game, Meyer said he planned to do more research and make it a part of his offense.
Fast-forward two years:
Florida has a three-game losing streak, its offense is inept and the program is at a crossroads.
Enter the no-huddle.
After brief experimentations during the past year, the Gators spent two weeks diligently working at it. The result was 450 yards of offense in a 34-31 overtime win over Georgia.
Saturday, against Vanderbilt, Florida hopes to fine-tune the changes.
"Last year, we dorked around a little bit with it," offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said.
"We just decided we're going to go to it now. It wasn't like it was out of rightfield. We had done that before, but it was in little, small segments. We just decided this is a great opportunity to take advantage of some strengths that we have, which we think is really good conditioning, and take advantage of a spark. And it gives you some real advantages."
Although it led to four false start penalties in the first half (and six overall) for the line against Georgia, ultimately the no-huddle wore its defense down — "In the first quarter, they were done. They were about to tap out," Florida freshman quarterback Trey Burton said — and created more opportunities to make big plays.
"It's awesome," Burton said. "It's one of the coolest things ever done on offense. We try to snap the ball as fast as we can.
"We've slowly been putting stuff in where some part of the game we go no-huddle and some part we huddle up. Then during the off week, Coach wanted to do the whole thing no-huddle."
Meyer took more interest while watching tape of Tennessee's Sept. 11 game against Oregon, which is scoring 54.9 points per game with the no-huddle. Receivers coach Zac Azzanni, who joined the staff in December from Central Michigan — which averaged 32.8 points during his three seasons there using a version of the no-huddle — is being lauded as the architect of the Gators' version.
"We're not running any new plays. It's just sort of how we're doing it," Azzanni said. "I think this will help us spark this offense a little bit."
Meyer and Addazio admit it was risky to install radical changes in midseason, particularly this system.
"There's different tempos in the no-huddle offense," Azzanni said. "There are different times to go fast, different times to go slow. There are different down and distances, different personnel groupings, when to speed up, when to slow down, who to get in, who to get in where, how do you get those pieces when you don't huddle up and tell everyone.
"You have to signal everything from dummy signalers to real signalers … and how those kids get those signals, where on the field. All those things, if you don't live in that world, you really don't understand. Luckily, I've lived in that world."
By running with two quarterbacks, Burton and John Brantley, Meyer said the Gators are "trying to get the best of both worlds, very similar to what we did in 2006," with quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. Meyer's only regret is waiting so long. But now it's here to stay.
"I could kick myself sometimes for not going to it full time, but obviously it worked out pretty good the other way (during Tebow's years)," Meyer said. "But I just see the evolution of the game right now.
"If you sit and watch the game like (the 53-32 win over Southern Cal) on Saturday night and watch highlights, it's pretty mesmerizing to watch Oregon play a college football game right now. Florida has as good as athletes as anybody in America, so what's our edge? When we had first-rounder, first-rounder, first-rounder, first-rounder, our edge is fairly obvious, and I think we are going to develop that again."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.
A vast improvement
Florida's offensive numbers in Saturday's win over Georgia compared with its averages of its previous three games, losses to Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State:
Points 34 11.8 *
Rush yards 231 106.3
Pass yards 219 188.7
Total yards 450 295.0
First downs 23 16.3
* Not including a kickoff return for a touchdown against LSU