Because the Gators have chosen not to hold a traditional spring game due to the coronavirus pandemic, Florida fans won’t get their usual early look at the fall team. Their only glimpses come through the program’s social media posts.
UF’s understandable decision in the name of safety adds an extra layer of secrecy surrounding the offense’s transition from Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask to, presumably, dual-threat redshirt junior Emory Jones.
“We’re in the evaluation stage of what we’re going to be,” coach Dan Mullen said this week.
Mullen’s playbook doesn’t change much from year to year. His pro-style system will spread the field, rely heavily on a quarterback who is willing to run and take advantage of matchups, often by lining versatile players up in different positions.
“The offense, it’s not going to change a lot,” Jones said. “We still run the same things.”
What changes is which portion of the playbook the Gators use during the season. That’s where the evaluation stage comes in.
After installing everything in the spring, Mullen and his staff assess what worked well and what didn’t based on the strengths and weaknesses of each roster. The successes become foundations of the fall. The failures disappear.
Aside from occasional jokes (we think they’re jokes, at least) about switching to the wishbone, Mullen hasn’t said much about what his 2021 offense will look like.
“I’m sure there’d be a lot of things that you recognize…” Mullen said, “and then some things that are going to be a little bit different for us.”
The lone major difference Mullen has confirmed is obvious; the Gators will use more quarterback runs with Jones (or blue-chip redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson) than they did with Trask.
Trask ran the ball only 64 times last season — the fewest by a Mullen starting quarterback since Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell in 2012. Russell, like Trask, broke his school’s single-season passing mark but wasn’t a great rusher. Russell’s Bulldogs successor, however, was.
Mullen’s Mississippi State offense went from perfectly balanced (424 rushes, 424 passes) in 2012 to a more run-heavy team (427 rushes, 429 passes) during Dak Prescott’s breakout 2013. Prescott carried the ball more times that year (134) than Russell did in his entire four-year college career (116).
Based on what we’ve seen from Jones’ limited opportunities through three years, it’s reasonable to expect the Gators to make a similar shift. Despite only appearing in specialty packages, Jones’ 514 career rushing yards are the seventh most ever by a UF quarterback, and he has averaged more than 6 yards per carry each of the past two seasons.
Jones’ dynamic athleticism is why running back Nay’Quan Wright envisions the Gators resembling the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens under dual-threat star (and former Heisman winner) Lamar Jackson.
“I feel like that’s going to be like a big part of our offense this year,” receiver Justin Shorter said of the quarterback run. “So I’m pretty sure next year you guys will see any of the quarterbacks pull the ball and sprint for 60 yards and then throwing it that next play.”
The second part of Shorter’s prediction is crucial, too. Although Jones’ rushing ability is arguably his biggest strength, Mullen says Jones has a “cannon for an arm” and can throw it deeper than Trask could.
A greater downfield passing threat opens even more opportunities in the ground game with a quarterback who can extend plays with his legs. The rushing lanes widen, creating more explosive runs.
“I think we saw even a couple glimpses of it in the bowl game,” Mullen said.
And for now, those glimpses from the Cotton Bowl and some educated guesses are all we know for sure about next season’s offense.