CFB Week 7 Preview: The Florida Gators Backup Plan

In a huge SEC battle this weekend, the Florida Gators travel to Death Valley to take on the LSU Tigers on Saturday night. Mark Schofield looks at the matchup and how the Gators backup plan might work out.

Going into Death Valley for a nighttime contest is never an easy task. In the Les Miles era, the Tigers are 51-5 in evening games at Tiger Stadium, including five wins and two losses last year in such games. An already tough task got even more difficult for the Florida Gators this week, when starting quarterback Will Grier was handed a one-year suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug.

Treon’s Back

With Grier’s suspension, Florida turns again to Treon Harris to start at QB. The Gators opened the season with Harris as the starter against New Mexico State, but he split time with Grier in the first two games before the coaching staff decided to make Grier the full time starter. In his limited action, Harris has completed 19 of 27 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. The sophomore QB has shown flashes of solid play, including delivering on the deep ball:

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Harris is also athletic, and can  extend a play when necessary by keeping his eyes downfield, and scanning the secondary for an open receiver. On this play against New Mexico State, the Gators line up with the QB in the shotgun and 11 offensive personnel in the game, in dual slot formations. The Aggies have their base 4-3 defense in the game, showing Cover 1 in the secondary. Harris looks to throw a curl route to the left, but interior pressure and coverage force him to buy time with his feet:

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The young quarterback does a solid job of feeling the rush and keeping his eyes downfield, eventually finding running back Kelvin Taylor (#21) free in the secondary.

Splitting Creases with the Split Zone

The Gators are primarily a passing team, but might try to work the ground game a bit more to ease in Harris. On paper this might seem like a difficult task. LSU has one of the top 10 rushing defenses in the FBS this season, and Florida has managed only 138.7 yards per game on the ground in 2015, placing them 100th in the nation. But they have had some success with a split zone running scheme using Taylor as the featured RB.

On this play against Missouri, the Gators face a 1st and 10 at the Tigers’ 41-yard line. The offense has Grier in the pistol formation and 12 offensive personnel in the game, with two tight ends to the left side of the field. Missouri has a 4-3 base defense in the game with Cover 2 showing in the secondary:CFBPreview7UFPlay3Still1

The Gators run Taylor on a split zone running play, with TE DeAndre Goolsby (#30) blocking across the formation on the defensive end:

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As the play develops, the left guard is forced to stay on a combination block to the inside, allowing linebacker Michael Scherer (#30) to flow forward into the potential hole. Taylor then bends the run back to the backside, where Goolsby has chopped the DE to the turf:

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Here is another example of Florida using a split zone scheme for big yardage. The Gators have the football on their own 45-yard line, and line up with Grier in the pistol and Taylor to his left. Florida’s 11 package is in the game, with a slot formation to the left, a receiver split wide to the right, and TE Jake McGee (#83) in a wing alignment just outside the right tackle. The Tennessee Volunteers have a 4-2-5 sub package on for this play, and they drop a safety down into the box in a linebacker’s alignment. This time it is McGhee who blocks across the formation, while the offensive line fires out in unison to the right:CFBPreview7UFPlay4Still1

The defensive line collapses the interior of the line, but Taylor finds just enough of a crease to dance through the line, and into the secondary for a 47-yard gain:

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When I say just enough…I mean just enough:

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Florida faces a difficult task this Saturday night when they matchup against a stiff run defense and an environment that has been unwelcoming to visitors in recent history. But a nice mix of explosive plays from Harris, with enough of a contribution from the running game and this split zone scheme, might add up to a big road win for the Gators.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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