Running game key to Meyer's offense
By Eric Esteban Independent Florida Alligator
Gainesville, FL (U-WIRE) -- With 2005 kickoff rapidly approaching, the Gators find themselves with enough talent to possibly launch an aerial assault second to none in the Southeastern Conference.
Take Urban Meyer's innovative spread offense and add quarterback Chris Leak and four upperclassmen receivers with speed and experience and one thing should be expected:
The offense will go as far as Leak's arm can take it.
But, if past statistics hold true for Meyer's offense, Leak's legs could be what UF's hopes will hinge on.
While the national perception is that the Gators will undoubtedly light it up via the passing game, the running game could decide the difference between a win and a loss.
The run-to-pass ratio in Meyer's two years at Utah was 62 percent rushing in 2003 and a similar 60 percent in 2004.
If numbers like that hold true, it could be the Gators inexperienced-but-crowded backfield that will be asked to put SEC defensive coordinators in fits.
"It is definitely a misperception because we are a run-first offense," running backs coach Stan Drayton said. "Our running backs are going to play a huge role, and if we don't have the ability to run the football, then nothing else works. Every coach in this offense will tell you that."
Not only will the running back trio of DeShawn Wynn, Markus Manson and Skyler Thornton have to be ready Sept. 3, but Leak and all the receivers will be counted on to kick start a formidable ground attack.
Adding to the idea of the Gators' rushing attack this year is the experienced and senior-laden offensive line.
Four out of five spots on the line are anchored by seniors Mike Degory, Lance Butler, Randy Hand and Tavares Washington, which should equate to a much more efficient and dominating performance in the trenches.
"The development of our offensive line and running backs could be the most critical thing about this team right now," Drayton said. "They need to make some huge gains before the season starts in order for our offense to be where we want it to be."
In Utah's offense last year, quarterback Alex Smith and receivers Paris Warren and Steve Savoy rushed for a combined 1,095 yards.
The Gators returning trio of Leak, Andre Caldwell and Chad Jackson combined for 146 yards - a number that should certainly increase under Meyer's scheme.
Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, who will call the plays for the Gators this year, emphasized that the run is crucial to the Gators attack, but it won't nullify the strong suit of passing the ball.
"Our goal is to [run and pass] 50/50, and I think last year we were 60/40, but at the same time our average halftime score was 31-10," Mullen said. "Playing in the SEC, we're going to be in a [crucial] game week in and week out, so we're going to have to find a balance in our play calls."
(C) 2004 Independent Florida Alligator via U-WIRE