GAINESVILLE | The University of Florida offense has faced intense criticism this season not only for its lack of production but from an operational standpoint.
This is what it’s come to for the Gators: it’s not just the plays (which have resulted in an offense ranked 102nd in the nation) but who’s calling them, from where and how fast.
The process and the results will be tested again on Saturday as UF (3-2, 3-1) plays host to Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (7:15 p.m., ESPN2).
Florida faces an Aggies defense that is a bit on the inconsistent side (it’s 63rd in the nation in yards allowed with 382 per game and 81st in points allowed with 27.8) but has the athletes to create havoc. A&M leads the SEC and is second in the nation with 3.83 sacks per game, leads the SEC and is 11th in the nation in tackles for losses (8.0 per game) and is tied for first in the SEC and tied for 11th in the nation in turnovers with 13.
Four Aggies players — linebacker Otaro Alaka, defensive ends Landis Durham and Jarrett Johnson and defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson — are among the seven players in the SEC tied for fourth or higher in sacks.
“You see how they get after the passer,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said during a news conference on Monday, pointing out the Aggies’ three sacks in their 24-19 loss to Alabama last week. “Protection is going to be huge. Negative plays and the things they create from that standpoint, their takeaways, those are the things we’ve got to be prepared for.”
Three weeks ago, McElwain created a bit of a stir when he moved offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier from the sideline to the press box before the Tennessee game, hoping Nussmeier would see more of the field “from a sterile environment.”
Now, after the Gators’ 17-16 loss at home to LSU on Saturday, the issue is how fast Nussmeier is relaying the calls to the players on the field who make the hand signals to quarterback Feleipe Franks. UF has come under criticism for the offense not showing “enough urgency,” on its final possession against the Tigers when it required 2:22 to run six plays that resulted in only 21 yards before turning the ball over on downs at the Florida 25.
The Gators are 125th in the nation this week in average offensive plays per game with 60.8 — 25.8 players less per game than the national leader, South Florida.
McElwain said part of the problem is Florida’s third-down conversion rate, which is .396, seventh in the league.
But he agreed that there was an issue late in the game against LSU
“That [getting the plays called and signaled to the offense] obviously was evident in that last four minutes,” he said. “Especially when we were down there backed up.”
Gator offensive players are starting to voice their concerns.
Running back Lamichel Perine complained after the game about the plays not getting to the field in a timely manner and there was more where that came from on Monday.
“I would say it’s just getting the play into the game, getting from the sideline to Feleipe so Feleipe can get it to us and relay it to everybody else,” said wide receiver Freddie Swain. “Gotta get it faster. Once we get that faster, we get more plays called, we’ll get the ball into the end zone.”
Offensive guard Tyler Jordan said the offensive linemen need to take the lead.
“The first thing we have to do is push the pace,” said the Bishop Kenny graduate. “After the play is over, we have to run to the ball. I think that was one thing that was somewhat lacking at the end of the game. We need to speed up the tempo.”
McElwain took the blame.
“It’s on me,” he said. “The expectation is to play at a faster pace. Not every play is going to be perfect, but we need to be perfect on those ‘got to have it downs.’”
Speaking of “got to have it,” the Gators are again facing an uphill struggle to get to the SEC championship game. UF won the East division and made it to Atlanta the last two seasons after losses in late September or October and are now tied with Kentucky in the loss column in the East standings, a half-game behind Georgia (3-0).
If Florida beats the Aggies, it would still have its own destiny in hand entering the Oct. 28 in Jacksonville against the Bulldogs. A victory there would mean the Gators could win the East by beating Missouri and South Carolina on the road in November.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for,” said linebacker David Reese. “We still haven’t lost in the East.”