GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The success of Florida’s offense in 2012 will depend largely on the last 10 or so seconds before the snap.
New offensive coordinator Brent Pease hopes to use that short amount of time to create confusion in opposing defenses by using various shifts and motions. The goal is to create mismatches or blown assignments that the Gators can exploit for big gains and touchdowns -- something the offense didn’t have a ton of last season.
"It makes the defense think a lot more," receiver Frankie Hammond said. "We come out in this formation and it looks totally different, but in actuality it might be the same play (they ran earlier in the game), but it looks different to the defense.
"Stuff like that definitely makes it easier for us."
Last season the Gators’ offense made things easy for opponents. Florida finished 105th nationally in total offense (328.7 yards per game) and 71st nationally in scoring (25.5 points per game). The Gators scored 47 points in four SEC games in October -- one point less than they scored against Kentucky -- and converted only 32.1 percent of their third downs, the worst single-season total in school history.
Quarterback John Brantley and coordinator Charlie Weis are gone, but the Gators will have an inexperienced quarterback, a new starting running back and an inconsistent and unproductive group of receivers. The shifts and motions that Pease brought with him from Boise State should help.
Several players could shift spots and motion across the formation before the snap. For example, tight end Jordan Reed might line up in the slot on the left side but then motion across the formation and then line up as an in-line tight end on the right side. Or fullback Hunter Joyer could line up in the backfield, then move to an H-back spot on the left side. Or both things could happen.
The result would be a different formation than what the Gators initially broke the huddle with. The goal is that while the defense is playing Where’s the Tight End?, the Gators can take advantage of the disorder.
Maybe even snap the ball while the defense is trying to shift to compensate the formation, get a blown coverage or an overload to one side, and hit a big play.
"You play a team like us, that’s going to do a lot of motions, shifts and reloads, now, the defense has got to be able to change the side of the pressure, change the rotation of the coverage," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "Now, there’s a lot of mental gymnastics, which gets them sometimes off where their eyes are supposed to be."
By being one of the few teams that do use a lot of shifts and motions, Florida causes problems in the week before the game, too. Teams have four days to game plan, and with the NCAA’s 20-hour rule there’s not enough time to completely prepare for what they’ll see on Saturday.
"You’re talking about a four-day practice period," Muschamp said. "That’s asking an awful lot, especially if you have a young defense or you run a multiple defense where you’ve got to be able to adjust things out."
But there’s a flip side to that as well. It’s a complex system to for the players to pick up and there’s more to it than just remembering which player moves from left to right.
"I think it's a lot of recognition, film study, understanding defenses, understanding what concepts we fit to beat the defense," Pease said. "Defenses nowadays, they don't sit there like ducks anymore. They're constantly moving. Backers are sliding, front-shifting, slanting, jamming your counts. They're just not going to sit there and make it easy for you. (Teams are) changing from an odd to an even defense. There's a lot of calls for the lines up front. There's a lot of things of things you have to prepare for."
Plus there’s substituting players, getting the play called in a timely manner, and the timing of the shifts and motions. More than one player can’t be in motion at one time or it’s a penalty. In addition, there are contingencies the players have to know if they break the huddle with less time on the play clock than is needed to complete the shifts and motions.
"Sometimes we're running into where a guy isn't set and the motion starts and you've got two guys moving. Well, you can't do that,” Pease said. "How do we handle that? We've got a troubleshooting situation, where we know what to do, but you hope that doesn't happen a lot. But you still have to create it. We've got top polish that up.
"You've got to get perfection on it."
The Gators are getting close, Hammond said. But it took spring practice and extra time in the summer when the quarterbacks and receivers were throwing on their own.
"Every now and then we have a brain fart, but it’s not like a consistent mess-up," he said. "Everybody’s pretty much on point and we’re pretty much good to go."