GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp likes a lot of things about newly hired offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
Pease is an aggressive play-caller, has a proven record of developing quarterbacks and receivers, believes in a balanced offense and has a personality that meshes well with the rest of the Gators’ coaching staff.
But the thing Muschamp likes most about Pease is that he has called plays in the Southeastern Conference. That was the one quality Muschamp definitely wanted in the person he hired to replace Charlie Weis.
“Having coached in this league and having called offenses in this league, in this stadium, was important to me,” Muschamp said. “He understands this stage and what you’ve got to do to be successful.”
Calling plays in the SEC, against some of the best defenses and most talented players in the country year in and year out, is unlike anything else an offensive coordinator can do, Muschamp said. The speed of the players, especially those on the defensive line, is unmatched by any other BCS league.
It’s also something coaches have to deal with on an almost weekly basis, not just once or twice during conference play.
“The SEC is different because of the defensive lines in this league,” said Muschamp, who was a defensive coordinator for three seasons at LSU and two at Auburn. “It’s top to bottom in our league. Everybody’s got good front people. Everybody’s got people you’ve got to account for, and you’ve got to understand it’s about mismatches.”
For someone who hasn’t done it before, the challenge can be daunting -- and sometimes intimidating. Former Florida coach Urban Meyer experienced it during his first season in 2005. His spread-option offense had little trouble succeeding at Bowling Green and Utah, but the Gators struggled to move the ball consistently. UF ended up averaging the fewest yards rushing, the fewest points and the second-fewest yards passing in his six-year tenure.
By the middle of that first season, Meyer’s confidence was shaken -- especially after a rash of injuries at receiver and running back -- and the Gators ended up modifying Meyer’s spread-option attack. It wasn’t until Tim Tebow took over as the starter in 2006 that the Gators went back to the spread-option, and it only worked because he was one of the greatest players in NCAA history.
“If you’ve never been exposed to it, it’s not necessarily one game -- it’s the culmination of the season,” Muschamp said. “You’re sitting there after Week 8 and you turn the tape on say, ‘There’s another one. Here we go again. It’s Groundhog Day.’ ”
That’s why Muschamp wanted his new offensive coordinator to have spent some time in the SEC. Pease was Kentucky’s offensive coordinator in 2001 and 2002 under head coach Guy Morriss, and the Wildcats put up solid numbers with quarterback Jared Lorenzen, running back Artose Pinner and receiver Derek Abney.
In Pease’s first season in Lexington, Kentucky averaged 382.8 total yards per game (56th nationally), 107.3 yards per game rushing (100th), 275.5 yards per game passing (19th) and 23.6 points per game (55th). Lorenzen threw for 2,179 yards and 19 touchdowns with seven interceptions, while Pinner rushed for 441 yards and four touchdowns, and Abney caught 66 passes for 741 yards and six touchdowns.
Kentucky finished 2-9 (1-7 SEC) in Pease’s first season calling plays. Things got better in 2002, though.
The Wildcats threw the ball less, averaging 198.9 yards per game (70th nationally), but ran the ball much better. Pinner led the SEC with 1,414 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, and Kentucky averaged 148.5 yards per game on the ground (57th). More importantly, the Wildcats scored more points, averaging 32.1 per game (23rd nationally). They scored 29 or more points five times and failed to score at least 24 points just twice in their eight SEC games.
Kentucky finished 7-5 but was not selected to play in a bowl game. One of those losses was a 33-30 setback against LSU in Lexington, a game dubbed the Bluegrass Miracle because the Tigers won the game on a Hail Mary on the final play.
Those two seasons, though, gave Pease invaluable experience, Muschamp said, and was a big reason why he got the job. It was just as important -- and maybe even more so -- than Pease’s work the past six seasons at Boise State. He was the Broncos’ receivers coach from 2006-10 and the offensive coordinator this past season.
“He’s been through that when you’ve got to line up against some of the defenses in this league and figure out how you’re going to block those guys,” Muschamp said. “You’re not seeing it in one or two teams in your league, you’re seeing it top to bottom week in and week out and [Pease understands] some of the issues you’re going to face with some of the matchups you’re going to have up front.
“He’s been in this league. He’s called offenses in this league. It’s different.”
But it’s something Muschamp believes Pease has already proven he can handle.