Gators blame offensive woes on practice problems

Posted Oct. 27, 2010, at 8:50 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 27, 2010, at 9:55 p.m.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Coach Urban Meyer spent last week analyzing every play of Florida’s season and came to these conclusions:

It’s not the play-calling. It’s not the players.

It’s not the effort. It’s not the energy.

Florida’s struggles are directly related to practice. Yes, practice.

Although Meyer has a long list of problems for his offense, which ranks ninth in the Southeastern Conference and 89th in the nation, he attributes all of them to practice. Simply put, poor practices have made the Gators (4-3, 2-3 SEC) imperfect.

“When there’s a lack of execution, how does that occur?” Meyer said. “The answer is not to say, ‘That guy, that guy, that guy.’ Is it because we don’t practice it enough? Is it we don’t get them in that situation enough?

“We’re not into excuses. We’re not into, ‘This happened because.’ It’s, ‘Fix the issues.’ It doesn’t look like us out there. It doesn’t look like, ‘Bang.’ We all want that. How do you get that? You recruit it. You develop it. You coach it and you make sure you practice the mess out of it, and that’s kind of where we’re at.”

It’s probably not what frustrated Florida fans want to hear. They’re calling for personnel changes, blame assessed, maybe even an offensive overhaul. They’re expecting anger, finger-pointing, maybe even some promises.

Instead, the Gators believe better practices — as well as healthier players — will make a difference Saturday against rival Georgia (4-4, 3-3).

Injuries certainly have been an issue.

Running backs Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee and Emmanuel Moody are banged up. So are offensive linemen Xavier Nixon and Jon Halapio. And quarterback John Brantley has played with bruised ribs, a sore shoulder and a sprained thumb on his throwing hand.

But the offensive woes have been a problem all season, even when those guys were healthy.

The Gators rank 10th in the league in rushing, eighth in passing and ninth in scoring. They are last in yards per play (5.0), and have twice as many negative plays (58) as touchdowns (26).

The result is Florida’s first three-game losing streak since the end of the 1999 season. The Gators managed just two field goals at Alabama, put together two decent drives against LSU and scored a lone touchdown against Mississippi State.

“I don’t think anyone wants to lose three in a row,” Brantley said. “We’re facing some challenges, but we’re really going to be able to rise from it. We’re sticking together. That’s the biggest thing we want to see. We’re just going to keep getting better. It’s going to turn around.”

With more practice, right?

“You practice like you play,” center Mike Pouncey said. “It’s something that we’ve been trying to key on this last week, executing a lot better than we’ve had and finishing. If you practice at half speed, that’s how you’re going to play. Obviously, we’ve got to get better in practice.”

Meyer partly blamed his revamped coaching staff — he had to hire four new assistants following the Sugar Bowl — for practice inefficiency and said those issues were carrying over to games.

“Fundamentals don’t improve for a lot of reasons,” Meyer said. “No. 1 is you don’t practice them at game speed. No. 2 that you’re not taught very well. No. 3 is that the player is not good enough. No. 3 is not allowed around here. … There’s no trade or waiver wire. It is what it is, you got what you got, let’s get them better and find out what they can do.”

Meyer pointed out four main areas of concern:

—Turnovers. The Gators already have one more turnover this season (14) than they did in 2008. Eight of those have come during the losing streak.

—Big plays. Brantley has one pass play longer than 30 yards, and Florida has just six runs longer than 20 yards all year.

—Pass efficiency. Brantley’s numbers have been skewed numerous dropped passes, most of them by Deonte Thompson, and countless missed blocking assignments.

—Red zone. The Gators, who led the SEC in red-zone scoring the last three years, have three turnovers, two missed field goals and a failed fourth-down attempt inside the 20-yard line the last three games.

“We’ve obviously had some severe issues here the last three weeks that have been very damaging as far as the won-lost record,” Meyer said. “The issue is not finding the blame, but it’s finding a solution. That’s what we’re going to do this week.”

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