The news of Will Grier's suspension wouldn’t be as jaw-dropping if the Gators weren’t sporting a perfect 6-0 record while sitting atop the SEC East at the time of the announcement. However, after picking up my jaw from the floor of the school cafeteria, it didn’t take me long before the realization sunk in that Jim McElwain and his team were going to be OK, and for several different reasons.
McElwain was named the Mountain West Conference’s coach of the year after leading Colorado State to an impressive 10-2 record. Look at what he did with Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson, a third-round pick to the New Orleans Saints during last year’s NFL Draft. He also had some solid quarterbacks in John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron during his four years in Tuscaloosa under Nick Saban.
During McElwain's final year on the Crimson Tide staff, McCarron had to beat out Phillip Sims for the starting job. Then McElwain, who was not only the offensive coordinator but also the quarterbacks coach, really helped the future Heisman trophy finalist breakout.
Oh, and current Florida offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier also spent a season under Saban and worked with McCarron as well.
I would say that what McElwain proved with these quarterbacks is that he could craft a reliable offense, one that didn't beat itself, with just about anybody. He seems to be fantastic at giving quarterbacks opportunities for easy throws and making tweaks to suit their specific skill sets. Nobody would call Greg McElroy an amazing, strong-armed, blue-chip stud, but he was smart, with a good enough arm, and he helped Alabama to play contained, steady ball. He's done the same thing with Grier this year, giving him easy throws and giving his skill position guys room to run. Considering the thin, unproven state of the line he inherited, that's awfully impressive.
Grier has looked impressive — 106 completions on 161 attempts (66 percent completion rate), 1,204 yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions — during the games he has appeared in, but this concert isn’t just a one-man-band.
Running back Kelvin Taylor, who I think is one of two college football players not being publicized enough (the other being Utah’s Travis Wilson), has really started to emerge as a viable threat for Nussmeier and the Gator offense.
Taylor's still a little on the inconsistent side, and I still don't trust the line blocking for him, but he has helped Florida to keep moving forward, avoiding negative plays and keeping Grier in easy situations. (But I agree on Wilson. Love that dude.)
After escaping Lexington with a win (lets be real here guys), Taylor has produced 65 percent of his season numbers thus far, during Florida’s nail biter over Tennessee, its statement over Ole Miss and sputter over Missouri (sorry, Bill).
He has carried the ball 74 times to even out Grier’s 104 passing attempts during those same three games, and of those passing attempts, only 37 (36 percent) were of 10 or more yards down field. Basically, if Treon Harris can get the ball where it needs to go, he can just watch the receivers go to work.
To illustrate that point, here's our charting data from these last three games.
|Pass Distance||Stats||Comp. Rt||Yards||Yds/Pass||Success Rate|
|Behind the line||12-for-15||80%||58||3.9||33%|
|0 to 4 yards||23-for-27||85%||171||6.3||59%|
|5 to 9 yards||18-for-26||69%||241||9.3||58%|
|10 to 19 yards||13-for-25||52%||256||10.2||52%|
Like I said, easy throws with massive upside. Demarcus Robinson is a quality No. 1 receiver -- not amazing, but well above average as far as No. 1s go -- but mixing things up with guys like Brandon Powell has worked pretty well. Grier has an easy, fast release, and he was able to peck and poke at opponents a few yards at a time.
Even without Grier, Florida's the East favorite
•SBNation.comLosing Will Grier to suspension probably hurts Florida's national title chances, but the Gators will likely remain the SEC East favorite because of a dominant defense.
Harris might not be quite as proficient as Grier in this regard (if he were, he might have been starting already), but McElwain and company will most likely know how to craft a pretty manageable game plan for him.
However, as any football coach will tell you, offensive production always starts upfront with the offensive line.
Using the data from my charts of those three games, Florida ran the ball 97 times, whether it be designed runs with a running back, read-option plays or situations where Grier was forced out of the pocked, tucked the ball and took off down field.
The breakdown of the run direction is as follows: 15 around the left end, 20 over left tackle, 22 up the middle, 17 over right tackle and 23 around right end. Basically, there is no dominant side of an offensive line, which returned only 29.9 percent of its start from a season ago.
At the heels of the aforementioned offensive line, though, Grier was only sacked 10 times during those three games.
Yeah, I honestly haven't been able to tell how much of Florida's offense has come because of the line doing well and how much has been despite the line doing less than well. The McElwain Offense is sound and logical, and if the line isn't a strength, they've disguised it well. And in the absence of a known strength -- a specific lineman to run behind, for instance -- using variety makes perfect sense.
Also, Florida’s defense is good this year.
Last week against Missouri, the Tigers went 1-for-14 on third downs, and freshman quarterback Drew Lock was picked off twice. Florida also sacked him three times while registering five quarterback hurries.
The week before, Ole Miss converted five of 14 third downs and fumbled the ball away three times, and quarterback Chad Kelly was picked off once. There was also four quarterback hurries that game. Tennessee did a better job on third downs (7-for-16), only losing the ball once and throwing no interceptions.
Here’s something I’ve noticed during those three games as well: Florida’s defense has only sent five or six rushers 27 times on 98 passing attempts by Lock, Kelley, Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Jauan Johnson. This means the Gator front-four is getting into the backfield and causing problems, which in turn forces him to throw to a secondary that is led by Vernon Hargreaves III, which I wouldn’t want to do.
You can win a lot of games with this defense getting complemented by a competent, reasonably efficient offense.
More importantly, Florida already has won games. Assuming no vacated wins (a fair assumption, I figure), the Gators are 1.5 games up on Kentucky and two games up on Georgia already. No matter what happens this weekend against LSU, if UF beats Georgia next Saturday, the division is almost already clinched. Granted, at 6-0, you're thinking beyond simply winning a division title, but with the damage Grier was able to help do, Florida's baseline now seems pretty high.