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Breaking down Jim McElwain's machinations at Florida

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The Gators are rolling on offense as McElwain has found the roster perfectly suitable for his clever, pro-style system.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You'd have never guessed from the last several years of Florida football that new head coach Jim McElwain was about to inherit all he needed to build a top offense that might have the Gators situated to compete for the SEC East crown and perhaps even the playoffs.

Muschamp's last Florida team finished no. 72 in offensive S&P and left McElwain with the need to replace starters at nearly every position on offense (three returning starters from 2014). But as it turns out, Muschamp left a full cupboard for McElwain with several young players ready to step into the limelight and thrive under the new offensive system.

The new Gator coach has unquestionably done a fantastic job recognizing and preparing the players he found on campus to be successful in his new system.

The set-up

One of the most important ingredients for McElwain's offensive system is having good, versatile tight ends who can serve as mobile blocking pieces but who can be effective enough pieces in the passing game to allow the system to stretch the coverage and give the QB simplified reads.

For his part, Muschamp was always hiring coaches who looked to utilize TEs in their systems so Florida already had senior Jake McGee on campus along with sophomore DeAndre Goolsby and several other young players that will undoubtedly become household names in Gainesville in the coming years.

With TEs around to tie McElwain's run and pass schemes to the same formations, the next essential ingredient is some bell-cows to carry the load for the offense and be the featured weapons.

Thus far wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and running back Kelvin Taylor have been the main focus of the offense, although slot receiver Brandon Powell has added a fair bit of explosiveness to the system. As the offense has continued to find rhythm throughout the year their efficacy has increased with Robinson hitting the Ole Miss defense with an eight catch, 98 yard performance in the Gator's big upset victory.

The young offensive line for Florida is also coming together quite nicely and managed to protect redshirt freshman QB Will Grier well enough to allow him to hit 24 of 29 pass attempts, throw for 271 yards (9.3 yards per attempt), and complete four touchdowns.

Grier is the greatest prize on campus as he sets McElwain up immediately with an answer at the most important position on the team, a player to recruit skill players to come join, and a major talent that is proving very adept at executing the Gator offense.

What stands out about young Grier are both his physical and mental abilities at the position. On the mental side, he clearly understands how to use their system and alignments to have a good pre-snap read of what he'll be facing after the snap and he uses his eyes well to manipulate defenders and create bigger throwing lanes.

On the physical side, Grier is remarkably accurate throwing at targets that he hasn't been staring at and also accurate (as seen above) regardless of whether his feet have been re-set before he throws. The ability to make good throws without requiring a clean pocket that doesn't include Robert Nkemdiche bearing down on you is an invaluable gift as a QB.

Putting it together

The hallmarks of the McElwain offense are similar to that of many other college offenses, they run the same concepts over and over again but from a variety of different formations and looks in accordance with what they do well and you do poorly.

Some of the more interesting ways that McElwain has been attacking opponents at Florida include how he's using his TEs and Robinson to run two of his favorite concepts, the outside zone run and the smash route combination.

Most offenses today, be they in the college or pro ranks, love to use the shotgun alignment but it tends to tip off defenses on where the ball is going in the run game and so they'll set their fronts based on where the back is aligned. McElwain will punish this by running the ball away from the back with a pitch:

It's just a standard outside zone run to the side of the TE but it comes from a formation that doesn't normally force the defense to worry about that concept.

Much of Florida's success at finally building a solid offensive line this season undoubtedly comes from the fact that McElwain has means like this for getting the most out of his zone running game and allowing them to focus on the techniques necessary to master this concept.

They'll also run plenty of inside zone, and while the back has reads to make, it'll often involve him running at the edge of the defense behind the tight ends executing either lead blocks on the edge or trap blocks across the formation:

Gator zone slice

Gator zone smash

It's all inside zone to the OL, the only thing that changes for them with either of those two runs is the direction they zone step, but for the defense it's much different and attacks different edges with different blocks they have to know how to engage.

Then there's the Florida passing game, which is built around a similar philosophy of doing as much as possible with the same concept. McElwain's favorite passing game tool seems to be the "smash" route, which puts a hi-low stress on the defense and was instrumental in his Alabama offense defeating LSU in their title game re-match in 2011.

The difficulty of the smash concept for a pro-style offense is that it requires a TE that can get upfield and make sharp breaks that the opposing safety or corner can't squeeze. That is, unless you run it like this:

Gator smash-flat

Now you have Demarcus Robinson running the seven route, after initially threatening the defense with a slant, and a TE or running back running a simple flat/hitch route. Grier's timing on these throws is excellent, but this also allows him to make the simple hi-low read while also having the faster player (the receiver) run downfield while the slower but sturdier player (TE or RB) runs to the flat where they can potentially turn up field and break a cornerback's tackle to pick up extra yards after the catch.

As the Gator OL and young QB improve, you can be sure that McElwain will continue to add different variations to his offense and find ways to plug in Floridian skill players around them in ways that opponents will not enjoy.

The result is a similar offense to the one being run two hours to the northwest, except now the Gators have the hotshot redshirt freshman QB as well as home field advantage when they will encounter the Seminoles at the end of the year. The state of Florida may be in for another fun, competitive rivalry between top programs again.