10 Year Challenge: Comparing Florida's Offense to 2009

Ainslie Lee

Celebrities, colleagues and your cousin up north are all getting in on the “10 year challenge” -- some have gained a few pounds since 2009, whereas others might have lost some hair on their head. 

The moral of the social media trend is that a lot can change in a decade. And the Florida Gators are no different. 

Coming off of a National Championship ten years ago, Urban Meyer was in his fifth season as the Gators’ head coach and Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes both returned to Gainesville for their senior season. 

Offensively, the Gators took a hit when All-American wide receiver, Percy Harvin, left for the NFL Draft. And, ironically, Florida’s offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen, left Gainesville in his rearview mirror as he trekked westward to take over the Mississippi State football program. 

How times have changed. Or, better yet, how have times changed? 

Let’s take a look at Florida football’s 10 year challenge… 

Quarterback 

Before you jump down my throat, I’m not about to say that Kyle Trask equates to Tim Tebow -- because he doesn’t. 

However, Trask’s numbers are looking more and more like the quarterbacks of old than many give him credit for. Trask has eclipsed 300 passing yards on two separate occasions this season -- 310 yards vs LSU and 363 yards vs Vanderbilt. 

Trask’s outing against the Commodores earlier this month marked the most passing yards by a Florida quarterback since Tebow’s 2010 Sugar Bowl performance where he torched the No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats with 482 yards through the air. 

In addition, when the Gators took to the bayou back in October, Kyle Trask did a decent job going tit for tat with Heisman-hopeful Joe Burrow. Trask’s three touchdown night in Death Valley was the first time a Florida quarterback threw for three or more touchdowns on the road against a Top-10 team since Tebow threw for four against No. 8 Kentucky in 2007. 

Through this point in the 2009 season, Tebow had thrown for 1,945 yards, whereas Trask has amassed 2,293 passing yards through the same 11 games. However, take it with a grain of salt considering Florida had a MUCH more efficient ground game in 2009, which didn’t force Meyer to air out the ball as much had Mullen has had to do in 2019. 

While Trask is touching numbers that have collected dust, this 10 year challenge isn’t a winner. However, the comparison proves to be a much tighter race than it might appear at first glance. 

Running back 

I like Lamical Perine. I like him a lot. 

However, he unfortunately is set behind in this comparison due to a lackluster offensive line, if anything. 

To jog your memory, in 2009, snaps were split between two backs by the name of Jeff Demps (99 carries) and Chris Rainey (89 carries). In 2019, Perine has seen a majority of the action from the backfield with 115 carries. 

Again, this is a really unfortunate matchup for Perine as he’s going up against two very elite backs — one of which being one of the fastest football players I’ve seen in person in Jeff Demps. It almost isn’t fair. 

In 2009, Demps’ 99 carries went for 745 yards and seven touchdowns, and Rainey tallied 575 yards with five touchdowns. This season, despite having more opportunities, Perine’s stat line shows 520 yards with four touchdowns — though the senior still has two games to play. 

Again, we can undoubtedly say that Perine had the potential to have a year like Demps and Rainey did in 2009, but the offensive line just isn’t equipped with the proper tools to open up the run game. 

Once again, this 10 year challenge is a step back from 2009. 

Receiving Corps 

This one is a bit more interesting considering some have argued that Florida’s current wide receiver room is the best the school has ever had. 

In 2009, the Gators saw guys like Riley Cooper, Deonte Thompson, and David Nelson catch Tebow's passes. Cooper led the group in receiving with 51 receptions for 961 yards and nine touchdowns. Thompson’s hands were utilized 24 times, good for 343 yards and four touchdowns. Nelson added 25 receptions for 291 yards and two touchdowns. 

This season, the Gators are dripping wet with talent at the receiver position. The current group has five guys who have all made significant impacts on the season — not including Jacob Copeland who is on the rise, and Kadarius Toney who battled the injury bug early on. 

Van Jefferson leads the pack for the Gators this season with 38 receptions for 480 yards and four touchdowns. However, Freddie Swain and Trevon Grimes aren’t too far off of Jefferson’s hip with 30 receptions a piece for 384 yards (5 TDs) and 470 yards (3 TDs), respectively. 

Josh Hammond, otherwise known as Mr. Reliable, has notched 307 yards on two touchdowns on the season, while Tyrie Cleveland, who is right at a year removed from a broken collarbone, rounds out the pack with 18 receptions for 256 yards and a single touchdown.

So, while perhaps the current group of Gators doesn’t have someone with 50+ receptions like the 2009 team did, having too many guys to throw the ball to only becomes a problem when selfishness arises. 

And that’s yet to happen. 

Better yet, 2019’s receiver room has shown that it won’t happen. And for that reason, this is a flashy glow-up from 2009. Well done, Gators. Well done. 

Tight End 

While the University of Florida would rather (understandably) forget that Aaron Hernandez ever graced Gainesville with his presence, what he did on Florida Field simply can’t be ignored. So, don’t mind me. These boots are made for walking — even if it means walking on eggshells.

Aaron Hernandez was good. He was All-American good. He was Ring of Honor good. In 2009, Hernandez’s final year in the orange and blue, the junior put together 850 yards on 68 receptions — five of which went for touchdowns. Hernandez’s 2009 effort led him to take home the John Mackey Award — an honor given to the most outstanding tight end in college football. 

Comparatively, Kyle Pitts, who has had quite a year himself, was inexplicably omitted from the John Mackey nomination list. 

In 2019, the Kyle-to-Kyle connection has been significant. Pitts seems to be Trask’s go-to-guy as the sophomore tight end has hauled in 46 passes for 566 yards and five touchdowns — the most of any pass catcher on Florida’s current roster. 

Despite the impressive stat line, does Pitts tough the level of a 2009 Aaron Hernandez? Negative. 

I will say, however, that I feel Pitts has merely scratched the surface of his potential. Don’t be surprised if the underclassman posts and even sexier stat line in seasons to come — one that might even compete with Hernandez’s. 

But until then, this 10 year challenge is awarded to the vintage side. For on-field performance only, of course. 

Offensive Line 

This, to put is as nice as possible, is a wash. 

I felt like I could’ve omitted the O-Line section of this story and everyone would have lived to see another day without complaint. However, for the sake of balance, let’s dissect it. 

The 2009 offensive line was graced by two burley Pouncey brothers — Maurkice at center and Mike at right guard. Those two alone are impressive enough. However, Marcus Gilbert (RT), James Wilson (LG) and Carl Johnson (LT) aren’t bad additions. 

This season, Florida's offensive line coach John Hevesy has had his hands full in trying to piece together his offensive line. As it sits currently, Florida’s centerpiece continues to be Nick Buchanan at center. Brett Heggie has provided stability at right guard. Meanwhile, Richard Gouriage has slid into the starting position at left guard and both Stone Forsythe and Jean Delance have had rocky seasons at the tackle spots. 

For perspective, Tebow was sacked 27 times in Florida’s 14-game 2009 season. Trask has been sacked 21 times through 11 games. 

And while perhaps that isn’t the most eye-opening stat, the difference in the run game should be. In 2009, as a team, the Gators rushed for 3,105 yards and 30 touchdowns. In 2019, Florida has rushed for 1,622 yards and just 17 touchdowns. 

As a disclaimer, the 2009 team played three more games than this year’s squad, but I don’t see the Gators catching up to 2009’s numbers. 

Once again, the current Gators find themselves less impressive than the ones in Gainesville a decade ago. After all, the 10 year challenge can’t be friendly to everyone. 

And let’s be honest, we knew coming into this that this year’s Gators likely weren’t going to line up well against a team like the defending National Champs in 2009. But for what it’s worth, I can’t think of too many 2019 teams that could. 

But in Florida’s case offensively, the 10 year challenge exposes some major flaws. Not everything gets better with age.

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