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Seismic Shift Inbound for Florida Gators Offensive Identity in 2021

With the turnover of the reigns to Emory Jones, the Gators' offense is set to change drastically from the near 400-yard passing performances of 2020.

Photo: Emory Jones; Credit: University of Florida athletic association

The reigns of the Florida offense are being turned over in the upcoming season and with that comes different skill sets to adhere to.

"We're going to adapt to the strengths of our players. We're going to adapt to our guys and what they do well and put the guys in position to do well," head coach Dan Mullen said when asked about the shift in offensive identity earlier in the week.

In a year that saw the Gators return to a prolific status offensively, Kyle Trask and the Florida passing attack were among the most lethal groups in all of college football.

With a predominantly pass-heavy play-calling style of former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, the Gators’ offense was as close to an air raid that you can get under Mullen. Equipped with a number of dangerous weapons across the board and a pro-style passer, Florida’s top priority was to distribute the rock to the multitude of playmakers such as projected first-rounders in the upcoming NFL draft, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney.

"When you go back, and you watch our cutups and review our cutups, you say, boy, we threw the ball everywhere. ... We just decided to throw it offensively. ... You know we had the flexibility to go throw for 400-yards a game last year."

Accounting for 74.2% of all yards and 79.3% of all touchdowns scored on the year through the air, replicating the success and efficiency of one of the best Gators’ offenses of all-time stands as a daunting task. 

However, with replication of production in mind, the playstyle is set to change drastically going into the 2021 season, leading the offense to be conducted in a different way.

Given the talents of dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones, who steps in at the helm, the Florida Gators will be tasked with reverting to a balanced offensive attack to get the most out of their new signal-caller. 

As a result, the identity of the offense shifts drastically to a 50-50 attack of rushing and passing to be unveiled on Sep. 4, 2021.

“Some things that we did last year we won’t do as much this year and some things that we didn’t do last year that will be thrown into the offense for what we think off of the strengths of our players right now.”

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Tallying 514 yards on 92 carries and 6 touchdowns in 24 career games, Jones brings a similar skillset to the table as guys who have aided Mullen's standing as one of the best offensive minds in all of college football throughout his career. Known for operating an efficient offensive system coined the "smashmouth-spread," Mullen has excelled when equipped with willing and able runners at the quarterback position.

A major catalyst in the developments of Alex Smith, Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott, the fourth-year Gators head coach looks to continue his storied history with the position and reproduce a similar result on the field in 2021.

Doing so with a guy like Jones — who has flashed his ability to be a dominant passer deep down the field alongside his speed and uncanny tendency to squeeze through the smallest of holes as a runner — the room for creativity and variance within the Gators offense is immense.

“We have the flexibility to go back and be 50-50 balanced. We can be a run ball control team and control the clock.” Mullen said. “We can be up-tempo or slow tempo, whatever is going to fit the program or team as a whole within the framework of our offense.”

Totaling 1,575 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, the rushing game was efficient in the eyes of Mullen but simply was not needed to produce the results they were looking for. 

In 2021, a reemergence of the 2018 scheme consisting of the Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine duo is possibly in-store in some capacity, especially with Jones’ opening up the rushing game for the backs in read-option scenarios due to the threat he imposes.

Given the addition of former five-star transfer from Clemson in Demarkcus Bowman alongside Dameon Pierce, Nayquan Wright, Malik Davis and Lorenzo Lingard, the Florida backfield is as talented as it has been in a long time. As a result, the unit is equipped to take on a heavier workload that tailors to the strengths of the personnel.

With little blueprint of what the offense is set to look like from the standards of a Mullen-coached Florida team — given the most skilled runner at QB the program has seen since Tebow (albeit a different style of running) — the wrinkles thrown in throughout the 2020 season consisting of designed quarterback runs and occasional speed options with Trask presents a slight preview.

Overall, the field is likely to be much more spread out in 2021, an advantage to keep the opposing defense on their toes. Jones is capable of airing it out to the likes of Jacob Copeland, Justin Shorter, Xzavier Henderson and Arik Gilbert, among others, while also possessing the talent to make plays by tucking the rock and bursting through the defense for big gains with his legs at any time.

The shift in identity is a process, one that will work its way well into the season. The offense is only a shell of itself right now, and will stay that way throughout the 15 spring practices. 

However, with months of perfecting the playbook still ahead for the unit, the Gators staff is focused on setting a firm foundation in the spring to ensure a successful gameplan come the fall.

"We’ll continue to tweak that through spring, through summer, through training camp, and usually, it ends up through the first couple of games you’re still tweaking.”