Preparation Meets Opportunity

There’s an old saying that luck is the intersection where preparation meets opportunity.  If you caught a glimpse of CBS sports post-game from the Florida-South Carolina game on Saturday you may have noticed Gary Danielson downgrading the Gators performance insinuating that Florida got “lucky”.  The gist of his argument was that the Gators were the recipients of “gifts” in the form of 3 fumbles which the Gators turned into 3 touchdowns.  The concern was that the Gator offense was stymied in the first half and without those “gifts” they might not have won the game or won as big.

Now it is true the Gamecocks played fast and loose with the football, and it is true that Florida was the recipient of that looseness, and it is true that they converted those opportunities into short scoring drives.  However, I think what is being missed in this short-sighted analysis is that Carolina didn’t just hand the ball over. The fumbles were the direct result of preparation by the coaching staff and players taking advantage of opportunities presented to them.

The coaching staff watches film every week and identifies players who carry the football in ways that leave them open to being stripped.  They practice stripping techniques and situational awareness so that the players are able to make good judgement calls during the course of the game.  The hard work paid off in this game.  Were they lucky against the Gamecocks?  Absolutely, just not in the way most people think of lucky.  Hard work and preparation met opportunity and the Gators led 21-6 at the half despite having only 29 yards of total offense.

Which leads me to my main point.  As a result of the Gators amazing 7-0 start and BCS number two ranking a lot of notoriety has gone to a variety of players who have stepped up their game this year as well as to new strength coach Jeff Dillman who has made this team stronger and tougher.   All well deserved for sure.  Lost in the shuffle is the job the coaching staff not only has done in the offseason but continues to do week to week in preparation for each game and, in particular, the job they do in game adjusting to what the opponent is doing.

Against Carolina it was obvious from the first snap they were going to load the box to stop the run.  While they continued to run their inside game, the core of what they do and the setup for everything else, they went to play action particularly in the red zone to take advantage of their aggressiveness and it paid off in three quick 1st half scores.  A fourth score and another big play off of play action were called back due to penalties.  The week before against Vanderbilt they loaded the box as well focusing on stopping Mike Gillislee.  The staff continued to call the inside runs to Gilly to set up the zone read qb keeper and the result was three long td runs by Driskel.

Against TAMU in the first half the defensive lineman in a haste to rush the passer were losing contain and allowed the qb to make some big plays on scrambles and designed draws.  At halftime, the coaching staff went to work settling the linemen down telling them to focus on containment rather than sacks and make the qb beat them with his arm rather than his leg.  They did, he didn’t and they didn’t score again leading the Gators to victory.

At Tennessee, after a first half that saw Gator defensive backs flagged numerous times the coaching staff did not get down on their guys.  Rather they told them to stay aggressive against the bigger Volunteer receivers and alter their techniques with their hands slightly to keep the flags in the refs pockets.  The flags slowed and the defensive backs did a better job defending passes in the second half leading to multiple three and outs which allowed the offense to take control of the game.

Finally, against LSU when the whole world thought coming in that our running game would finally stumble against the stout Tiger defensive line, the staff put in some jumbo formations with additional offensive lineman and as a result the Gators won the game finishing with over 300 yards rushing.

After last season, the worst record-wise for the Gators since 1989, a lot of fans were grousing about the coaching staff.  They wondered aloud if Florida was the place for a rookie head coach and a rookie defensive coordinator.  Weis left and fans cried that this was proof that Muschamp was in over his head.  This staff was never going to be able to compete with Alabama and LSU or even South Carolina or Georgia.  Ron Zook 2.0.

After the first game against Bowling Green, fans were still complaining that this staff, even with sexy choice Brent Pease the ex-Boise State offensive coordinator, was not getting the job done.  They weren’t coaching up the players, the play calling was specious at best, and they were being hard-headed trying to force a round peg in a square hole.

Fast forward to today.  The Gators are 7-0 and analysts are abuzz wondering how these guys got this far with an offense that barely passes for 100 yards per game.  One word: Coaching.  The old cliche is that play calling is overrated, it takes talent to win games.  While play calling may be overrated, it takes more than mere talent to win games.  It takes coaching.  Good players make plays, smart players win games.  Smart players are well coached players.  This staff is as good as I’ve seen at teaching technique.  They teach hand fighting, body alignment, play recognition, tackling leverage, ball stripping, and a multitude of other techniques that maximize our players efficiency.

They’re voracious at film study teaching players how to look for tendencies in their opponent.  Effective film study allows the player to not only recognize formations and tendencies but also which techniques to use to be most successful.

Winning football isn’t just putting players into the right situations to succeed it’s about being prepared to succeed in the right situations.  This staff in year two has been as good a staff as I’ve seen at Florida at doing just that.  They’ve brought this team to the intersection of preparation and opportunity and the result is a well deserved 7-0 record with a chance to clinch the SEC East this week against arch-rival the Georgia Bulldogs.

Go Gators!

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