The plan to win. It was a term used often by Urban Meyer when he was the head coach at the University of Florida. Every coach has one, though they may refer to it by a different name. I like this term for it’s basic descriptive functionality. It represents the blueprint for success, for winning football games. It’s the philosophy of the head coach that is instilled in the team from day one that the coaching staff stresses to each player going into every game.
While much ado has been made about the merits of this team and their deserving of their number two BCS ranking by media and fans alike, realistically this team is right where Will Muschamp wants it to be. This IS the identity that the head coach has spoken of since day one. Despite the poor showing last year on the scoreboard, this year the Gators have followed Will’s plan to win point by point game by game and that is the reason they are 7-0 right now with a chance to clinch the SEC East this week against Georgia.
Everyone, media and fans alike, love to get into the x’s and o’s of football. They like to talk offensive philosophies and defensive styles. Spread option versus pro style, 4-3 defense or 3-4 defense? I formation, pistol, 5 wide, two deep zone, man to man press coverage, etc… All of that is great for debate and certainly is important in the success of a particular team. The plan to win, however, breaks the game down into basic concepts that determine the success or failure of a particular team.
Will’s plan to win is simple: focus on the running game, be efficient on third down and in the red zone, win the turnover battle, play field position football, and win the fourth quarter. Sounds simple right? Last year, they didn’t do that consistently and, well, we all know how that turned out. Let’s break down the break down.
The focus on the running game is twofold. Running the ball successfully on offense and stopping the run on defense. Running the football is a simple concept. It’s the oldest of offensive philosophies as that was all there was before the invention of the forward pass. Of course there are many philosophies of how to run the football. Under Meyer, running the football meant handing off to a small, quick back running horizontally along the line of scrimmage and letting them find a crease to take off through. It worked well for a while, but the SEC is full of fast defensive lineman and backers who can run sideline to sideline. With this philosophy you get a lot of no gainers and lost yardage plays waiting for the big one to break. Muschamp’s concept is a downhill, vertical running game. He wants to be able to pound the ball inside with traps, counters, and powers and then complement that with the zone read or jet sweep.
To this point of the season they’ve been highly successful currently third in the SEC in rushing averaging 212 yards per game. The importance of running the football, however, isn’t just in the number of yards per game. It’s in what focusing on running the football does for your team. First it sets the tone for your offense. Run blocking requires toughness, strength, and a desire to beat your guy. If your going to run the ball EVERYONE has to have the mentality that they are going to move their guy backwards. One guy missing a block and the play is doomed. Secondly, running the football helps a young quarterback get his wheels beneath him. It minimizes the impact he is required to make , taking the pressure off him to make plays and as such helps to minimize mistakes. Third, it helps to control the time of possession. While that stat is often the most misunderstood and misused stat in football, in Florida’s case it is absolutely one of the most important. Controlling the football shortens the game meaning less possessions for the opponent, keeps the defense off the field allowing them to be more rested, and it puts more pressure on the opposing defense meaning they will be wearing down late in the second half when games are won and loss.
Defensively, the focus on stopping the run is equally important. Stopping the run primarily on first or second down keeps the opposing offense in 2nd or 3rd and long situations making them more predictable on third down. It forces them into more OBVIOUS passing situations which allow our line opportunities for sacks and our db’s opportunities for turnovers. It takes coordinators and quarterbacks out of rhythm as they tend to get away from calling run plays when it isn’t working. Play calling and good quarterback play is all about rhythm. You want to call and execute plays that keep the defense off-balance giving them a good mixture so that they can’t predict what type of play is coming and giving the blockers an edge. By disrupting offensive rhythm and putting the opposing team in 3rd and long situations you increase the likelihood of three and outs giving your offense more possessions to work with and keeping your defense fresh for the 2nd half.
That brings us to another important part Will’s plan to win which is efficiency on third down. While every down matters, of course , third down IS the difference between extending drives for your offense or giving the ball back to your opponent. Defensively, it IS the difference between getting your offense back on the field and resting or allowing the opponent to continue playing and giving them momentum. While offensively, this is one area the Gators have struggled this year at 39.4 percent good for 70th in the nation, defensively they have excelled averaging 27.4 percent which is 5th in the nation. So while the offense tends to struggle on 3rd down they are winning the third down battle overall and that has meant limited scoring opportunities for the opponent while increasing the number of possessions for the Gators offense.
Similarly, red zone efficiency is equally, if not even more, important in Will’s plan to win. A team gets only so many chances to score per game. Most teams, outside of Oregon, are not going to bust a bunch of long td’s every game. As such, the times they actually get into scoring position and their efficiency when they do is ultimately important to their success. As an example, against Vanderbilt the Gators reached the end zone multiple times yet kept settling for field goals. Had they scored touchdowns they might have put the game away early, but as such they kept the Commodores in the game giving their players momentum to keep playing hard. Against South Carolina, as it has been pointed out all week, the Gators were limited offensively stat-wise against one of the best defenses in the nation. They won big, however, due to turnovers and their efficiency in the red zone converting those turnovers into touchdowns.
Which leads us to the next part of the plan to win: winning the turnover battle. Last year the Gators were one of the worst teams in the nation in turnover margin. The problem wasn’t simply giving away the football on offense, it was the failure to create them on defense that hurt them last year. Turnovers do two things. They create momentum when you get them often setting your offense up on short fields and they break momentum when you lose them destroying offensive rhythm and continuity. Turnovers are exciting, they get the home fans into the game or they take them out of it. They force the opposing defense back on the field before they may be ready and they give you quick scoring opportunities. Last weekend, turnovers were the difference in the game and the primary reason Florida won big despite having less than 200 yards of total offense.
Next in the plan to win is playing field position football. What that means is focusing on forcing your opponent to start drives deep in their own territory while keeping your offense in good starting position on the field. The way you accomplish this is through strong special teams play and by limiting turnovers offensively. The Gators this season have perhaps the best special teams unit top to bottom in the nation. Kyle Christy the Gators punter leads the nation in punting average at 47 yards per punt and is equally adept at placing the football down inside the opponents 10 yard line. Caleb Sturgis, the Gators kicker, while Mr. Automatic on field goals has a strong leg and consistently kicks the ball deep preventing returns and keeping the opponents from starting outside the 25 yard line. Our coverage units, led by Loucheiz Purifoy and Trey Burton, consistently prevent returners from making big plays in special teams and have been good at creating turnovers themselves as they did against South Carolina. Purifoy, in particular, has made a name for himself with his big hits and forced fumbles. Finally, while our return play has been the weak link of an otherwise fantastic special teams, lately Andre Debose has been doing a much better job at keeping punts from hitting the turf unnecessarily which gives up valuable field position and has been a spark on kickoffs setting the offense up on short fields.
Equally important has been the coaching staffs tendency to play it safe on offense and not putting Driskel and Company in position to turn the ball over. While there has been much grousing in the media and by fans alike about the lack of a big downfield passing game and the imbalance in the run/pass ratio, this plan has meant not giving the ball away on a short field, relying on that fantastic punting game, and winning the field position battle keeping this team in a position to win week after week. It’s not sexy high-flying action like the Oregons of the world, but it is winning football and that’s what matters.
Finally, the ability of the players to execute the first four points of the plan each week has enabled them to execute the fifth and final point and that is winning the fourth quarter. By pounding the ball in the first half and by controlling the time of possession the Gators have been successful at wearing down the opponents defense as we saw against heavy weights LSU and South Carolina. This has allowed them to entirely take control in the second half and in particular the 4th quarter. The Gators have outscored their opponents 121-28 in the second half this season and 61-13 in the fourth quarter. That is winning football. Of all the stats one can throw out there from this season that is the most amazing to me. Last year we tanked in the second half and 4th quarter of games. This year we have looked almost regrettable in the first half of games. The ability to take over games in the second half and 4th quarter has got to be the biggest turnaround I’ve seen with this team and is a direct result of better conditioning and also a strong focus on the plan to win.
So it’s obvious that, while this team may not be media favorites, Will’s Plan to Win is sound and has carried this team to the edge of an SEC East title for the first time since 2009. The focus and workmanlike attitude this team brings every week to execute the plan has kept them in every game and allowed them to achieve goals NOBODY thought possible coming in the season. While watching your Florida Gators battle arch-rival the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville on Saturday remember it’s not about how many yards Driskel throws for, and it’s not about how many yards Aaron Murray throws for, it’s about Will’s Plan to Win and how well the Gators execute it.