Florida Names Kurt Roper Offensive Coordinator; Former Duke Assistant Hired to Lead Gators’ Offense

The Gators have found their man. Florida has announced the hiring of Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Roper–a finalist for the 2013 Frank Broyles Award presented to the nation’s top assistant–comes to the Gators from Duke where he was part of this season’s 10-win, ACC runner-up Blue Devils team.

Kurt Roper, Florida Gators

While the news leaked earlier in the weak, the official announcement came from Florida head coach Will Muschamp on Thursday. Muschamp mentioned tempo and ability to adapt to talent as two of the key reasons he brought Roper to the Gators.

“He has a diverse, up-tempo background on offense and does a good job of adapting to what the players do best. The most important thing though is he has always remained balanced,” said Muschamp.

Roper has spent nearly his entire coaching career under the tutelage of David Cutcliffe. He began his coaching career at Tennessee in 1996 as a graduate assistant before moving to Ole Miss with Cutcliffe. At Ole Miss, he coached quarterbacks from 1998 to 2004. In 2005, Roper and Cutcliffe parted ways as Roper went to coach quarterbacks at Kentucky (under then Wildcats’ offensive coordinator Joker Phillips). The two would reunite at Tennessee for two seasons before heading to Duke in 2008. They have spent the last six seasons together building the Blue Devils into a team that is about to make its second-straight bowl appearance. The program had never previously been bowling in back-to-back seasons.

If you’re into big names, Roper was Eli Manning’s position coach at Ole Miss and Arian Foster’s at Tennessee. Many will point to much of his success being a direct result of working with Cutcliffe, who just happened to be Peyton Manning’s position coach at Tennessee. While true, there are worse people to learn the ins and outs of coaching an offense from than David Cutcliffe. Everyone learned their trade from someone and Cutcliffe had some successes in big conference football.

While Roper may not have been the first choice of fans or even Muschamp, he presents a different background than that of former offensive coordinator Brent Pease. Pease spent five years as an assistant at BCS schools, while Roper has spent his entire career on the staffs of larger programs. That is sure to bring at least a smirk to the faces of those that aren’t fond of Florida hiring from the lower ranks.

For Roper, it all comes down to the 2014 season. That may not exactly be fair to the newly hired offensive coordinator, but those are the cards he’s been dealt and the ones he’s chosen to play with. He gets one season to prove himself because Muschamp may only have one more to save himself. 2014 is not just a defining season for both men, it has everything to do with whether they’ll still be on the Florida sidelines in 2015.

Year Four of Will Muschamp is a Certainty, But First the Gamecocks

Will Muschamp was given a vote of confidence this week—he will be the head coach of the Florida Gators in 2014. Both athletic director Jeremy Foley and University of Florida president Bernie Machen have come out in support on Muschamp; Foley going as far as to say he is 1,000% convinced Muschamp is the right man for the job. Debates will rage on, but are now as pointless as are those regarding possible future coaches. Will Muschamp will return, as far as we know.

Will Muschamp - Florida Gators

With the votes of confidence from Foley and Machen, Muschamp can focus on what is sure to be a tough run of final games. The regular season, and in all likelihood the entire season, comes to an end on November 30 with a visit from the currently undefeated Florida State Seminoles. One week before that, the Gators host Georgia Southern in what at one time was thought to be an easy victory. Easy victories have become a thing of the distant past. Prior to both of those games, there is Saturday’s trip to Columbia, South Carolina to face an old friend and another ranked opponent.

I will always have a feeling of admiration for Steve Spurrier, and maybe that makes me a different sort of Florida fan. There are those, and they still seem many in numbers, that despise the man that once led the Gators to glorious moment after glorious moment. After all, he left the Gators and that is the sin of all sins. You don’t win and win plenty at the University of Florida and then leave for a new opportunity or because the pressure was too much. The Gators have had two national championship winning head coaches do so, and many fans are not pleased about it and never will be.

There are some of us, though, that have moved on. I don’t blame Spurrier for leaving; I praise him for what he built. You can argue that the Florida Gators were destined for greatness regardless of the man that led them there. The school is large enough and the state in which it resides is plentiful of star high school prospects. While the 1970s had low points, the 1980s had high ones before Spurrier arrived. In 1990, things changed though. Spurrier returned to Gainesville and took the Gators to new heights. No one can predict what would have happened if he hadn’t, but I like to think those 12 seasons and 122 wins helped pave the way for SEC titles and national championships after Spurrier had long left the orange and blue.

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My calm is my 15-month-old son. No, his name isn’t Tim or Percy or Danny or Reggie, but he’s awesome all the same. He’s at the perfect age where he loves the Florida Gators, but also doesn’t know they exist. I can say “Where’s chomp chomp?” and he’ll run to his playroom, find his football with the Florida Gators logo, run back to me, and point at the logo. He does so smiling the entire time as if nothing could make him happier. When the games start, he points at the television, cheers and sometimes even claps (he does the same for Chugginton and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse). The key, though, is that he has no idea what’s really happening. He doesn’t know they are playing football and has no idea who wins or loses. Not only does he not know the outcome, he doesn’t care. He likes chomp chomp, but has no concern over silly things like scores. The game ends and it just means it’s time to play with Daddy. That makes him happy and it makes me happy. He is my calm and the reason I haven’t seriously thought about seeing how far I can launch my Gators garden gnome into the conservation area behind our house.

Tyler Murphy Florida Gators

This season has given us all many reasons to not be calm. There is an offense ranked in the 100s, where it has been during Will Muschamp’s entire tenure. Even without injuries to its starting quarterback and running back, the offense was far from productive. It was a case of “let’s hope this works, but not get too risky in the process.” You know, because taking chances is highly overrated. It has essentially become the opposite of exciting. And there’s nothing we can do about it, but watch, shrug and laugh (painfully).

We have to make it through four more games. I won’t say five because there’s a serious concern that the Gators won’t become bowl eligible. You’re looking at Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern and wondering how that could be possible. I’m looking at the Commodores win over Georgia and last season’s miracle victory over Louisiana-Lafayette and not penciling in game number 13 just yet. It’s so far from guaranteed, we barely want to mention a bowl. That’s not how Florida football should be, at all.

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To Heck with You Georgia, to Heck and Beyond

As a fan of the Florida Gators, you’re afforded many rights this week. Among those is the right to tell Georgia exactly where you think it should go, or be banished to. You can also ask them if they’d like to bite something in particular. The options are really endless for it is Florida-Georgia week and the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has arrived. (We’re not supposed to call it that, but our goal should be to ensure the moniker lives on with future generations.)

Florida Georgia Football

Your mind will be emblazoned with images of Brandon Spikes playing the role of Top Piece of Bread in the Spikes-Knowshon Moreno-ground sandwich, and it should be. There are moments that live with us forever and that is one of them. Another is the one of those damn dancing Dawgs in what we are required by University of Florida law to call a classless and utterly inappropriate display of arrogance. To take us back to positive images, I must quickly mention that Mohamed Massaquoi is still afraid of Reggie Nelson (REGGIE F’ING NELSON!).

Saturday is a date with destiny that isn’t. More was expected of both the Gators and the Bulldogs, but less has occurred for a variety of reasons. Injuries can be blamed and are the easy way out. Blaming injuries gives us comfort because it means our team doesn’t have offensive issues, wasn’t overrated to begin the season, and doesn’t have questions at various coaching positions. It means that a few very unfortunate circumstances led to 4-3 and the losses can be blamed on the absence of a key player or two or three or seven.

Quick side-note relating to records and not injuries: six of the seven teams in the SEC East are currently on losing streaks (including first-place Missouri). Look across the standings and you will see that six of the seven SEC West teams are currently on winning streaks. The lone West team on a losing streak is last-place Arkansas. Hey, the Gators beat them! YAY!

Moving past the injuries, we get to the issue of offense. No, we don’t. Let’s move right past that because we’ve talked about it all before here, here, and here. I don’t know how much more of it I can stomach and I can only imagine that you all are in the same boat. We need offense. We don’t need it next season. We don’t even need it next week. We need it now, or else the Bulldogs of Georgia will chew us up, spit us out, and end zone dance to an easy victory.

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With a Week Off Before Georgia, The Florida Gators Need an Offensive Rebirth

The Florida Gators don’t play this Saturday. Some of you may actually be breathing a sigh of relief knowing that. I am with you. I need a break, and I’m just a fan. I’m not a player and I’m definitely not the head coach or offensive coordinator. The players need a week off, Will Muschamp and Brent Pease need an extra week to determine the direction they’re going to head, and fans need a nice, relaxing Saturday with nothing on the line.

Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs

I will be perusing college football betting at TopBet, looking for games I can watch in a calm environment that doesn’t include me pacing in front of my television. Surprisingly, this season has been a calming one for me when experiencing our losses. I know that sounds, well, off and not right at all, but here’s the scenario: the losses to Miami and Missouri had me at home alone with my one-year-old son and the loss to LSU saw me in Minneapolis for a wedding. The losses stung like they always do, but I had plenty to distract me immediately following their conclusion. I didn’t have the opportunity to stew in the pain of defeat; I had to move on quickly. If another L works its way on to the Gators’ record, I hope I can find something else to take my mind away.

During the bye week, I’ll be relaxing (actually, I’ll be taking a redeye back from San Francisco only to return home to a pile of housework). The Gators, however, will not be. They will be wondering what happened to the defense against Missouri, but—most important—they will continue the hunt for offense. Are we at the point where tweaks are no longer the answer? Does the entire offense need to be re-imagined and reborn? The answer to both is yes. Muschamp, Pease and the Gators need to try something new. Slogging through the rest of the season with the current offense will see a team with talent crash and burn several more times.

We could make a list of aspects of the offense to look at. Actually, let’s go ahead and do it:

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Florida Gators Lose to Missouri; Have the Wheels Fallen Off?

In many sports, 4-3 isn’t an awful record; a win percentage like that may even get you into the playoffs. In college football, 4-3 is a disaster. With their latest loss—this time to the surging Missouri Tigers—the Florida Gators are 4-3 and in a position where all hope may seem lost. There’s still a chance for 10 wins (always a good thing), but the Gators would have to win out. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone that currently believes Florida has a chance of doing that. In order to come even close, the Gators must first find an offense.

Kelvin Taylor, Florida Gators

NCAA expert betting lines (click here for view more) will tell you Mizzou isn’t a bad team. In fact, they’ll tell you the Tigers are a very good team. Sometimes losing to a team of that respect can lessen the blow, but not when you lose the way the Gators did. While the offense I already mentioned looked for any possible way to move the ball, the defense finally gave in. Try as they might, Florida was no match for Missouri on either side of the ball. When hope was briefly restored after Solomon Patton’s kickoff return, it was quickly taken away by the Tigers’ offense.

Before the game started, I would have told you I was 50-50 on the outcome. The Gators’ defense had the talent and ability to keep Florida in any game regardless of the opponent and, if the offense could do just enough to put a few points on the board, then the orange and blue would be right in it. Add that to the fact that the Tigers would be without quarterback James Franklin and the Gators had a real shot to take down a ranked opponent. Unfortunately, it was the other side of that 50-50 that would prevail.

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Florida Gators Search for Offense with Another Ranked Opponent on the Horizon

Raise your hand if you are pleased with what Will Muschamp has done with the Florida Gators’ defense. If your hand isn’t raised, it should be. The Gators have a head coach that has lost defensive talent to the NFL and injury, but has still produced once of the best units in the nation. It’s Muschamp’s specialty; he made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator before he became the successor to the man we so wish we could never name again. Unfortunately, for Muschamp’s legacy, he is also making a name for himself as a head coach that can’t fit all the pieces together on the other side of the ball.

Will Muschamp and Brent Pease, Florida Gators

First the good (or, at the very least, the acceptable). Against LSU, the Gators managed 17 first downs (not an awful number), converted three of their four fourth-down attempts, didn’t turn over the ball, and saw extended action from freshman phenom running back Kelvin Taylor, who finished with 52 yards on 10 carries.

Now to the bad, or ugly. The Gators converted only six of 17 third-down attempts, managed just 240 yards of total offense, didn’t have a play go for more than 20 yards, gained 4.6 yards per pass and 2.8 per rush, lost starting running back Matt Jones for the season, and scored only six points despite winning the time of possession battle by more than eight minutes.

What has become somewhat of a pattern with the Gators of late, brings up two questions: 1) Will Muschamp ever be able to truly lead a team on both sides of the ball?, and 2) Should Brent Pease be the offensive coordinator?

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Jeff Choate Named Florida Gators’ New Outside Linebackers Coach and Special Teams Coordinator

Will Muschamp has filled his staff with the hiring of Jeff Choate. On Wednesday, the Florida Gators announced the hiring of Choate as the new outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. Choate comes to the Gator from UTEP where he spent just the spring season.

Jeff Choate - Florida Gators

Yes, that’s correct. Choate came to the Miners as UTEP’s new defensive coordinator this spring after spending last season coaching linebackers under Mike Leach at Washington State. Despite not coaching with the Miners for even one regular season, Choate mentioned the opportunity to be a part of a program like Florida was just too good to pass up.

Choate has a few connections to the Gators. He visited Florida during spring practice a year ago and spent time with Muschamp while the Gators’ head coach was at Texas. Despite not working on the same staff until now, Muschamp and Choate had shared philosophies on numerous occasions. Choate also spent six years as an assistant coach at Boise State with current Florida offensive coorindator Brent Pease.

Muschamp hopes Choate will bring the same philosophies and intensity to the Gators that the head coach has tried to instill during his stint with the orange and blue.

Orange and Blue Debut Becomes Glorified Practice; Are the Days of a Spring ‘Game’ Gone?

The Orange and Blue Debut was more spring practice and less spring game this time around, and it may be a sign of things to come.

Jeff Driskel - Florida Gators

Under former head coach Urban Meyer, the Florida Gators’ annual spring game took on a differing look depending on the whim of the coach. In mid-game, if Meyer wanted the field goal unit to keep kicking and kicking and kicking, they did just that. Under current head coach Will Muschamp, not much has changed. Gone may be the days of a true game and here to stay may be a glorified practice designed to end the spring in front of Florida fans in The Swamp.

There were reasons for the altered format and it had mostly to do with injuries. A depleted offensive line only allowed the Gators a practice environment. Without the ability to run out two full units, Florida turned the spring game into a scrimmage at times and a practice session at others. It came down to whatever works and whatever you can do with what you have.

There’s little to take from the Gators’ spring game, and even less so if it truly becomes a practice session like it did on Saturday. For every spring star that doesn’t bring that talent with him to the fall, there is a player that is relatively quiet during the spring semester only to break out when the games that count begin. Feel free to be disappointed now or overly excited at the prospect of a breakout star, but keep most of whatever it is you are thinking bottled up until August 31.

It’s hard to gauge exactly how much quarterback Jeff Driskel has improved. The passing game has to develop; that much we know. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease may find himself looking for work elsewhere if it doesn’t. It starts and ends with Driskel as he will enter the 2013 season as the undisputed leader of the offense. That wasn’t the case before the 2012 season. An 11-2 record may have given the soon-to-be junior some confidence heading into 2013, but now he needs to make the plays to go with it. Driskel can use his running ability to his advantage, but with a talented stable of running backs, he may not need to. He needs to develop as a passer and stretch the field. We’re all waiting for the fireworks to come back to Florida’s offense. And we’re long past waiting patiently.

Speaking of the running backs, the starting job belongs to Matt Jones and that’s a good thing. Jones came on strong in limited action as a freshman, ending the 2012 regular season with his coming out party in the victory over instate rival Florida State. Jones has distanced himself from the pack during spring practice, but there’s still talent behind him. Mack Brown has stuck around and hopes to earn carries and then there’s the player we’ve all been waiting for years to see in a Gators’ uniform. Kelvin Taylor didn’t disappoint on Saturday and we all hope he has many more successful Saturdays in his future.

Like Taylor, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson enrolled early and was able to participate in spring practice. Unfortunately for Robinson, he missed eight practices due to a high-ankle sprain. Despite not being entirely healthy, the freshman was still able to show what he can bring to offense on Saturday. And fans weren’t the only ones impressed by Robinson. Muschamp is ready for Robinson to step in right away and cornerback Jaylen Watkins had the following to say:

“He got an injury and instead of backing down, he took on the challenge to go into the training room and get better and pushed out there while he was hurting. Today he was limping and still making great catches. When you see a guy like that, you know he has something great.” – Jaylen Watkins, Cornerback, Florida Gators

The spring has ended for the Gators and now the true wait begins. We have more than four months before we see the orange and blue in action again and all we have until then are the memories of the spring game that wasn’t a game at all. That leaves us plenty of time to discuss debate the good and the bad we expect to see from the Gators in the fall. It may be premature, but it feels mildly appropriate to break out the first one of these for the 2013 season now–just win.

Transfer News: Florida Gators Bid Farewell To Jacoby Brissett, Chris Johnson

We all knew this was coming. As much as we may have wanted a talented, highly-recruited quarterback sitting behind Jeff Driskel for the next two seasons, we knew that QB wouldn’t be Jacoby Brissett. The sophomore quarterback has now made it official, he will leave the Florida Gators, transferring to another school.

Jacoby Brissett - Florida Gators

This really is the best decision for Brissett. The ball had been given to Driskel and he wasn’t losing it any time soon. While Driskel took his lumps during the 2012 season, he also had moments that made us excited for 2013 and beyond. His stats won’t jump out at you, but 10-2 as a starter is something to build on. And because it has become obvious that Will Muschamp and Brent Pease will build behind Driskel, Brissett had to leave.

There are no hard feelings coming from this side at all toward Brissett. He went to battle against Driskel and lost. Now he has decided to move on. There will always be the “what could have been,” but it’s that case with any departing player. We (and by we, I mean me because many are split on this) wanted to see more of Brissett’s arm, but not necessarily at the expense of the overall package Driskel brings. They are two different quarterbacks and the coaches have to build the offense around one. So farewell Jacoby, we truly wish you luck.

Also announcing his intention to leave was one-time defensive back and current running back Chris Johnson. While Johnson was a special teams standout at times, he wasn’t able to crack the lineup on either the defensive or offensive side of the ball. Johnson had a less-than-memorable end to his Gators’ career after being ejected from the Sugar Bowl.