Getting to Know New Gators Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper
The Florida Gators surely wish to forget 2013. The year began with an embarrassing loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, and the regular season will now go down as the team's worst in more than 30 years.
One of the setbacks at the core of this disastrous campaign was an inept offense that ranked only 113th in the entire country. Thus, the often-maligned Brent Pease was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator earlier this month.
However, a replacement who will try to regain the trust of Gator Nation has now been named.
Former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper comes to Gainesville with a hearty résumé and plenty of upside. But in case you aren't familiar with Roper and his style, here's a quick summary of what he brings to the Gators.
Roper has spent the past six years in Durham alongside head coach David Cutcliffe. During that time, he molded two quarterbacks who surpassed the 3,000-yard mark. This season, the Blue Devils set a school record for total touchdowns (54), and quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette combined for 3,045 passing yards.
But prior to his run with Duke, he accrued more than a decade of SEC experience.
Roper has spent time with Tennessee, Ole Miss and Kentucky. As a graduate assistant, he was part of two Volunteer squads led by Peyton Manning. He later worked with Peyton's brother, Eli, as the quarterbacks coach of the Rebels.
More important than his track record with prolific passers, however, is his familiarity with Gators wide receivers coach Joker Phillips and the no-huddle offense. Roper worked with Phillips at Kentucky in 2005 when the latter was the offensive coordinator of the Wildcats. He told David Jones of USA Today that he credits their relationship for his football knowledge, calling him a "really good man."
Based on all of his experience, Roper has all the tools to succeed with the Gators.
What He Brings to the Gators
Hopefully, some explosiveness.
Roper's most recent passing attack didn't exactly put up video-game numbers, but it still averaged 64 more yards per game than the Gators did. Granted, Florida went through three different quarterbacks and was severely limited as a result.
However, Jeff Driskel showed no playmaking ability in his only two full games at the start of the season. With Tyler Murphy's transfer and the assumed backup role placed in the hands of incoming freshman Will Grier, Driskel should be the starter on opening day, health pending of course. His running ability and size will suit the uptempo and, occasionally, spread offense that Roper should provide.
Florida still needs to find a go-to receiver, but Driskel can throw deep and be more creative in this modified offense.
Kelvin Taylor should benefit as well. Although he can be a bruiser at full speed, he can outrun almost anyone in open space. He should be able to work the sidelines as a pass-catcher, just as Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell combined for more than 200 receiving yards for Duke this season. That way, Matt Jones can be the main downhill runner on first-down carries up the middle.
More than anything else, though, Roper brings variety. Pease made the offense too predictable and lost all faith in his quarterback by the closing weeks. The amount of simple draw plays was absurd, and defenses easily made adjustments after a few initial gashes. With more wrinkles in the playbook, Florida can reach a productive level again.
Expectations for 2014
Changes had to be made, and Roper can easily deliver. The Gator offense basically hit rock bottom in 2013, and any added threat in the downfield passing game will be an upgrade. Florida's athletes are more suited for a spread offense, and the Gators should take advantage of the added creativity.
The jury is still out on Driskel. However, Roper has worked with some of the best passers in the game. He knows how to shape a quarterback more effectively than a lot of coaches.
In the end, the Gators should field a mid-level offense. They are still built to run the ball and control possession, not throw across every inch of the field. Driskel should easily surpass 2,000 yards, but Jones and Taylor will be the main one-two punch.
An average of 400 yards is a reasonable goal, and Roper may need to hit that plateau or risk losing his job. In any case, expect the Gators to score more points in 2014.