- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida fans are sure to tune in en masse to Tuesday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) to watch their new offensive coordinator run Duke's offense for the last time. They'll be searching for clues to what Kurt Roper can bring the Gators in 2014. Here are a few.
1. Tempo: Roper was introduced to the no-huddle uptempo offense by one-time boss Joker Phillips at Kentucky in 2005. A little more than two years later, when David Cutcliffe was hired as Duke's head coach, he brought Roper with him from Tennessee and asked him to install it. Since their first season in 2008, Duke has averaged no fewer than 70 plays a game. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl, you'll find Roper calling plays from the press box, but on the field Duke relays calls through several signalers. Only one has a given play, the others are decoys. The fast pace is something Florida fans will not be used to. Roper has said he wants 18-30 seconds left on the play clock by the time the ball is snapped. "I think there's a reason for tempo in a game that obviously causes defenses problems, but we'll never sacrifice tempo over execution," he said to Florida reporters last week. "We want to play fast but we want to play smart and take care of the football and those types of things."
2. Balance: Will Muschamp said it himself when he announced his new hire -- Roper's offenses have always been balanced. With NFL quarterbacks like Eli Manning at Ole Miss, Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree at Duke, there was more of an emphasis on the passing game. Now the Blue Devils actually run the ball more. Duke has run 507 times this season, compared to 427 pass attempts. Roper simply recognized after Renfree graduated that his top two quarterbacks, Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette, were both mobile. After Manning left Ole Miss in 2003, Roper went to Missouri to learn the zone-read from Tigers coach Gary Pinkel. Ten years later, it's clear that Roper is a play-caller who has a lot of tools in his belt.
3. Running by committee: It took a couple of years, but Duke eventually recruited enough talented backs to run the kind of offense Roper envisioned. Without those runners when he first arrived, Roper was forced to set up the passing game with bubble screens and short passes. Now the Blue Devils have four capable backs, led by top rusher Jela Duncan (5.0 yards per carry), a sophomore who will miss the bowl game due to an academic suspension. Sophomore Shaquille Powell (5.6 YPC), junior Josh Snead (6.1 YPC) and senior Juwan Thompson (4.8 YPC) will fill the void. Connette, the backup QB who leads the team with 13 rushing touchdowns, is the short-yardage specialist.
4. Skill on display: Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder is a water bug who has been one of the best offensive weapons in the ACC over the last two seasons. In that time he has set a school record with eight touchdown catches of 50 or more yards. His 96 catches for 1,197 yards this season are both Duke records. Roper knows how to get Crowder the ball, whether it’s on quick-striking screens and slants or on post and wheel routes. The Blue Devils' next best weapon is 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior TE Braxton Deaver, who averages 12.1 yards a catch and typically hauls in between two and five balls a game. Three other wideouts -- Issac Blakeney, Brandon Braxton and Max McCaffrey -- contribute as well.
5. Preparation: Florida is getting an offensive coordinator who is meticulous about having all aspects of his offense and his game plans ready. Cutcliffe, Roper's mentor, said it best: "There’s the things we pride ourselves in, the attention to detail in training quarterbacks, the attention to detail in preparing an offensive team to play a game, practice habits, it’s the total package. I think you have the systematic approach and everything’s covered. You try to take the players offensively when your job is the offensive coordinator, you put them in every circumstance they can possibly be in in a game in practice and build confidence through great execution. That will be one of [Florida's] great strengths, that they will be extremely well-prepared coming out of practice."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida fans are sure to tune in en masse to Tuesday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) to watch their new offensive coordinator run Duke's offense for the last time.