Tuesday, March 11, 2014
UF spring predictions: The Roper effect
By Jeff Barlis
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of our week-long series predicting what's ahead for Florida this spring.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Let's face it: Winning football games at Duke commands attention.
So when Will Muschamp went looking for someone undaunted by the challenge of resuscitating Florida's offense, Duke coordinator Kurt Roper and his long résumé of success in the South made a lot of sense.
The hire was met with instant approval from none other than Gators icon Steve Spurrier, the Blue Devils' coach from 1987-89 who left Durham, N.C. to take the reins at his alma mater.
"They finally figured it out," Spurrier said last December. "You have to go to Duke to get football coaches."
Yes, Florida created some buzz when it hired Roper, but few players knew who he was. The timing of his last game calling plays for the Blue Devils worked out perfectly, as Gators players and fans tuned in to see Duke's explosive offense give an SEC defense fits (albeit against Texas A&M's secondary, which had been a season-long sore spot).
The intensity of Kurt Roper's style and his pace of offense will cause a period of adjustment for the Gators.
After another season of malfunctioning offense at UF, Roper's exhibition was an air show by comparison. It bought the new coach a ton of credibility, and he needs every ounce of it to help his new players believe that a return to respectability in 2014 isn't an impossible mission.
Florida has ranked among the worst offenses in the 123-team FBS for all three of Muschamp's seasons. To pull off such a dramatic makeover, the Gators need a something of a guru to put their faith in.
Roper can be that guide who leads the offense out of the wilderness, but he's not a miracle worker, and the 180-degree change won't be apparent in a matter of three short weeks of spring football.
What Roper will do this spring is lay a foundation. He'll identify his best players and put them in the right positions to succeed. He'll simplify things for the rest of his role players, and he'll oversee some reclamation projects, as several overlooked players will get new chances to contribute.
Like Spurrier, Roper's mentor David Cutcliffe, the head coach at Duke, had plenty of praise for the Gators' new coordinator. He specifically lauded Roper's experience with building and organizing an offense and running a fast-paced practice.
"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," he said right after Roper was hired. "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.
"His style would be intensity, tempo and quality of repetition. From the minute they hit the field it's gonna be intense. I wouldn't call him a laid-back football coach by any stretch of the imagination. So it's gonna be what we call 'treat the ground like a hot stove.' If you hit the ground you'd better get up running. And you know by the time they get on the field until they get off they're gonna be moving and getting a bunch of quality reps. So I would call it very intense."
To call this spring a success, Florida's passing game needs to only show gradual improvement and a grasp on the fundamentals of the new schemes Roper is installing.
No one should expect the Gators to suddenly operate as quickly as some of the nation's most established up-tempo offenses. At Duke, Roper said he wanted plays called "as fast as possible," somewhere between 10 and 22 seconds into the 40-second play clock.
Auburn showed last season that a lot can be accomplished in one year with a new offense, as the Tigers went from an SEC-low of 60.5 plays a game in 2012 to 73.8 last season.
If Roper's offense can achieve even half of that improvement in pace, the Gators could very well have a legitimate offense this fall. Even a modest return to middle-of-the-pack status among FBS offenses would be something to brag about.
The stakes will be extremely high in 2014, with Muschamp under scrutiny. But the rewards for success will be even higher for an offensive coordinator whose star is clearly on the rise.