GAINESVILLE -- There are three potential explanations for UF's ultra-conservative offense through the first three games of the season. Let's examine each one.
1. The Florida Gators' coaching staff doesn't have total confidence in their quarterback.
First-year starter John Brantley has completed 62 percent of his passes this season for an average of 150.7 passing yards per game. Sandwiched between Georgia freshman Aaron Murray and Ole Miss gun-for-hire Jeremiah Masoli, Brantley ranks seventh in passing efficiency among Southeastern Conference quarterbacks with a rating of 131.0.
Brantley hasn't had many opportunities to complete deep passes (passes of 30 or more yards) but he has missed every time (0-4). Here are the four deep throws Brantley has attempted this season:
1. 1-10 against Miami (Ohio) on the first offensive possession of the season. Intended for Deonte Thompson. Dropped by Thompson, the Gators' fastest receiver who as somehow blanketed by a Miami (Ohio) cornerback.
2. 3-18 against Miami (Ohio). Deep pass intended for Carl Moore off the mark.
3. 2-9 against USF. Deep pass incomplete for Andre Debose.
4. 1-10 against USF. Deep pass incomplete for Thompson.
Of note: Brantley did not attempt a pass of 30 or more yards against Tennessee.
Brantley has only completed five legitimate throws of 20 or more yards this season. Personally, I don't think Brantley is the problem. After all, the coaches relied on Brantley's arm five times in third-and-long situations against Tennessee and every time Brantley delivered.
Brantley was hyped as a great thrower for three years and now he's not being asked to throw. Something doesn't add up. If UF isn't going to throw downfield, then maybe freshman quarterback Trey Burton should be given more chances behind center to run UF's old spread-option offense. As a true sophomore, Tim Tebow averaged 278.3 passing yards in his first three games and only threw for less than 200 yards in two games in 2007. Brantley hasn't thrown for more than 172 yards this season.
2. The coaches haven't exactly trusted their receivers.
In years past, the Gators have had deep threats like Bubba Caldwell, Louis Murphy and Riley Cooper. I asked UF cornerback Jeremy Brown this week who UF's best deep threats were and he named Deonte Thompson, Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose. Dunbar hasn't sniffed the field on offense. Debose has only been used downfield for one play in three games.
Thompson, who Brown calls the fastest player on the team, has been used mainly as a possession receiver so far this season. He only has three receptions of 20 or more yards. Carl Moore appears to have excellent hands but he isn't much of a deep threat. Omarius Hines has one reception for more than 20 yards. Jordan Reed, the redshirt freshman tight end, has one reception for 22 yards.
If I had to guess, I'd say that Frankie Hammond Jr. will get his chance against Kentucky to emerge as the Gators' downfield threat. This brings me to the third potential explanation why UF's passing game is stuck in a low gear.
3. The assistant coaches calling the shots are gun shy/Florida's coaches have failed to establish an offensive identity
In my opinion, this is the reason. New assistant coach Zach Azzanni is the Gators' passing-game coordinator. At the beginning of the season, UF coach Urban Meyer made a comment indicating that Azzanni might be a little nervous in his new position. Meyer and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio are always going to play cautiously, considering UF has a defense that has proven it can keep UF in any game no matter how poorly the offense is playing.
So far, UF hasn't needed a downfield passing game to win. That might change against Kentucky and Alabama. It also might help Brantley if the Gators' focused on a base offense and stuck with it until the offense gains more confidence. Brantley was under center and in the shotgun the same number of times (15) in the first half against Tennessee. With so many different looks for the offense to master, it seems like basic offensive disciplines like snapping the ball and run blocking have suffered.