Game Day Keys: Florida gropes for its offensive groove

Dr. Saturday

The day's most pivotal players.

The attention in Jacksonville this week has centered on the return of senior quarterback John Brantley, who expects to start on the heels of three depressing performances by freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. But the offense has also missed its best playmaker, Rainey, who's been in the lineup but largely invisible in October after turning in four consecutive games over 100 yards from scrimmage in the Gators' 4-0 start — including a 233-yard gem in the win over Tennessee. Over the last three games: 150 yards combined, with zero touchdowns. The offense as a whole has only found the end zone twice in the last month, both on long bombs to open a possession. It hasn't mounted a sustained touchdown drive since the Kentucky game on Sept. 24.

A lot of that has to do with the brutal schedule — Alabama, LSU and Auburn back-to-back-to-back — and the young quarterbacks. But if Florida's going to keep its season from careening into another tailspin against Georgia, it needs its lone offensive star to deliver some kind of spark, too.

WR STEPHEN HILL, Georgia Tech.
Paul Johnson's offense will never get much attention for passing, but the fact is the triple option instantly expands from nuisance to nightmare when it has a viable downfield threat to exploit the defense's hyper-focus on the run. For a while, Hill looked like just that: Through the Yellow Jackets' 6-0 start, he had 17 catches for 552 yards and four touchdowns, and Tech led the nation in pass efficiency.

During their Jackets' two-game losing streak? Hill has one catch for nine yards, and quarterbacks Tevin Washington and Synjyn Days have combined to complete just 9 of 22 passes with three interceptions and zero touchdowns. Meanwhile, even the ground game dried up in last week's 24-7 flop at Miami. Back at home against undefeated Clemson, Tech's upset hopes ride on keeping pace with the Tigers' up-tempo offense, and that means establishing Hill as a legitimate threat if the secondary starts to creep up too far.

Andrew Luck has been virtually untouchable: Stanford leads the nation in sacks allowed (2), and has the production to show for it: The Cardinal rank in the top 10 in total offense, scoring offense and pass efficiency, and have yet to be held below 37 points. If USC's first priority tonight is to force Luck into more predictable passing situations by snuffing out the run — much easier said than done — it will still fall to the Perry, the Trojans' best pass rusher, to actually interrupt Luck's usual picnic in the pocket.

DE JOHN SIMON, Ohio State.
If the Buckeyes need an upset over Wisconsin to keep the fading pulse of their six-year Big Ten championship streak alive, and the only way that comes with the ongoing problems on offense is via a dominating performance by the front four on defense: If the Badgers gain a foothold on the ground, Russell Wilson will be able to throw at his leisure and it will be all over but the waiting on the results of the NCAA investigation. Simon and linebacker Andrew Sweat have played the most football there, and will be at the front of the charge to make the Badgers' one-dimensional for the first time this year.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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