On a sizzling summer evening during training camp, Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper wanted to show his playmakers a specific route technique.
In front of wide receivers and tailbacks, he ran a quick pass pattern, hurling in a short slant and then immediately spiking the ball in celebration.
The players roared.
Roper was sore, but everyone was happy.
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Gator fans hope it stays that way.
Roper’s up-tempo offense aims to debut in sterling fashion, as the unranked Gators kickoff the season with lowly Idaho at 7 p.m. in The Swamp.
“Football is a game. It’s supposed to be fun,” said Roper, in his first season with UF after serving as a longtime assistant to Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “There’s a time to be serious, and there’s a time to lock in and all that, but I learned a long time ago that if you take a player’s hope away from him, that’s when you’ve got a guy that’s going to struggle.
“I want guys to have hope and belief in themselves and enjoy coming out here playing. We’re going to coach positive.”
There was nothing constructive about Florida’s offensive 2013 season.
The Gators, decimated by injuries, averaged a pitiful 18.8 points per game, so coach Will Muschamp abandoned his ball-control, meat-grinder philosophy in favor of Roper’s prolific scoring system.
Roper was hired to resuscitate a floundering attack, one that’s finished in the bottom 20 nationally (113th, 103rd, 105th) for three consecutive seasons.
Since coming to Gainesville, Roper’s enthusiasm and energy has been contagious. His shotgun, up-tempo offense has excited an underachieving yet promising group that succumbed to a “woe-is-me” mentality during Florida’s embarrassing 4-8 season a year ago.
“Players are a reflection of their coach,” said Muschamp, on his third offensive coordinator in four years. “Kurt is a very upbeat, positive guy. He’s got a little edge about him. I think you see a certain carry-over in our offensive football team. I don’t think there is any question about that. … Kurt’s got an edge about him that I really like.”
Said slot wideout Valdez Showers: “He’s like a player out there. Kurt loves the game. He’s always got energy. There’s not one day where he comes out there down. You feed off his energy. He’s always up-tempo, so you want to be up-tempo. That’s the way the offense goes.”
In a short time, Roper has not only transformed a unit’s attitude but also its prospective ceiling.
The Gators ended their spring scrimmage in a tie, but suddenly an offense that’s yet to play a real snap no longer appears to be a universal joke.
Florida returns a slew of young talent, and Roper has been encouraged by the offseason development of inconsistent quarterback Jeff Driskel.
For a program at a crossroads — UF lost seven games in a row to end last season — it has been an offseason full of optimism.
Now, the Gators desperately need results.
Idaho — a winner of just four games in the past three seasons — ranked No. 22 in total defense last season and allowed an average of 46.8 points.
The Vandals are the first of three pseudo dress rehearsals before UF’s grueling schedule (six games against preseason ranked foes) kicks in.
The Gators are 36-point favorites — five points more than UF scored in a single-game all last season — but there’s hope Roper can help lead Florida’s attack back to its glory days.
“I hope we meet expectations,” he said. “ Whenever you are coaching at the University of Florida, the expectations are to win football games. That’s the bottom line.“
“ hope we can do it with exciting offense and a lot of points.”
Added Driskel: “We had a really, really great camp. We protected the ball and made big plays. We you put those two things together, you’re going to be looking at a pretty good offense.”
It can’t be any worse.