Analyzing Doug Nussmeier’s track record as an offensive coordinator

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Jim McElwain is sticking by maligned offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier after the Gators’ disastrous debut Saturday.

On Monday, McElwain said fans should direct their ire toward him and not Nussmeier and that he’d get it fixed.

Well, there’s certainly plenty of frustration to go around after Florida mustered only 3 offensive points and 192 yards against Michigan.

It’s not just about one game, though.

Florida finished 111th and 116th nationally in total offense the last two seasons. Patience had already worn thin. This was supposed to be the year it all came together for the offense, that a more experienced offensive line would set the tone up front, the quarterback play would be improved (regardless of who took the snaps) and the Gators’ bevy of playmakers would make the unit consistently exciting for the first time in years.

Seeing absolutely none of that come to fruition in the season opener was simply deflating.

Fans have filled social media with commentary about the uninspired play calling and their preference for a change at coordinator.

McElwain doesn’t feel that’s necessary, though.

The question was asked Monday, what is it that he sees behind the scenes during the week and on game days that gives him confidence Nussmeier can get the offense going?

“I’ve seen what he can do. I’ve seen what he’s done,” McElwain said. 

RELATED: A closer look at Florida’s offense under Jim McElwain

McElwain’s connection to Nussmeier goes way back. They worked together at Michigan State from 2003-05 when McElwain was the assistant head coach in charge of wide receivers and special teams and Nussmeier coached the quarterbacks.

They each then spent one season as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State with Nussmeier following McElwain in that post in 2008. After McElwain finished his stint as OC at Alabama from 2008-11, Nussmeier again followed him in 2012-13.

Nussmeier was then the offensive coordinator at Michigan in 2014 before McElwain hired him at Florida.

So when McElwain says he’s seen what Nussmeier has done and what he is capable of doing, here’s the track record to which he’s referring:

Florida Gators football-offensive depth chart-Doug Nussmeier
Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is under scrutiny after the Gators’ sluggish offensive start. (Ryan Young/SEC Country)

Fresno State, 2008

In Nussmeier’s lone season at Fresno State and his first year as an offensive coordinator, the offense averaged 387.2 yards per game as compared to 419.5 the previous season and 430.5 the season after his stint.

He had a senior quarterback in Tom Brandstater coming off his best season with McElwain running the offense (2,654 yards, 15 touchdowns, 5 interceptions). Brandstater took a step back in finishing with 2,664 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 picks in his final year.

Overall, though, the team averaged 29.6 points per game to rank 37th nationally.

Washington, 2009-11

Nussmeier deserves credit for his three-year stint as the offensive coordinator at Washington.

He took over an offense that averaged just 263.2 yards and 13.25 points per game in 2008 to rank 116th and 117th respectively out of 119 FBS teams. He and offensive-minded head coach Steve Sarkisian delivered immediate improvement with the offense averaging 375.5 yards in 2009, 362.5 yards in 2010 and 409.8 yards in 2011 before dropping back to 355.2 yards per game the season after Nussmeier left.

He had a future first-round NFL Draft pick in QB Jake Locker for the first two of those seasons before helping Keith Price set school records for touchdown passes (33) and completion percentage (.669) as a redshirt sophomore in 2011. Washington’s offense scored 57 touchdowns and 434 points that season to finish with the second-best totals in program history, behind only the Huskies’ 1991 national championship team.

Chris Polk, the running back on those Washington teams was quoted by BamaInsider.com, after Nussmeier left for Alabama, as saying:

“The difference he made with Jake was night and day. Early on, Jake was a running quarterback. By the end he was a passing quarterback, too. He developed a presence in the pocket under Coach Nuss that he didn’t have before. But the way he communicated with Keith and kept our offense going without Jake around last year, I don’t think you can overestimate what a difference that made. I know Keith loved working with him.”

Alabama, 2012-13

Like McElwain before him, Nussmeier won a national championship as the offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2012.

The Crimson Tide were already a machine by the time he arrived, but that 2012 team became the first in program history to rush and pass for 3,000 yards each while also leading the country in passing efficiency.

Nussmeier coached A.J. McCarron for the quarterback’s final two seasons, in which he passed for 5,996 yards, 58 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 67 percent of his passes.

Overall, Alabama averaged 38.7 points and 445.5 yards per game in 2012 and 38.2 points and 454.1 yards in 2013, both an improvement from McElwain’s best seasons with the Tide.

That said, McElwain had delivered continued improvement in his time as offensive coordinator there and the offense has been humming along ever since. The year after Nussmeier left, the Tide dropped back a little in scoring (36.9) but had even better yardage numbers (484.5 per game).

It’s not fair to discount Nussmeier’s contributions there, but it’s also worth keeping perspective of the seemingly self-sustaining machine that Nick Saban has created in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and what the program has continued to do since his departure.

An Al.com report go after Nussmeier announced he was leaving for Michigan, a top that made him one of the five highest-paid coordinators in college football, mentioned that despite the productive numbers fans had been frustrated with his play calling in key games. And after Alabama lost 34-28 to rival Auburn late in that 2013 seasons, Saban invited Lane Kiffin (who would ultimately take over the coordinator job) to brainstorm and exchange ideas on how the offense could improve.

Michigan, 2014

Nussmeier’s stint at Michigan did not go quite as well as his previous stops.

The Wolverines averaged 20.9 points and 333.0 yards per game in 2014 to rank 112th nationally in both categories, a significant decline from the previous season in which the team scored 32.2 points per game and averaged 373.5 yards.

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner regressed from 2,960 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2013 to 1,896 yards, 10 TDs and 15 picks in 2014.

With Brady Hoke fired as head coach after that 2014 season, Nussmeier was expected to be relieved of his duties. But it didn’t come to that as he took the Florida job.

In reporting on his departure, the Detroit Free Press wrote: “ Nussmeier’s Michigan stint could only be called a disaster, given that U-M dropped from 32 points per game the previous year under Al Borges to just 20.9 under Nussmeier. Though the offensive line and running game improved slightly, this was one of the two worst offensive seasons in the past 30 at U-M, joining 2008.”

Florida, present

So looking over Nussmeier’s track record, there are highlights and lowlights.

In McElwain saying he knows what Nussmeier is capable of, he can point to the coordinator’s time at Washington and Alabama. Indeed, he’s had proven success.

Critics, meanwhile, can point to Saban feeling the need to bring in Kiffin as an offensive consultant late in Nussmeier’s tenure, and his disappointing and brief time at Michigan.

As well as the present, of course.

After two frustrating years from the Florida offense, Saturday was Gators fans’ worst fear — that maybe there isn’t any progress coming after all.

It’s only one game. It’s early. But the scrutiny will only magnify unless the Gators can prove that season-opening showing was just a bad day — a really, really bad day — and not a harbinger of what’s to come.

McElwain wasn’t going to overreact after the first game and strip Nussmeier of his play-calling duties, but the question will arise again if the Gators don’t get it going.

Because while he’s seen what Nussmeier can do, Florida fans for the most part haven’t.

The post Analyzing Doug Nussmeier’s track record as an offensive coordinator appeared first on SEC Country.

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