GAINESVILLE -- Last season, the Gainesville offense was one of the most feared units in all of Georgia high school football.
The Red Elephants, behind Class AAAAA Player of the Year Deshaun Watson, averaged 45.3 ppg while scoring a school-record 680 points on the way to the Class AAAAA state title.
Gainesville coach Bruce Miller at the time said he wouldn't want to have to face it as a defensive coach. He's changed his mind, however, after watching the 2013 group work between end zones.
The current unit already has scored 641 points in 13 games (49.3 ppg) and Miller said Watson has improved with age and the offense has matured along with him.
"We are much more potent this year," Miller said. "Deshaun is just as good as he was last year and all of our skilled guys are making plays this year. Last year, it wasn't until about the eighth or ninth game that we started to get contributions from more than just a few people. I thought last year they were real good. This year they're just scary."
Miller hopes that Watson and the rest of the Red Elephants offense can put a scare into Region 6-AAAAA champ Tucker, which plays host to Gainesville Friday in the semifinals of the Class AAAAA playoffs. The winner will take on the Creekside-Kell winner in the championship game next week.
Tucker (13-0) will have by far the toughest defensive unit the Red Elephants have seen since suffering their only loss to Buford in the second game of the season. The Tigers are allowing just 12.7 ppg on the season but have been even tougher in the playoffs allowing just 27 total points (9.0 ppg) with one shutout in three games.
Miller said unfortunately Tucker reminds him a lot of Buford.
"They are a tough group," Miller said. "They are very physical like Buford and come after you like Buford. We will need to be on our game for sure. But I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our guys."
Watson wasn't shy about saying how he feels about the improvement of the offense since the Buford game.
"We're so much better than when we were then; that was only the second week. We're just getting better every week," he said. "I have so many weapons I can rely on and throw the ball to that can make big plays. There's 6-8 guys that can make plays. You can't eye on one guy or you'll get hurt.
"Tucker and Buford are similar on defense. But you have to beat the best to be the best. We've just got to go in there and play."
The Red Elephants versatility and depth can cause defensive coordinators sleepless nights trying to decide how to defend them.
Watson has thrown for 3,560 yards and 46 touchdowns so far this season and run for a team-high 1,016 yards and 13 TDs and caught two touchdown passes. Michael Byrd is just 10 yards shy of 1,000 rushing and has 563 yards receiving and 17 combined touchdowns. Jay Gaudlock has 87 receptions for 1,217 yards and 14 TDs. In fact, 13 different players have scored offensive touchdowns for Gainesville so far.
They will match-up with an explosive Tucker defense that features a fearsome mix of size and speed, including defensive lineman Elisha Shaw (6-foot-6, 299 pounds), who holds offers from every major program in the nation. Linebacker Detric Dukes (Georgia commit) and defensive back Kirk Tucker (Stanford commit) also feature, as well as junior defensive back Duke Shelley (who holds an offer from Clemson).
"They have a good offense too that can run the ball real well, but their defense makes them so good," Miller said. "They're 11 swarming to the football everywhere. So it's one of those things where you devise a gameplan, hope you execute it and hope Friday night you've come out ahead."
Buford coach Jess Simpson, whose Wolves have been the only team to slow down Watson and the Gainesville this season, said it wasn't an easy task.
"To be successful against them, you've got to be sound because they're very well coached and they know how to attack you," Simpson said. "And if you have a weakness, they're going to find it. In preparing for them you have to be willing to pick your poison