UT will challenge UF's ability to rush

DeShawn Wynn's performance on the ground will be critical in Saturday's game vs. Tennessee.

Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner
Published: Thursday, September 15, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 15, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
Names and numbers may change from season to season, but there is an intimidating and unsettling consistency about Tennessee's defensive front.
It's always the same: Big, fast, physical, athletic and darn near impossible to run against.
"They have big, tough, physical guys and they have a good coaching staff that's been there a long time and knows the SEC," fifth-year senior Florida center Mike Degory said. "They're tough for any team to handle.
"Ever since I've been here, it's been about the same. The guys inside play real tough, and they've got athletes everywhere else on the field."
This season's Tennessee defensive front seven definitely fits the mold - with maybe one slight difference. The folks on Rocky Top think this might be the best defensive line/linebacker combination the Vols have put on the field since the 2001 front that featured two first-round NFL draft picks on the line (John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth).
"This is definitely the most athletic front we've faced," UF running backs coach Stan Drayton said. "They bring a tremendous amount of speed to the game. Those defensive ends (Jason Allen and Parys Haralson) are real-deal guys and their linebackers (Omar Gaither, Kevin Simon and Jason Mitchell) are fast-close guys.
"We haven't seen anything like that. I think our guys, from a mental standpoint, will be ready for it."
For a Florida offense that is determined to run the ball - that has to run the ball to reach full effectiveness - the Vols pose a daunting challenge.
Here's another reason success on the ground is imperative for the Gators on Saturday night: In 13 of the last 15 games in this rivalry, the team that's rushed for the most yards has won.
"It's crucial," Degory said. "If you can run the ball in a game like this, you control the clock, you shrink the field. ... tons of stuff.
"The bigger the challenge, the greater the reward. That's our focus right now. We've been planning for this challenge ever since January."
A critical question heading into Saturday night's game is do the Gators have enough horsepower to generate a running game against a defensive front that usually doesn't allow one.
On opening night against Wyoming, the Gators basically didn't have a running game. A week later in the win against Louisiana Tech, UF rebounded with a 251-yard effort on the ground, sparked by a career-high 101-yard effort by junior tailback DeShawn Wynn, who sat out the first game.
Of course, Louisiana Tech isn't Tennessee.
"The preseason is over," UF offensive line coach John Hevesy said. "When you talk about championships, it starts Saturday. We've got to keep going and keep finishing. No matter who it is or what it is, we've got to establish a running game. That helps just about everything else in the passing game.
"For us, we're always looking to be balanced - 250 yards rushing, 250 yards passing (a game). To establish that, you have to have a run game."
Even though Wynn was impressive last week, Urban Meyer still hasn't named a starting tailback for Saturday's game, which might mean the Gators still aren't certain they have a go-to guy at the position yet.
The coaches do seem to be a little more comfortable with another key component in the running game - the offensive line, where the Gators have four senior starters in Degory, guard Tavares Washington and tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler.
"(Tennessee's defensive line), that's their strength against what should be our strength," Meyer said. "It's not there yet, but it's coming. We have four seniors and (Tennessee's) defensive line is without question marks. They're big and fast, and they're experienced. They're a better D-line than they were last year.
"If you watch the film from last year, they're noticeably quicker, stronger and you can tell they're more experienced. If you want to win this game, you have to block those guys."
Florida's offensive line is bigger, stronger and more experienced than last season, too.
But is it tougher? It's been one of the goals of the offensive line since the new coaching staff took over in January.
"I think we're physical," Degory said. "By the same token, we have a lot of growing up to do, including myself. We're trying to grow up right now."
Said Hevesy: "We're trying (to be tougher). It's an every-day project. We keep trying to get it out of them. We're trying to get them to run under control and hit people in the mouth. Absolutely, (we'll find out where we are) Saturday night."
Drayton said if the line can create some cracks in the UT defensive front, his backs can make something happen.
"No matter who we're playing, it's important that we be effective running the football," Drayton said. "I think we've got four people (Wynn, Markus Manson, Kestahn Moore and Skyler Thornton) who can do it.
"Running the ball like we did against Louisiana Tech is a confidence builder. We got better because the line got better. They go together. If the offensive line continues to get better, you're going to start seeing some more explosive plays out of the running backs."
Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com

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