UF's offensive line faces challenge
Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 5:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 8:29 p.m.
Through four games, Florida's offensive line has confirmed all the preseason hype with its performances on the field.
Yes, the Gators have been stronger, tougher and more efficient than a year ago on the offensive line.
Yes, the Gators are winning the fourth quarter up front and running the ball when they have to, showing great mental toughness.
Yes, this once beleaguered group appears to have developed into a team strength.
Now, comes the true test. The ultimate test.
And it will be administered in The Swamp on Saturday by one of the nation's elite defensive fronts.
LSU's defensive line likely will reveal/expose just where this Florida offensive line really stands.
“I think so,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “You go block this front, you've done something. They're very good. They've recruited well. They've got depth. They're big, fast and physical. There is no question if you're able to put a hat on this group and get some movement and be able to run the ball consistently, it's going to be the key in the game.
“You can't get in a one-dimensional game with these guys because they're going to be able to rush the passer and they're going to get you off the spot pretty quick as far as the quarterback is concerned.
“Staying balanced in what you do is very critical.”
Staying balanced is not as simple as it sounds against the Tigers. LSU's defensive front has stuffed the run all season, giving up only 83.0 yards a game on the ground, has recorded 11 sacks and has brought relentless pressure against opposing quarterbacks, most of the time with only a four-man rush.
Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said it's hard not to get caught up in the defensive front when watching tape of the LSU defense, which is giving up just 217.8 total yards a game.
“Yeah, no doubt,” Pease said Tuesday. “They're the guys that take out so much of the coverage situation because they get to you so fast. It's not that maybe they're sacking you all the time, but it's just moving you around in the pocket.
“When you start having to move, your eyes become different as a quarterback on where you're trying to focus and throwing on time and rhythm. It's disruptive.”
The UF offensive line has not faced a defensive front like this one all season. And, most will admit, it's not even close.
The Tigers are strong in the middle, led by 304-pound tackle Anthony Johnson. And maybe even stronger (and faster) at end with preseason All-SEC selections Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery.
“I definitely feel like this is going to be a good game to tell exactly where we're at,” UF center Jon Harrison said. “I feel if our team is completely locked in and we bring it for all four quarters that this will be a great game.
“Yes, we're going against some better athletes (than in the first four games). But we, especially as an offensive line, we've come a far ways from last year. We're more meshed as a unit. We've been working this whole offseason for a situation like this.”
The Florida offensive line was dominated by the LSU defensive front in last season's 41-11 rout in Baton Rouge. The Gators managed only nine first downs, 113 yards rushing and 213 total yards.
This year's LSU defensive front is very similar to last season. The Gators say their offensive front is much different than a year ago.
“They've proved it every game so far,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “I believe they'll continue to do so. They're the strength of the offense. That's what we've been saying since spring, and they haven't let us down.
“We're going to have to keep riding them and running behind the big guys.”
UF coaches and players say the offensive line is tougher, stronger, better.
They'll likely find out just how tougher, stronger, better on Saturday.
“Well this is obviously a signature game for us,” Pease said when asked if this was the game for the offensive line to prove something. “In any aspect, whether it's whatever position you're talking about. It's a good measuring stick for us to see what we're up against, or how we handle being against a ranked team, a team that's got talent across the board.
“(Our offensive line) is always up for the challenge. That's how those guys are. They don't complain. They're company work guys. They get out there (and play). They just go out and work. I appreciate how they approach each day.”
But Saturday won't be like any other day. That's when the ultimate test comes for the Florida offensive line.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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