Position breakdown: How offensive line performs holds a key to Florida’s season

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UF offensive line coach John Hevesy works with his position group at the Sanders Practice Fields on campus. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

We break down the 2019 Florida football team by position group. This week a look at the offensive line.

The upside

The strength of the front is up the middle, where the line’s two most experienced players reside — senior center Nick Buchanan and junior guard Brett Heggie. They are the only two who bring significant starting experience to the line.

Heggie started seven games as a sophomore in 2017, then had to battle through a series of injuries last year that cut down his playing time. He managed to play in nine games but had no starts.

The good news is Heggie is healthy again and having a strong preseason camp in which he has emerged as a leader, along with Buchanan.

Heggie is a warrior, and his toughness should have a positive influence on all the young players around him.

UF coach Dan Mullen considers the center position to be the most important one on the line, and the Gators have a proven one in Buchanan, whose career turned around completely with the coaching change last year. Under Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy, Buchanan went from little-used player to perhaps the MVP up front.

Buchanan is an intelligent player who is adept at making all the line calls and getting the Gators in the right protections. He’s also bigger and stronger now that he’s had 20 months going through Nick Savage’s strength and conditioning program.

Stone Forsythe, the starter at right tackle, also brings some experience to the front. The redshirt junior played in all 13 games last season with one start. In 2017, he started the first two games of the season, so he gives the Gators a third player with significant experience.

Also on the plus side, four of the five true freshmen were early enrollees and are way ahead of where they would have been — physically and mentally — had they not arrived until this summer.

The downside

Youth and inexperience make the offensive line the biggest question mark on the team heading into the season. The Gators have lots of fast and skilled playmakers, but will quarterback Feleipe Franks have the time to spread the ball around? And will there be any holes for Lamical Perine and the other running back to run through?

The SEC is a line of scrimmage league, and if you get beat up front you almost always get beat on the scoreboard. This young line is going to be thrown straight into the fire against a physical and experienced Miami defensive front in the opener in Orlando.

It’s tough to play as a true freshman on the offensive line in the SEC, but the Gators have five who may have to at some point. Three are listed second on the depth chart — Michael Tarquin, Ethan White and Kingsley Eguakun — so there’s a chance they could even see playing time as early as the opener.

Young guy to watch

Redshirt freshman tackle Richard Gouraige.

The former four-star prospect coming out of high school has benefited from a demanding offseason strength and conditioning program under Savage, losing weight and gaining strength (and quickness). He definitely looks physically ready to play at this level now.

He is an athletic big man who got a ton of reps last fall. He also played in two games, so he’s ready to take the next step and possibly become a full-time player if needed. If nothing else, he gives the Gators solid depth at the critical left tackle spot.

Don’t be surprised if …

Mullen works around the youth and inexperience by running a lot of quick passes and screens, at least early in the season, to give the guys up front a chance to have some success and gain some early confidence.

The Gators successfully executed a similar plan in the win at Mississippi State last season. This is a line that should steadily improve over the course of the season. At least that’s the plan, and usually the way it has worked out under line coach John Hevesy.

As improvement comes, Mullen will start opening up the passing game.

Quotable

“I see it as a challenge. Live up to the expectations. You’ve got a great ceiling, you’ve got a great team, you’ve got a lot of different positions that have a lot of experience. So, I see it as a challenge. Every day, step up to the plate and get it done. There are no ifs, ands or buts. We have to get it done. You’ve got a great team, you’ve got a great foundation and you can’t just say, ‘Oh, this one position was holding us back.’ That’s not acceptable. We have to get it done. We have good guys, good skill players and good defensive players all across the board. So, we have to get it done, protect Feleipe (Franks), give him time and do our jobs.” — starting right tackle Jean Delance

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. For a look at the previous breakdowns (offensive backfield, secondary, receivers and linebackers) click to Gatorsports.com.

Probable offensive line depth chart

LT

72-Stone Forsythe

76-Richard Gouraige

LG

61-Brett Heggie

78-Ethan White

C

66-Nick Buchanan

65-Kingsley Eguakun

62-Griffin McDowell

RG

67-Chris Bleich

55-Noah Banks

64-Riley Simonds

RT

56-Jean Delance

75-TJ Moore

64-Michael Tarquin

74-Will Harrod

36 COMMENTS

  1. Not worried at all about the online. We will be fine.

    As for the Mississippi State game– I watched it on television. The game analyst pointed out that we threw the screens when we had the defenders outnumbered on the outside. He said, “Mullen is just counting. When he sees he has the numbers, he goes to the screen pass.” Miss St consistently kept defenders in the middle, presumably to shut down the running game– result, we went outside.

    I point this out because it wasn’t dumball like Suckmeiser and Yellowteeth employed, where they just kept throwing screens no matter what alignment the defense was in. Mullen will exploit the defense. If UM covers the screen passes, you won’t see them. But that will mean they have less people in the middle, and we will exploit them there. Mullen will get the dline running side to side, wearing them out, no doubt, but how he does it will be a function of what Miami does defensively. He isn’t an idiot, and he isn’t going to call plays he knows won’t work.

    • Usually agree with your comments Jaws, but in this case, not so much. I think a big question mark hangs over the o-line simply because that’s the reality of the situation. This group has never “shown us” before. I will be Orlando though, full of hope that they do exactly that. Having Mullen calling plays will definitely be an assist, but if the o-line is simply not up to par; he won’t be able to cover that up completely. The reality is that last year’s line was actually very good. Granted they got better as the year went on under a new staff, but the players were good. This year – let’s see.

      P.s. – I suspect you’ll come back on me about this, but the continued name calling is beneath you. Move on fellow Gator.

      • What on earth makes you think Jaws is going to come back on you with name calling, Scrud? Not his style! I think we left that type of low class behavior back in 2018 — he had his opinion, you had yours, that’s all that happened here. GO GATORS!

          • On principle I have to agree, Sly — I’m sure you will call me out too, if I ever engage in that (and hope you do) — but I think mostly for those who use that technique it’s less vitriol and more to make a point in context. The way I see it, the past is the past and nothing to be gained…..but as you know, Gator passions do always run hot over sore spots. Except for when they don’t……some things one would think would arose even the most timid of Gators for some reason don’t seem to faze anybody, and vice versa. I gave up trying to figure out human emotions a long time ago!

          • You and I are supposed to be the Bobsey Twins or something, resident evil conspirators — remember?

            But I for one will sure be glad when you get back to posting, CO — really miss your wit and sarcasm. I’ve been trying to hold the low class bar we set last year, but man, I can’t do it alone!

      • Scrud, as far as the starting line goes, there really shouldn’t be much of a drop off from last year. The line was good last year because there was some depth that filled in admirably. That’s the only question mark this year, is what happens once the starters need a breather or god forbid get hurt. Contrary to what you said, the starting group has “shown us” before. Most of them starters have seen a lot of playing time. As long as the backups can step in and not miss a beat, then the line will be fine.

    • Jaws you said something that I wondered about with the previous two. Run the same play over and over and over and maybe it will work when the other team days they can’t possibly run the same dumb as s play again. Yet they did. And it rarely worked. Was painful to watch. CDM runs plays that have a chance of success which helps boost the teams morale. I think or OL will be coming together in the first qtr.

    • I said this exact same thing, in recent posts. Mullen is a master play caller and he will call plays to relieve the stress on the o-line, but in-line with what the defense gives him. he will exploit it. How anyone can have watched what he did last year and think otherwise is beyond me! The 2 chump’s offenses (and it was offensive to watch) before him, predictable play calling made our offenses look way worse than they were. Its really hard to have to repeatedly stand against a defense that knows what you are about to do. Our offense was much better last year mainly due to enormously better play calling. People need to quit putting the blame on our past offenses and on the play callers for their dismal performances. It seems nobody gets it since i have yet to read anyone point this out!(point out that our offensive players werent the cause of poor play but the play calling, yes the play calling has been criticised but so have the players and I think that is all wrong)

      • I also must add an inept QB who couldnt read defenses and find open receivers also added to, what appeared to be poor o-line play. In addition to better play calling we also had the Qb step up as last year passed which made the o-line play appear so much better. A bad QB and bad play calling will always make a good o-line appear bad too.

        • For years under these other 2 coaches I heard people wondering how our o-line just couldnt get it together even though we had recruited many top players and blame was also given to lack of depth as a cause. I believe it never was the o-line that was the problem but the Qb most of the time and the play calling that was to blame. PROOF: last year we finally had great play calling most of the time and a Qb that finally got it together… and AMAZINGLY we finally had a great O-line! 1st o-line in years to play great…wonder why that was…hmmmm?

          • DW I think you are 100% right. I said that before about the coaches. Like one of the players said of Mac’s last season his granny or aunty knew what the play was. If a lay person can see it seasoned d’s were all over it for another 1.5 yard gain. I understand running a play to test the defense and see if they are moving the way a offensive coach wants to set up a play. But if they haven’t bit in the last 10 plays they likely won’t on the 11th. I am not doubting our OL I think they will be fine. I’d expect some first game jitters, coalescence, and some rookie mistakes but by the end of the first qtr we will be starting to roll.

          • Prairie… No o-line can hold more than a few seconds. A bad QB who holds the ball too long because he cannot find open receivers or who cant read defenses and thus plays into the defense will make a good o-line look inept and porous, when the problem is they are just being asked to hold too long or block out the teeth of the defense.

      • I think Jordan Scarlet pointed out at some point– it was basically the same guys. But, they went from one of the worst offenses in America to a pretty good one in one season. I do think being Savaged had something to with it as well as the playcalling, though.

        • You’re right Jaws, I think the poor S&C program under Mac might’ve had more of an impact on the terrible offense than the play calling. There were a lot of wide open plays to be made, there just wasn’t enough time and Franks wasn’t developed properly to be quick and accurate with his decision making. It’s hard for an offense to get in a rhythm when the fat and weak line is getting blown up by bigger and stronger guys every time they snap the ball.

  2. I am also confident that our O-Line will be ready to play from the get-go. UM will indeed challenge us, but in the end, this will be a hard-earned “W”. The young players will develop during the season and by the end of the season they will be seasoned players. GO GATORS!!!

  3. While our O-line had a ton of experience last year, they weren’t really playing all that well last year during the first half of the season. Remember the UK game? We got pushed around in that game. My point is, we have new guys but the old o-line wasn’t made up of all SEC caliber play (outside of Taylor). By the end of the season, our o-line was solid so I’m hoping we can gel quicker than last year’s unit did. It’s not out of the question.

  4. The headline is a rather blinding glimpse of the highly obvious — I have trouble remembering when the OL wasn’t a key to the season in one way or another — but a good article nevertheless. But even better? Jaw’s outstanding analysis of what make CDM special, and by extension, what will make the Gators special again.

  5. These guys will be practicing and scrimmaging against an elite defensive line for the next two weeks. They will be just fine when the season starts.

    Miami is in the first year of a new offense and doesn’t know who their starting quarterback will be yet, with not two but three contenders. And they open against our secondary.

    I think we are going to destroy Miami.

  6. Just like the article said, I expect Mullen to attack the perimeter a lot against Miami and wear them down by making their DL chase us, much like we did against USCe’s, fsu’s, and Michigan’s good DL’s last year.

    The only thing to be prepared for is how quickly does it take for these new line mates to work and play together well as a unit? I’m trusting Hevesy to have them ready.

  7. The “New Gators” are all about Real Leadership from the Head Coach on down. Whatever names are bequeathed upon the past (few) coaching staffs, they were sub-par (and mostly AWFUL).

    While I’m extremely happy to see our players actually LOOKING like SEC players (thank you Coach Savage!) Great Offense has always been about keeping the defense on it’s heels…Good play calling is paramount to that end. SOS was genius at exploiting a defense and Mullen is (maybe) a small step behind. (On a side note, not only does he remind of SOS as a play caller, he is proving worthy as a “quote master” as well.)

    It was Mullen who called the plays for Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. When he left for MSU, the depth of the roster allowed his Adazzio to be successful UNTIL he ran into Saban in the SEC Title game. He was badly out-coached. I will always contend, that IF Mullen had remained one more year, we would have one more SEC Title and one more National Title!

    Welcome Home Dan! Glad to have you back where you belong.

  8. Well, college football is a coach heavy sport.The most successful teams are the ones with the best coaches. No wonder Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson , Washington, USC under Pete Carroll, Texas under Brown, etc have had good teams. Some if not all of those teams had lapses when they didn’t have good coaches. Florida finally has a coach who I think is on par with Meyer, our last great coach. Say what you want about whether you would have Urban as your doctor or next door neighbor. But, the man can coach and has been consistently successful. He encouraged Mullen to come back here too. I like our coach and our chances with him. It’s a process and patience pays. He’ll get it done . I do believe that, with talent we have, their growth, and our coach’s ability to make the most of them, our line will be fine enough. If our defense is as good as I think it will be , we could have a great year. All we have griped about the last few years is how we could have put ourselves in a position to even play for a Natty if we had just a “B” offense. With the skill players and even a decent O line that improves, I think we can at least be a “B”. The key is the consistency on D. We can’t have a year where our offense finally gets there, but our defense plays poorly. I don’t think that will happen. The future looks bright for the Gators!

    • Daz opined, MKF, that Mullen is one of the few great coaches in college football. I think we will see that over the next couple of years in the run-up to our next SEC and National Championship. And if I’m wrong, as always I’ll be a suck egg mule. But so will Daz Wazzel!

  9. Our young O Line has the tools and the talent. What we need now is the experience.
    We will be getting a lot of experience against a strong Miami D Line in a few weeks.
    We should hold our own against them and learn a great deal from that experience.
    We should continue to build on that experience in the next few games and be ready for the heart of the SEC schedule. The message here is let’s give our O Line lots of encouragement and support and most importantly time to gel.