Florida opened the season with just five offensive linemen the coaching
staff considered SEC ready, players they were comfortable with in the trenches. That number has since grown by one.
The sixth man is redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige, who has begun to emerge in the past two games. He played some in the second half at Kentucky two weeks ago and then played a whole lot more in last Saturday’s win over Tennessee.
“Richard Gouraige played as much as the other guys on Saturday,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “I don’t get into starting, I get into the total number of reps. Starting is the first play and that’s just one play of the game. Right now there are six that we feel really good about and we’re still working on getting the younger guys developed and ready to go.
“We’ll see. Obviously, you want that for depth and for purposes to get through the rest of the year. Hopefully we will be able to stay healthy. Those guys are forced on the field are ready to go. There are a bunch of guys fighting for those spots to get out there.”
Gouraige saw game reps at both guard and tackle against the Vols. At this point, he is the depth on the offensive line until some of the younger guys, including five true freshmen, develop.
“Richard’s got flexibility,” Mullen said. “You could put Richard on the field right now and it actually gives you those six guys you can create several different combinations. One guy can replace four other guys.
“Richard’s obviously done a really great job, really talented young player for us that I think has a great future and I really wanted to get him going, get him out there on the field and get him playing for us.”
The Gators have shown in the last two games that they know how to finish, combining to outscore Kentucky and Tennessee 29-0 in the fourth quarter.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Mullen said. “Nick Savage does a great job for our guys in strength and conditioning and making sure we’re ready to play four quarters. I think it’s the preparation of our players, making sure they hydrate, get their bodies right. And they’re able to strain and give unbelievable effort for four quarters.
“I think our coaching staff does a really good job of making some in-game adjustments. The assistant coaches put guys in good positions as the game moves on.
“So, it’s a combination of a lot of things and then the confidence of our guys in the fourth quarter. They expect to make plays when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter in crunch time. When you combine all those factors, you’re able to have some success.”
Leaders of the pack
Mullen’s search for some alpha dogs to lead his football team has started to yield some names, some leading candidates.
Mullen mentioned one position group and three seniors coming out of the victory over the Vols — center Nick Buchanan, middle linebacker David Reese and graduate transfer defensive end Jon Greenard.
“We have guys that are getting better at it. We certainly do,” Mullen said. “You want to have guys that are alpha dogs and aren’t afraid to stand up and talk to the team, and guys are getting more comfortable in that role.
“Nick Buchanan did a couple really nice things in the game, with making controls and decisions on the offensive line. Our receiver position is amazing in what they do and how they’re doing it.
“David Reese tries on defense, is getting better at being more vocal and standing up. Jon Greenard is better at being vocal. Now he’s comfortable being on the team and making plays and being in games, is a guy that’s not afraid to jump up and talk to everybody. There are guys growing into it.”
After missing the UK game with an injury, sophomore linebacker Amari Burney turned in the best performance of his young UF career in the win over Tennessee. He intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble and tied for the team lead in tackles with five. He played at linebacker and the star position in the secondary.
“It was great to get him back,” Mullen said. “Everybody sees the athleticism that he has on the field and that he’s a playmaker for our defense. Also see the position flexibility that he has. We can move him to different spots. He has the size that he can play some linebacker and he has the length and has speed to play safety in the star.
“He’s that way that you can create mismatches on the defensive side of the ball. I think you see the playmaking ability that he has and it was great to see that back this week.”