Defining day for Florida’s offensive line, Trask

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Florida quarterback Kyle Trask and the offensive line has a big challenge today at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]

With Florida playing an FCS school smack in the middle of two SEC opponents, Dan Mullen and his staff had to manufacture motivation last week. They did so by hammering home the point to the players that if they didn’t improve as a team it could negatively impact the rest of the season.

Much different story this week.

Motivation has been flowing freely and naturally in the Gator camp.

“We’re fired up,” Mullen said.

As the Gators should be. They’ve reached a defining moment in their season: No. 7 Auburn in The Swamp today in a much-anticipated matchup between top-10 teams.

“Last week I talked about how it was all about us, all improving and all of that stuff,” Mullen said. “It’s hard to keep yourself at peak intensity for every single week in a long season. This is one of those weeks you don’t really need to do that. If we do, we’re in a lot of trouble. I told our guys if they need me to give a ‘rah-rah’ (speech) to get us going, then they’re pretty messed up in the head right now. This is what you come here for, to play in these games.”

The Gators are fired up. Fired up and ready to play, they say.

“This is big-boy ball right here,” junior defensive tackle Kyree Campbell said.

“Oh, we’re ready,” senior wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland said. “We’re ready for this challenge.”

Clearly, the Gators are emotionally ready. That’s not even in question. What is in question is whether UF will be physically up to the task at what is now perceived as an area of weakness.

The offensive line.

The big guys up front have had their problems this season. They’ve pretty much been handled, at least in the running game, by every defensive line they’ve faced except UT Martin’s. The line even had problems opening holes and protecting the quarterback against that FCS school last week, Towson.

And today the line has the daunting task of going up against what may be the best defensive front in college football, led by dominant defensive tackle Derrick Brown and end Marlon Davidson.

Knowing that this potentially massive mismatch was coming, Mullen called out his offensive line after last Saturday’s 38-0 win over Towson.

“The mental toughness of the offensive line in their preparation has got to improve,” Mullen said. “Those guys have got to. I know (line coach) John (Hevesy) gets on them. They’re young guys. They go, ‘Coach, I’m working.’ No, you’re not, obviously not, because if you were working we wouldn’t be missing assignments.

“So what you’re doing is not enough. They need to do more, OK. If you want to keep doing the same thing over and over again, you’re not going to improve. Guys have got to learn what’s the best way to learn, what’s the best way they can improve at processing information as they get going.

“They’ve got to do it. And if they don’t, then they’re not going to get better, and then we’ve got to find somebody that can.”

Needless to say, it’s been an interesting — and important — week of practice for offensive line coach John Hevesy and the Big Nasties. Now comes the biggest challenge, by far, that they’ve faced all season, Auburn’s physically punishing defensive front.

If the Gators take a big loss on the line of scrimmage today, it figures to be a long afternoon for quarterback Kyle Trask and the skill players around him. The potential for mass destruction up front is definitely there.

“This is one of the best (defensive lines) I’ve seen in the 15 years I’ve been in this league,” Hevesy said. “It’s one of the best ones I’ve seen just as a group. They’ve got eight guys who play, and we’ve got to be ready for everyone of them.

“Last week was a lot smaller guys that ran around. This week they’re 6-foot-4, 320 pounds and they’re going to come right at you. They do a great job, they’re very physical. We’ve just got to match everything that they do in the run game and protection wise what they do.”

The Gators spent the week getting physical in practice, with the plan to carry it over into today’s game.

“They’re going to be physical. We have to be just as physical coming back at them,” Hevesy said. “They’re going to try to knock us back, we’ve got to try to knock them back. We have to be great fundamentally. We’ve got to be great playing with our legs and with a base and just be physical back with them.”

Hevesy said he’s seen signs of hope this week.

“We’re getting there,” he said. “My guys are starting to understand what it takes. You see that. I hope it continues Saturday.”