After Michigan ‘gut punch,’ UF o-line making progress

Florida's offensive line creates a pocket for quarterback Feleipe Franks during the Tennessee game Sept. 16 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.The Gators beat the Volunteers 26-20. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

Since Jim McElwain called out his big guys for not being strong enough or tough enough in the season-opening loss to Michigan, the Florida offensive line has quietly slipped back to where offensive lines traditionally like to operate — in anonymity.

That’s a good thing.

Because usually the only time people are talking about or writing about the Big Nasties is when they’ve messed up. Say, like the Florida offensive line did in that 33-17 loss in which the guys up front got mauled and manhandled by the Michigan defensive front.

Since then, the Florida offensive line has moved out of the spotlight. A good sign, for sure, and one that has been reflected on the field.

The line that McElwain said was going to be a team strength before the start of the season appears to be, well, maybe at least inching in that direction following two solid performances in back-to-back wins against Tennessee and Kentucky.

There’s still a long way to go, but at least it’s a start.

 “Yes, sir, we’ve definitely gotten better in everything we do,” junior left tackle Martez Ivey said. “We’ve bonded. We’re playing for each other, getting up, watching film. It’s a big part of it, and just buying in and believing in each other. That’s what we’ve done day in and day out (since the Michigan game).”

There were many disappointing aspects of Florida’s performance in the opener. But none more stunning, more unexpected, more impactful, than the play of the offensive line.

This is a veteran group, one that showed real flashes over the second half of last season, and it had been touted as a team strength by McElwain throughout the spring and summer.

Then the big guys went out and got pushed all over the field by the Wolverines. The line gave up six sacks, seemed overmatched throughout, and the running game generated a mere 11 yards.

 “It was a gut punch is what it was,” offensive line coach Brad Davis said Wednesday. “It was what we needed. Obviously, we anticipated playing much better. We certainly prepared to go out and execute and play well. We did not. We had to go back to the drawing board and figure out the why.

“We’ve identified some of those issues and are continually trying to progress through those issues. From a communication standpoint more so than anything. I think we’ve taken some steps since that game. There’s been significant improvement. It’s a work in progress. We’re nowhere close to where we want to be in terms of our expectation level.

“It was a punch right in the gut. It was a wake-up call. We can do so much more and we can play so much better.”

The line has played better — and stayed out of the limelight — since the Michigan game.

In the last-second win over Tennessee, the Gators rushed for 168 yards and the line gave quarterback Feleipe Franks enough time to execute some big plays in the passing game, including the 63-yard TD pass to Tyrie Cleveland on the final play.

The line took another step forward at Kentucky last Saturday night. In the decisive fourth quarter, the front created significant push in the running game and protected Luke Del Rio on the two touchdown drives that rallied the Gators to a 28-27 win.

Ivey said the turnaround began in the film room the Monday after the loss to Michigan.

“We already knew the mistakes, it was just about execution, executing,” he said. “That’s all we really had to do was execute. The last two weeks we bought in using our technique and not doing what we think is right as individuals. We just believe in the system and now we’re executing.”

Davis said the linemen watched the tape objectively and plenty of criticism was passed around the room. But the linemen took it well and have been very coachable ever since.

“To my guys’ credit, they handled it like men,” Davis said. “They checked their egos, they looked at themselves in the mirror and said, ‘OK I have to approach practice a little bit different. We’ve got to start investing more time outside of required team activities if we truly want to be a great unit.’ We can talk about it or we can actually work towards it. So there’s been some progress towards that direction. We’re still not where we want to be, but we’re working towards it.”

One area where there has been significant progress is in leadership. The Gators entered camp looking for a leader, and one has emerged — Ivey, the former five-star recruit who was moved back to left tackle, his more natural position, in the spring.

“He’s taken ownership,” Davis said. “You can see purpose when he comes to practice, you can see passion in what he’s doing. He’s genuinely having fun. The cool part for us is the other guys in the room have embraced him in that role. There’s no resistance. His voice has grown. He’s demanding of his teammates and himself, and my job is to back him in that.”

Ivey and his O-line teammates are back in a little bit of a comfort zone now, quietly going about their business and staying out of the headlines.

It’s been that way since the Michigan mess.

“It hurt, it hurt, it hurt,” Davis said of the opener. “So what we did is we took that energy and tried to channel it in the right direction. Let’s not lick our wounds and feel sorry for ourselves. Let’s say, ‘OK, we’ve invested the work, but why didn’t we execute when it mattered?’ From that moment there has been growth, and it’s a work in progress. You’ll continue to hear me say that.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or Also check out Andreu’s blog at


Who: Vanderbilt (3-1, 0-1 SEC) vs. No. 21 Florida (2-1, 2-0)

When: Noon

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


  1. Positive article and I think the OL has made some progress. But I still remember in the Kentucky game the middle linebacker coming in on a delayed blitz untouched to either the QB or the RB on multiple occasions. The Gator OL, particularly the guards and center, is still too quick to double team and miss a blitzing player coming up the middle or off the edge. Kentucky just did not do that as much as Michigan did. Maybe they are blocking better on straight dive, power runs, but they still are not holding their blocks and picking up blitzes the way a good offensive line should. And the running backs are still getting hit and hit too often at the line of scrimmage or even before the line of scrimmage. Not seeing explosive runs due to the OL getting on and pushing DL and LBs around. At least that is what I am seeing in replays. And maybe, Tennessee and Kentucky are not as good as Michigan? And maybe the Georgia and LSU defenses will be as or nearly as good? But, on a positive note, Thompson has really stepped it up as a blocking running back and as an option coming out of the backfield. I would love to see more check downs to Thompson in the passing game and get him more out in the open field. He is a horse and is really putting forth maximum effort in the passing game and with his blocking. Good to see. And he is holding on to the ball.

  2. They’ve made some progress but a lot of this I believe is Malik Davis. He’s a better RB and instead of getting 2 yards he can get 3-4 yards or more and that makes it look like they’re playing better but it’s really his ability to find the spaces to run. Plus, they probably get some confidence seeming him gain good yardage and play better.

  3. O-Line! We’ve been waiting on you for over 8 years! You’ve made coaches look bad! You’ve made QBs look bad! You’ve made RBs look bad! All the while you’ve been bad!!! But I am excited about you this year despite the Michigan game. I know this is your year to turn it all around!!!! I see it starting to happen!!! 8 looooonnnngggggg years! Usurp the DBU self given title! Let UF be known for OLU!!! KICK ASS! GO GATOOOOOORRRRSSSSS!!!!!!

  4. Lol…this Oline is a joke, Their coach is a joke…this program is a joke. It limps along in futility. So this Oline and their coaches needed a gut punch to start playing? I’m not buying it. The next time we face a quality D, our marshmallow line will fold like a house of cards. You kool aid drinkers keep on drinking! McYet lost my vote of confidence the minute he put a team on the field that could not even compete! And that my kool aid drinking friends cannot be debated…the team was unprepared!!! McYet…McSucks…

  5. James,
    A visit to the FSU boards might cheer you up. Let’s keep it positive over here. When you see that none of our players care and there is lack of effort, then your comments will be validated. Until that time, stop eating so many MacNuggets. They are making your stomach large and your lack of enthusiasm larger. In all kinds of weather…