In what has become an annual search for their lost offense, the Florida Gators have found themselves in a similar predicament each and every time.
For the offense to be better, the quarterback has to be better.
For the quarterback to be better, the line has to be better.
It sounds simple enough, but the Gators always seem to have a disconnect at those critical junctures.
So, this is what happens every fall: the line falters, the quarterback falters, the offense fails.
The hope in 2018 is that with a new offensive head coach, a new offensive line coach and a bunch of returning players, that Gators will be able to make that key connection and the offense will finally return, resulting in lots of yards and points.
Like it used to be when Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator at Florida.
“This is the year that the offense gets turned around,” senior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said. “There’s a different atmosphere. A different energy. Coach Mullen’s offense has all sorts of reads and options.”
Mullen’s offense does have multiple options. But for those options to work, the quarterback is going to need time and the running backs are going to need room.
So, it all starts up front. If the big guys can block people and carry out their assignments, the offense has a chance to go.
If they struggle like they have in the past, it might not matter what kind of talent the Gators have at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end.
“Our offensive line, they have gotten a lot better under coach John Hevesy,” sophomore running back Adarius Lemons said. “He’s really hard on those guys and I like that, because in order for us to (successfully) run plays you have to have a (good) line.
So, the linemen are key. With no line — no running backs, no quarterback, no nothing. Hevesy is doing a really good job with the linemen.”
Over the course of preseason camp, the offense has seemed to make steady progress.
The quarterbacks — and the offense in general — were more productive in the second scrimmage than the first, with the Gators going up and down the field more consistently.
That must mean one thing: the offensive line is starting to do its job.
“Yeah, we’re getting there,” Mullen said. “We’re getting there. I don’t know if I’m 100-percent comfortable with it yet, but I think we’re getting there.
“I think that’s still a part where we need those guys to continue to accelerate.”
The line was supposed to be a team strength last season, but wasn’t. Most of those guys are back, including Ivey and fellow seniors Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson, along with the other starters from a year ago — T.J. McCoy, Jawaan Taylor and Brett Heggie.
The linemen say things will be different this season because of the way they’ve come together in Mullen’s offense under Hevesy.
“Maturity (is the difference), and I think more of a brotherhood,” Jordan said. “We’ve been doing a lot of team bonding stuff and we’ve been bonding as an offensive line. Kind of being able to jell together more. And I think maturity just because all of us have been through it three, four years. I think those things being together can be a really good thing for us.”
If a more mature, more physical, offensive line can hold its own, the Gators appear to have the skill players to turn the offense around in Mullen’s first season.
UF is deep and talented at running back, led by Jordan Scarlett, Malik Davis, Lamical Perine, Lemons and two highly rated true freshmen — Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement.
Mullen says he wants to establish a power running game — and the backs like to hear that.
“We pound the rock and he wants to make sure we establish the run game in every game,” Scarlett said. “I feel like that’s a key to winning games. If you can run the ball, you can control the game.”
In the passing game, the Gators received a considerable upgrade with the addition of wide receiver transfers Van Jefferson (Ole Miss) and Trevon Grimes (Ohio State). Those join some other experienced receivers, including Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain, along with tight end C’yontai Lewis.
“I feel like we’re going to explode this year because we have a lot of talented guys,” Cleveland said. “We have size and power and I feel like we’re just going to take that next step.”
The Gators are planning to pound the ball and pass it.
To be successful at both, the big guys up front have to come through.
“As we go, the offense goes,” Ivey said.