Florida’s starting offensive linemen graded out as champions in last Saturday’s opener. But did they actually play like champions?
Like, say, SEC champions?
Senior left tackle Martez Ivey doesn’t think so.
“We didn’t run the ball well enough to be able to play in the SEC,” Ivey said.
The Gators were just OK in the running game in the 53-6 win. But OK against Charleston Southern would translate to a near-disaster against any SEC team the Gators play this season.
Ivey, the leader up front, certainly is aware of that.
He said the Gators need to get much better push in the running game or there could be trouble in their future, starting with Saturday’s SEC opener against Kentucky.
“That’s for a fact,” he said. “We pride ourselves running the ball. I know we’ve got to do a better job up front moving the ball.
“That’s not criticism, not being down. That’s what we need to get better at, that’s all.”
In the preseason, UF coach Dan Mullen foresaw the Gators being a power running team in 2018. The elements certainly appear to be there: an experienced line that features three four-year starters and a deep and talented group at running back.
But in the opener, against an undermanned opponent, there was little power in UF’s running game. And precious little push.
The first-team line struggled to get any push and create openings for the running backs. In the first quarter, the Gators rushed for only 57 yards on 14 carries, a 4.1-yard average. The No. 1 line was a little more effective in the second quarter, with UF rushing for 75 yards.
Overall, the lack of push in the running game was probably the only real negative in the Gators’ offensive performance.
Offensive line coach John Hevesy said the line did just “all right” in its season-opening performance.
“They essentially graded out champions, but there’s still a lot of things we need to improve on,” he said. “Obviously, just cleaning things up from the first game. Communication needs to be better and just the little things, which is fundamentals we just have to clean up.
“After the first game, it’s a chance to watch it in a live situation in a game. They see it and get it cleaned up this week.”
Like Ivey and others, Hevesy said the lack of push in the running game was not what he was expecting.
“Nah, I always want more,” he said. “I think we still need to get more of it. I think a little bit is hesitation to make sure they’re doing things right, which means get it corrected and get better this week.”
There is a sense of urgency to fix it because it’s a whole different world now that the Gators are entering SEC play.
If UF fails to get push in the running game Saturday and becomes one-dimensional, the Wildcats have enough athletes and speed to amp up the pressure on quarterback Feleipe Franks and the passing game.
The Gators got away with it in the opener because the line, which had a physical advantage, was able to protect Franks.
“There are a lot of things we can work on,” Ivey said. “We’ve got to clean up some mistakes. We didn’t run the ball well. We’re working on that in practice.
“We did pass pretty well and that’s improvement. We can move the ball in the run game, that’s for sure. We’ve got backs, we’ve got quarterbacks who can run it. It’s just the fact that we’ve got to execute, do our jobs and do our assignments.”
Mullen said a team’s biggest improvement usually appears between the first game and the second. The Gators can only hope that turns out to be true on the offensive line.
“We just have to clean some stuff up in the run game,” senior guard Tyler Jordan said. “I don’t think any play is going to be real successful unless all five guys are succeeding. If somebody messes up, then the whole play is screwed. The whole play is dead.”
And the whole offense suffers.
Who: Kentucky (1-0) vs. No. 25 Florida (1-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Tickets: Visit FloridaGators.com. Fans may also call the Gator Ticket Office at 375-4683 or visit it on the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.