In need of better line push to unleash Florida’s running game

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Florida running back Lamical Perine (22) is stopped after a short gain Saturday against Charleston Southern at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

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.


Up next

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.

33 COMMENTS

  1. Good point. I noticed it the last couple of seasons (which we can now forget), but it was quite apparent in last Saturday’s game that the up-front run blocking needs to improve substantially. Our running backs have shown what they can do once they find an opening. It’s up to the line to give that opening to them.

  2. Its a red flag for me that the OL couldn’t get much of a push against the much smaller DL they faced last Saturday. Wasn’t it the talk of this summer ‘once again’ that this year will be different? One would think that the OL would want to prove themselves especially against week one competition.
    Now, I will say this, we had Perine and our freshman rb that hit the hole fast and strong and seemed to be more effective. I hope this OL will back up what the said over this summer or will it be just empty words. Two key questions loomed for the success of this team, will the qb perform well, (Franks showed vast improvement) and will the OL perform well (not so much run blocking).

    • You kind’ve have to factor in the fact that Charleston Southern basically saw a team last season that couldn’t pass the ball to save their lives, so they decided to make Franks beat them and stacked 9 guys in the box. They did a great job of it, but it opened up the passing game and Franks wound up beating them by throwing 24 times in 1 half. Once they got a huge lead they resorted back to strictly running the ball and CS knew that’s all they were going to do so they stacked 9 guys in the box again to stop it. The RBs still combined to run the ball 39 times for 203 yds for an average of 5.2 yds per carry. I’ll take that average all day. The good thing is Kentucky saw how Franks improved, so they’re now going to have to account for the passing game, which should open up the running game.

      • Excellent point! Though they’re not playing for the bigs, those guys are talented players. It’s not like we played a high school team – these guys earned scholarships to play ball.

        They sold out to stop the run and when they gambled, our RB’s did their thing. They knew the only hope they had was to stop the run and pray our QB’S failed to improve. So, don’t give up on this group so soon.

  3. We have an average OL at best. F. Johnson should be parking cars at Sonny’s and Ivey is very average, these guys need to quit thinking and start road grading. Scarlett did himself no favors by dancing in the hole and not hitting it hard…notice when Perine and Pierce ran they hit the hole and got some good yards. No way these guys hold up to LSU…Miss St..UGA..etc. We need to get more creative and not just up the middle runs

  4. ” ‘We just have to clean some stuff up in the run game,’ senior guard Tyler Jordan said.” These types of comments from players or coaches to “clean some stuff up” always makes me cringe. A better player response would be “we just need to learn how to run-block and get a push”…

  5. As I was sitting in the stadium, I found myself trying to mentally come up with excuses and sugar coat something that bothered me about the line. Statistically, it wasn’t bad with the run game. But it was one of those things where you had to be there. I didn’t feel like our linemen were moving when they initiated contact with the defensive linemen. It seemed we were standing still and just trying to use brute force to drive them back. More upper body than legs. Whatever it is, I hope they get it right fast. I am tired of reading articles about the potential , rather than the production, of our line.

  6. Don’t think they showed everything last weekend. They have to have some stuff to bring out in the games ahead. Call it gamesmanship, coaching, whatever, I take Mullen as a pretty good gambler and he will not show our hand.

  7. besides questions about LB Depth (which I think were answered), clearly the lack of holes (push) by the OL is the main concern (from what you can discern against an undermanned opponent). Until such concern is answered (and it should be one way or the other against KY, a legit SEC team) we can’t assume the OL problems have improved, same personnel. The pass protection was phenomenal, which also makes me hesitant to proclaim Franks was so good. It was his ability to make decisions under duress that he failed so miserably last year, we know he has a rocket arm. The rest of the team, special, D, Running backs, receivers, DBs looked terrific.

  8. Champions??? Not hardly, in the first half we should have had 200 yard rushing with large holes created and long runs the result as their LB’s and DB’s could not tackle our RBs. Perhaps they were holding back on combination blocks etc. I sure hope so.

  9. They will be fine. I am feel like we have a good coach and what he said makes sense– hesitation. This is a new system and the players were thinking about what to do, which led them to be just a little slower off the ball. I felt the same about Scarlett’s running. He seemed a little hesitant to me, and I think when he attacks the hole more he will be even more productive. It takes time, but I do believe we will see the line take a big step forward against KU. I like the attitude from Ivey. He wants to get better, and the thing is no matter how well they do, these coaches seem to have gotten through that you can always get better.

    There is no standing still. You are either getting better or getting worse, and these players understand that now.

  10. I have fretted over the O-line for 10 months now, probably in fact a lot more than that. Cody Alan says that they seemed to hold their blocks on the main, that they basically did what was asked of them, they were sufficient for the game. Other opinions, from people I have come to respect on here, assess it anywhere from no improvement to “average”. “Shoulda been, Coulda been, Woulda been”…….and I don’t mean that sarcastically in the least. I probably need somebody to tell me what to think because I just don’t know. Absent that, I have decided to wait until Saturday to see, possibly until the next Saturday, but after that it’s shyt or go blind time…..do or die…..we’re going to cross an LD then at which time we absolutely need to have it packed tight. I’m confident because I think whatever we see, CDM sees even more clearly, and he above all knows what to do about it. Go Gators.

  11. I am surprised no comments on Mullen’s fresh dance moves. The announcers were very impressed. I think he could win Dancing With The Stars if he gets some coaching from Emmit. It was cool to see him having fun, and for those who didn’t watch the game on TV even the announcers started dancing at one point.

    They also made a lot about the Jump Man gear and especially the shoes. It was a blow-out, after all, so they had a lot of time to fill with bonus material!

  12. Well the line didn’t bulldozer South Charleston like on video games. I watched offensive snaps, I think Frank’s is a step ahead of where he was last year. Pass protection was fair. I think sitting out a year hurt Scarlett. The other backs ran ok.

    Georgia wasn’t exactly steam rolling Austin Peat in the first half either. The line will be ok, not the Dallas cowboys but ok

  13. I fully expect the Gators will be more fired up Saturday to battle in the trenches in their first SEC skirmish. The first game was hardly more than a scrimmage. A chance to iron out wrinkles before the real action starts. After all their work under new leadership, the hungry Gators are lickin’ their chops for some Wildcat meat.

    • I do too, Prairie…..and I think that as we examine the X’s and O’s……the positives and the negatives as we know them at this point…..that will count for a whole lot on the margin. Who has the motivation, the most pressure? Well, I assess the pressure as on Kentucky and I think that the motivation goes to the Gators to hold fast, play with quiet confidence, and win as a normal matter of course. Of course, I’m speaking of intangibles, hard as they are to measure….but I call it 36-14 for Florida. 🐊

  14. Ohhhh, so no one wants to claim how bigger, and stronger they have gotten now?! Pre-season it was, I felt like I was weaker than my competition! What is the excuse now?? Oh, maybe just stop blaming other people and work on your craft, just block someone, put their face in the turf, please, gatornation needs the line to be better.

      • It was more tongue in cheek, because the lineman (Terez mainly) made it seem like they got pushed around last year because they weren’t getting a good strength and conditioning program before Savage showed up and not for lack of skill (cant speak to his effort), that was all. Overall, I just want a good quality line, is that a lot to ask.

  15. Candidly, (and regrettably negatively) I think the last few years has shown that this offensive line is just not very talented or capable. They have really never “gelled” into a cohesive unit that can identify, communicate, and execute the necessary blocking schemes to succeed in the running game, and seem to lack the footwork and strength to pass protect against good defenses. As a group, they have consistently underachieved and performed below the level of the competition no matter who the opponent was. You can only blame so much of this on the coaching, as against inferior opponents it should not matter – strength, effort, and “want to” make the difference. They do not seem to get off the line of scrimmage as a unit, and are slow and sloppy in their techniques. This is probably an issue that will only eventually be solved by better recruiting. I would love to see the line dominate and push defenses around, but it hasn’t happened in a very long time, even against some very mediocre competition.

  16. Teams like Charleston Southern are on the schedule to get the kinks out before league play. If we can’t push their defense around to effectively use a superior stable of Gator running backs there will be no quick fixes. This is an area to watch closely for improvement with the expectation it will not come quick or easy. I do think they were a bit tentative but there’s a lot of ground to make up from 4.1 yard per carry average last Saturday.