Florida has given up only 11 sacks in nine games this season, a total that is tied for second-fewest in the SEC and would seem to reflect excellent pass protection by the offensive line.
But offensive line coach John Hevesy doesn’t see it that way. Not at all.
The number he worries about, and judges by, is not found on the SEC stat sheet.
Number of hits taken by the quarterback.
That’s the true reflection of pass protection as far as Hevesy is concerned. And, right now, it’s not a good look for the Florida offensive line.
“Never. Never,” Hevesy said, when asked if he’s pleased with the line’s pass protection. “In my mind, (the quarterback) shouldn’t get touched. People evaluate sacks. Sacks are a number that everyone keeps. My biggest thing is sacks don’t hurt as much as hits on quarterbacks.
“The ball is thrown and people watch the ball and don’t watch him get knocked down. You complete the ball and everyone’s happy. I don’t watch the ball, I watch the quarterback. It’s the hits when he’s throwing the ball, that bothers me more (than sacks).”
Hevesy doesn’t know the exact number of times the Florida quarterbacks have been hit this season, but he knows it’s been too many. So does Dan Mullen. So does Feleipe Franks, even though he’s never going to say it.
But Hevesy will.
“I think it’s always (too many),” Hevesy said. “I don’t know if it’s lately or just to me in general. I want to keep track of them. I’m looking at never. Don’t. That’s too hard of a job to do back there anyway, don’t make it any harder. You’ve got to keep him clean and keep him upright so he can make all his reads and progressions.”
The offensive line has given up only two sacks combined in the last two games, both losses, but the quarterback hits, if they’d been recorded, likely would be off the charts.
Those hits played a role in UF’s recent offensive struggles. And they probably played a big role in Franks getting benched in the third quarter of last Saturday loss to Missouri.
Franks wasn’t sacked by the Tigers, but he was hit often and pressured into a nine-for-22 performance that led to his removal from the game. Franks had open receivers, but rarely had time to get them the ball.
“He missed a throw or two, but he was also getting hit,” Mullen said. “We’ve got guys wide open and I’m looking and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ All of a sudden the ball sails. Everyone jumps on (Franks), and there he is with three guys being pulled off of him.”
Mullen points out one critical series early in the second quarter. The Gators were backed up on their own 6-yard line and had a chance to escape, getting wide receivers wide open on both second and third down. But Franks was hit on both plays, forcing errant passes. UF had to punt and Missouri scored a touchdown four plays later to take a 14-3 lead.
“We have two wide open receivers. And we overthrow both of them because the quarterback is getting lit up the second he tries to throw the ball,” Mullen said. “If we just protect on either of those two plays, they’re completions, and, all of a sudden the offense is playing great.
“Two guys on two different plays in protection.That’s why that happened. We miss two throws because the quarterback is getting hit within 1.6 seconds of the ball being snapped.”
Those hits don’t show up on the stat sheet, but they could have been game changing.
This is a recent trend that Hevesy and his guys are trying to reverse, starting with Saturday’s game against South Carolina. Whoever Florida’s quarterback turns out to be, the goal of the offensive line is to make him untouchable.
“We’ve got to keep getting better at it,” Hevesy said. “Just talking to them about it, our feet and our hands and the fundamentals and understanding the protections, understanding the pressures.
“Down and distance. Third-down situation, what are you getting? Find your reads and make your sets.”
And protect your quarterback.