Florida’s offense didn’t look pretty against LSU, and the big uglies were to blame.
From a recruiting standpoint, the offensive line issues that arose over the weekend have been a long time coming.
Under UF coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease, the Gators have strived to be a ground-and-pound offense that runs the ball at will and achieves balance with the passing game. Controlling the clock, capitalizing in the red zone and avoiding turnovers are also key components.
That hasn’t happened on a regular basis the past two years, and Florida’s offense has ranked as one of the worst nationally. At times, the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends have shared responsibility for the problems and lack of production. The coaches have held themselves accountable as well.
But UF has built depth at those four positions and recruited well in 2014 with Will Grier, Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane in the fold. With the exception of tight end, the skill players have also shown some improvements this season when given the opportunity.
However, the one area that’s still struggling and doesn’t appear to be getting any better is offensive line. The unit is downright dreadful in pass protection and cannot consistently open holes in the run game, particularly against the elite teams in the SEC.
This is a line-of-scrimmage league, as Muschamp likes to say, and you won’t be successful if you’re not good up front.
So what went wrong with UF’s recruitment of offensive linemen? Most seem to think the Gators failed to sign enough highly-ranked prospects and didn’t land the top talent in the state of Florida.
Those two theories aren’t exactly accurate.
There are only three SEC teams in 2013 with two former Rivals100 members starting on their offensive line — Auburn, Florida and Tennessee. Muschamp said the Vols had the best line UF will face all season.
Conversely, there are nine SEC teams with at least three players starting on their offensive line who were three-star prospects or lower coming out of high school — Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
All of those schools except UK rank ahead of UF in total offense this year. While this is just another example that recruiting rankings don’t mean much, Florida has in fact brought in some top-tier offensive linemen.
Dating back to 2010, here’s a look at how the Gators have fared with in-state prospects who were Rivals250 members and offered/pursued by UF.
2010: Chaz Green (Florida), Ian Silberman (Florida), Brent Benedict (Georgia), Brandon Linder (Miami)
2011: Tyler Moore (Nebraska/Florida), Bobby Hart (Florida State)
2012: Jessamen Dunker (Florida), John Theus (Georgia), Avery Young (Auburn), Patrick Miller (Auburn)
2013: Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss)
2014: David Sharpe (undecided), Kc McDermott (Miami), Reilly Gibbons (Miami), Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)
With the addition of Moore, UF has landed more linemen (4) than any other school based on the aforementioned criteria.
So if the Gators are getting highly-ranked recruits and most of their targets in the state of Florida, what’s the issue?
It starts with depth. Although UF has 15 players at the position, which is what Muschamp wants, there’s a major problem that occurred for three straight years.
Only two offensive linemen were signed in 2010 (Chaz Green and Ian Silberman), 2011 (Tommy Jordan and Trip Thurman) and 2012 (Jessamen Dunker and D.J. Humphries). Two of those six (Dunker and Jordan) are no longer on the team.
“This is where you start to see it catch up,” said Mike Farrell, the national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “I’m not a coach or a recruiting coordinator, but my philosophy has always been at certain positions you take a certain number every year. And offensive line is one of those where you can never have too many. So if you have the numbers, there should be four or five every year without an exception. They haven’t done that, and now they look thin.”
In addition, Farrell feels some of the out-of-state linemen the Gators have taken weren’t capable of handling their level of competition.
“A few of the guys were highly regarded, but maybe they overshot their value,” he said. “By that I mean, I thought they were tremendous fits for other schools but not particularly suited for the SEC. I’m not talking about Humphries. He’s going to be a special talent.
“I was scratching my head on Tommy Jordan. Trip Thurman I could see being very successful at Boston College, his second choice. But when you go from Delaware competition down to the SEC where every defensive linemen is either a 4.6 guy or a monster, you struggle a bit.”
Florida could see more of the same with the most recent additions. According to the Rivals.com ratings, UF signed five offensive linemen in 2013 who were three-star prospects and have three more committed for 2014. Five of the eight three-stars are from out of state.
But as we saw in the breakdown of starters in the SEC, three-star linemen aren’t always a bad thing if they can hold their own in this conference.
“Next to quarterback, offensive line is probably the toughest position to project,” Farrell said. “You can take a three-star kid and make him a great football player. The Florida coaches haven’t proven they can do that. I think taking kids from areas that don’t play a high level of competition is always risky. What they’re doing is a little puzzling to me, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
“Offensive line coaches like what they like. I’ve looked at offensive linemen and thought they were horrible, and they turned out to be great college and NFL football players. The opposite is kids who you think have everything you’re looking for, and then they stunk at the next level. You can try to be the smart one and see something in a kid that no one else sees, but that’s only going to get you so far. There’s something to be said about outrecruiting other schools for certain players because everybody wants them. The only one I see that everybody wanted in a big way was Humphries, and Florida should be loaded with kids like that at every position.”