A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He has returned to continue sharing his musings through the 2013 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.
The final result of Saturday’s Florida-LSU game, on a personal note, was one of the most disappointing I have experienced since my freshman year with the Gators. It was not the fact that Florida lost yet another game to a highly ranked opponent that disappointed me but rather how the Gators dropped that contest.
As a former offensive lineman, I can be and have been exceptionally critical of UF’s offensive and defensive lines. Anyone that reads these columns or follows me on Twitter knows I am quite opinionated about players along the line of scrimmage.
Simply put, Florida was destroyed in the trenches on Saturday.
Let’s be clear about this for a second. None of the previous teams that the Gators had comparable physicality to that displayed by the Tigers. LSU was by far and away the toughest team Florida has played thus far in the season…and that’s not to take anything away from Arkansas’ offensive line.
A major reason why the Gators were able to win this exact game a year ago was because they were able to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. LSU couldn’t move the ball on the ground; Florida ran it at will.
So how exactly did so much change in a single year when the Gators brought a comparable offensive line into Baton Rouge, LA, on Saturday?
Florida was not prepared to match the intensity of LSU’s front seven. Many times the Tigers’ defensive linemen created what coaches like to call a “stalemate,” which is when there is absolutely no movement as one player attempts to block another and either open a hole for the running back or move the pocket for the quarterback. Defensive linemen win these stalemates 95 percent of the time.
As I pointed out last week, whenever the offensive coordinator calls a run play, an offensive lineman has to get at least 12 inches of movement and create a “new line of scrimmage.” This allows the running back to get a step of penetration before finally deciding which gap he wants to “cut” off of or run through.
Saturday, the Gators allowed too many stalemates and far too much penetration. Florida runs a number of offensive run formations – like I-back and double tight end – that depend on timing. Penetration by a defender in these formations usually results in minimal or lost yardage because it forces the running back to be directed to one gap instead of allowing him the time and freedom to choose one for himself.
What LSU did on defense should not have been any kind of surprise to anyone, including offensive coordinator Brent Pease. Last year, the Gators embarrassed the Tigers, specifically their defensive line, by running the ball down their throats time and again. It should have been easy to figure out that LSU was going to completely shut down the run game by stacking the box with eight defenders and send elaborate blitzes and try to rattle quarterback Tyler Murphy into making mistakes.
Pass protection, unfortunately, was not any better. The strength of the offensive line is the interior – left guard Max Garcia, center Jonotthan Harrison and right guard Jon Halapio. They did not have their best games as Gators.
The LSU defensive tackles were constantly pushing the pocket back, so Murphy constantly had his rhythm disrupted and was often forced to scramble out and throw on the run. The Tigers’ defensive ends benefited by making quite a few big plays because they had time to get to Murphy…and obviously left tackle D.J. Humphries and right tackle Tyler Moore made their fair share of mistakes, too.
Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis have a ton of work to do in a short timespan (six days) if they don’t want to experience déjà vu when going against a Missouri defensive line that is better than most realize.
The biggest showdown of the game was supposed to be LSU QB Zach Mettenberger against Florida’s talented secondary. Instead, despite Mettenberger looking like a top-flight signal caller who can make any throw on the field, the Gators got challenged up front on defense and failed miserably.
Florida’s defensive front seven had noticeable trouble with interior tackling and getting off blocks. It was almost like the Gators had not practiced since fall camp. When a team cannot stop the run, there is simply no need to throw the ball. Head coach Will Msuchamp got a taste of his own medicine and it could not have gone down well.
What Florida got, as a whole, as a good ol’ woodshed ass-kicking.
Now only one question remains: Where do the Gators go from here with stakes raised and the schedule only getting more difficult?
Back in 2003, my Florida team lost to Miami, Tennessee and Ole Miss within the first six games of the season and had our next three games against top-10 opponents.
After that third loss, Max Starks, Guss Scott, Keiwan Ratliff and I called a players-only meeting. No coaches, just players. While I still cannot reveal what was said in that meeting, it gave us all the chance to iron out what was going on inside the team and demand of each other nothing but greatness to finish out the season.
We won each of those three games, none of which were at home.
Do the Gators have a healthy, veteran player (or players) who is/are able to rally the troops in that manner? A players-only meeting is not always necessary, but a vocal leader needs to emerge. It worked for us in 2003.
And it worked for Florida in 2008, too, didn’t it?
The Gators have dealt with their fair share of injuries and setbacks this season but there are no excuses in the game of football. It’s time to put up or shut up.