How poor has play been throughout the Florida Gators’ offensive line over the last two weeks? Consider the fact that opposing defensive linemen are racking up weekly awards from the Southeastern Conference each Monday by having career games against Florida’s atrocious front on Saturday.
Two weekends ago, LSU sophomore defensive end Danielle Hunter put together the “most complete game of his career,” according to his school, with seven tackles including one for loss (on third down) and two pass breakups in just his fourth career start. He was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
The Tigers’ defense dominated the Gators’ offensive line, holding Florida to 240 total yards while recording season-highs of four sacks, eight tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries.
It was more of the same last Saturday when Missouri redshirt senior DE Michael Sam tore up UF’s offensive front. Sam knocked Florida back 22 yards on three sacks and registered one more tackle and quarterback hurry on the afternoon. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
These Tigers held the Gators to just 61 yards of total offense in the first half.
Florida’s offense certainly has its share of problems, both on and off the field, but the most but the biggest is undoubtedly the incredibly offensive play of its line.
“We’re inept offensively. We have a hard time running it and certainly can’t protect very well,” Muschamp said after the loss to Mizzou. “We’re struggling right now to get the right combination, to get guys blocked, the run and the pass game. We’re doing everything we can do. We shuffle guys around. We just got to get better.”
The biggest issue for the Gators has been the play of its tackles.
Sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries has played well at times, but his struggles late against LSU got him pulled from the starting lineup at Missouri. He saw some action but was still not up to snuff with his protections and run blocking.
“I think so,” said Muschamp when asked if Humphries would start going forward. “D.J. Needs to play better and he knows that. I’m not telling you anything he and I haven’t talked about. Just be more consistent in his play, in his sets as far as the pass game is concerned and sealing the edges in some things. … He’s a guy that certainly football is very important to him and playing well is important to him.”
Even worse has been the play of redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore, who has failed to display the athleticism and quick feet necessary to stay in front of top-end pass rushers. He has, simply put, become a turnstile at the end of the offensive line.
Moore, coming off a year in which he did not play football while attending St. Petersburg Community College, was supposed to be a reserve at tackle for the Gators, but a season-ending shoulder injury suffered by redshirt junior starter Chaz Green thrust him up a spot on the depth chart.
“We’re a little short some tackles right now,” said Muschamp. “I think Tyler can play much better than he’s played. He has shown the ability to do that. And so we’re going to continue to look for that five, those five guys – whether him being one of them I don’t know at this point – that can play better.”
Sitting Moore at this point seems to be a given. Where Florida will go from here with the offensive line is anything but assured.
One option would be putting redshirt junior Max Garcia, UF’s starting left guard, at right tackle with redshirt senior Kyle Koehne taking over for Garcia, but the Gators like Koehne’s versatility and ability to fill in at multiple spots during games.
Redshirt junior Ian Silberman and redshirt sophomore Trip Thurman could also see more work, but Florida could also look to junior transfer Trenton Brown (6-foot-8, 361 pounds) and freshman Octavius Jackson for some immediate help.
“I think Trenton’s a guy that needs some opportunities and some turns. We’ve got to get him in there and let him play some,” Muschamp said. “Octavius Jackson has been repping with us. There’s some possibilities there. We’re continuing to get some continuity up front.”
In the end, what is most important is that the Gators do something, anything, to fix a unit that has always been flawed but at least started the season playing respectably. It has completely fallen apart over the last two weeks.
“We need to settle on a five and let those guys play right now. We’ve underperformed, obviously. I think we’re better than what we put on the field, the last two weeks especially,” Muschamp said.
Expect the offensive staff to simply some of its calls and reduce the strain being put on the offensive line to be versatile in its responsibilities. The Gators will likely go back to basics in order to help improve confidence and speed up the mental side of the game, which should, in turn, help them contribute positively on the field.
“It’s better than what we’ve played,” Muschamp said.
Actually, it’s not. All that matters is what happens in the game.
As Muschamp likes to say, to quote one of his own oft over-used idiomatic phrases, “It is what it is.”