There was little offense coming from the Florida Gators‘ side of the field over their final few games of the season, due in large part to the play of sophomore quarterback Treon Harris, an injured offensive line and a lot of youth and inexperience on that side of the ball.
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Trip Thurman, set to play in his final game in the 2016 Citrus Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines on Friday, is accepting of the criticism that Florida’s offense has received but equally disturbed by the lack of respect being paid to the Gators ahead of this contest.
“We need to prove stuff to other people because a lot of people don’t expect us to win this game, which is unfortunate because we’re SEC East champs and play in the best conference in the nation,” Thurman said this week. “For people not to pick us to win this game is ridiculous … but I understand the way we played offensively the past two games.”
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was asked this week about the Gators’ offensive struggles, attributed it to the team’s overall youth and lack of upperclassmen voices outside of a couple offensive linemen and redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee, himself only two years with the team.
“We’re very young. The defense really – the veteran leadership that we have on that side of the ball – we don’t have nearly as many on offense,” he said. “The thing that we found over the last half of the season, we’ve got a lot of growth. We need to grow. And a lot of young guys are playing and we’re expecting a lot from the older players to bring those guys along and it’s a learning curve.”
In order for Florida to take those steps on Friday, head coach Jim McElwain believes Harris needs to “cut the ball loose” and stop thinking as much while in the pocket. “When the guy’s there, throw it to him. It kind of works a little bit like that,” he said. “It looks like [he’s not seeing the open receivers].”
Thurman believes Harris has played well during bowl practices and is now in the right frame of mind to lead the Gators in their next big game. “He’s put plenty of work in. It’s tough on a guy like that. You put the onus on him again with the thing with Will [Grier]. He’s stepped up big time. He’s learned from his mistakes the past two games, and he’s going to be ready for Michigan,” Thurman said.
McElwain also mentioned the old adage that victory starts in the trenches, and to that end, he admitted that UF has been less than tremendous there offensively this season.
“Any coach will tell you, and it’s not cliché — it starts up front. End of discussion. You turn on the film and it’s pretty simple. Whichever line is going in the direction they want to go, you’re usually going to dominate the game. In our case, we’ve got some guys that are really learning by trial by fire,” he said.
Thurman expressed how important it is for Florida to win the contest and end what was otherwise a tremendously successful season on a high note.
“We want to finish this great season with a win. Our last two games are unacceptable how we played on offense,” he said. “We want to show the nation and the country for years to come recruiting wise that we’re going to win this game and show what the Florida Gators are all about.”
There should be no doubt that it will take a tremendous effort from his offensive line in order for UF to get that accomplished against UM.