Mullen: Florida offensive line ‘not enough’ to beat Auburn … unless it improves

By Michael Phillips
October 3, 2019
Mullen: Florida offensive line ‘not enough’ to beat Auburn … unless it improves

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

There may be some areas in which the No. 10 Florida Gators (5-0, 2-0 SEC) are superior to the No. 7 Auburn Tigers (5-0, 2-0 SEC), which invade Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday afternoon. But no one believes Florida’s offensive line can dominate Auburn’s defensive front.

The Tigers have one of the best defensive lines not only in the SEC but the nation. And if the Gators’ big guys up front do not improve on what we’ve seen so far this season, Florida’s offense could be in for a long day.

“I challenged them. That has got to improve,” head coach Dan Mullen said following the 38-0 win over Towson. “That has got to improve for us. The mental toughness of the offensive line in their preparation has got to improve. Those guys have got to [get better]. 

“I know John [Hevesy, the offensive line coach] gets on them. They’re young guys. They go, ‘Coach, I’m working.’ ‘No, you’re not, obviously not, because if you were working, we wouldn’t have missed assignments, so what you’re doing is not enough.’ They need to do more.”

Mullen likes to rely on the running game to set up his passing attack. He has adjusted due to the lack of success on the ground and quarterback Kyle Trask’s ability to find success through the air, particularly with short routes.

That does not mean Mullen is prepared to abandon the ground game. At least, there has been no proof of that just yet. Currently, the Gators rank 88th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 3.5 yards per attempt. 

On the other side, the Tigers are 20th nationally in rushing defense, holding opponents to just 3.1 yards per attempt. It is the biggest mismatch on the field for this top-10 showdown in The Swamp.

Last season, Florida was in a bit of a similar situation when it went on the road to face Mississippi State. The Bulldogs defensive front was nasty, but the Gators offensive line was much better in that game than anybody anticipated. 

This is not that situation. Replacing that 2018 group has proved to be the biggest hurdle so far this season. Mullen knows it, and he and Hevesy have done all they can to help bring them up to the proper level of play. 

“I push plenty of buttons. Hevesy pushes lots of buttons,” Mullen said Monday. “We get after the guys. They’ve got to know a sense of urgency. I think that’s the biggest one. They’re not bad guys. They may work hard. They’re good guys. They try to put in the time. 

“What they’ve got to understand is what putting in the time means. Hey, we’ve got to practice. But what are you doing when you leave here? What extra things are you doing to make sure you’re improving? And making sure they understand what they need to do. What they’re currently doing is not enough.”

What Mullen is alluding to is whether the offensive line is actually learning lessons from the extra work it is putting into the game. Right now, it does not appear as if it is making the most out of its time. 

“If you want to keep doing the same thing over and over again, you’re not going to improve,” Mullen said. “What are you doing at night? Everybody learns differently. Are you walking it through in the dorm at night? Are you drawing it? Are you watching film?

“Everybody learns in a different way, OK? And guys have got to learn what’s the best way they learn, what’s the best way they can improve at processing information as they get going, and they’ve got to do it. And if they don’t, then they’re not going to get better, and then we’ve got to find somebody that can.”

Mullen will do things Saturday to take the pressure off the line. Whether it is running misdirection in the ground game, inserting redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones to open additional passing lanes, throwing screen passes or sticking to quick read-and-go throws. 

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Florida, and it’s one that no one actually expects the offensive line to win. But if the Gators can get enough in the ground game to keep the Tigers honest, that will provide Trask with the time he needs to make throws down the field.

And if they can get going offensively out of the gate, there’s no reason to believe they do not have an opportunity to pick up a big top-10 win on Florida Field.

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