Offensive Line Depth Getting Work

The Florida Gators defeated Vanderbilt in Nashville 31-17 and behind a 326 yard rushing attack. It was the second game in a row where the Gators rushed for over 300 yards including a huge victory over a tough run defense in LSU. The Florida offensive line was much maligned a year ago, but this season is starting to garner some props. They are succeeding regardless of who is in the game.

By halftime of the win over Vanderbilt, regular starters James Wilson (SR), Xavier Nixon (SR), and Jonotthan Harrison (JR) were all missing from the Florida offensive line. A practice week injury to Wilson kept him home for the game and sophomore Ian Silberman substituted for him. Nixon left with an injury and was replaced at left tackle by true freshman D.J. Humphries. Harrison went out in the first two series and was replaced by senior Sam Robey.

It would be a nightmare for a lot of groups, but it wasn't for Florida. They just kept pushing through and were pretty consistent. In the first half the Gators had 221 yards of offense in the second, 182 yards finishing with 403 yards and 31 points on the night.

The backups expect to come right in and do their jobs, even in tough situation like they were put in on Saturday.

"It was definitely the domino effect at first, but we had two or three more guys on the sideline ready to go," Robey told the media following the game. "I don't know if anyone was worried about it, but it was ironic that happened all in one game.

"We expect everyone that we put in there to contribute like the first guy. We showed that we are eight or nine deep and that is definitely exciting to see."

Florida head coach Will Muschamp is steadily building his team on depth and toughness. His ‘Man-Down, Man-Up' mantra is one that he preaches all the time when someone gets hurt.

"Muschamp always says ‘Man-Down, Man-Up', so it's just like it sounds," Silberman said. "When a man goes down, the next man has to be ready. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel couldn't be more proud of his guys up front and knew they would be able to handle the task at hand. Driskel was able to rush for 177 yards on the night and a big part of it was the line following through with their assignments.

"We had three guys go down and when you have three starters go down, that's huge, especially three Offensive linemen," Driskel told the media on Monday after watching film of the game. "We have three guys that have stepped up and it's what we've done all year. When a guy goes down, the next guy steps up. We have great depth and that really helped Saturday."

Strength coach Jeff Dillman has tried to apply a new identity to this team, one that instills toughness and stamina. It was something missing from a year ago when the team was much younger and just not ready for it. That toughness and stamina were put to the test on Saturday and the guys came out on top.

"I would definitely say that the resiliency of the team from a mental standpoint is definitely a lot different from last year," Robey said. "When we started getting tired last year we might have folded, but this year it's a different team and a different mindset."

One difference this year is also the willingness of the line coach and coordinator to utilize the depth they do have. That also means making sure the second teamers are getting proper repetitions in practice so that they know what they are doing when inserted in the game. This was an issue all over the offense a year ago.

"It's all about the depth and the way our coaches run practice… it isn't just the starters in the whole time," Silberman said. "Everybody is getting reps, switching every two or three plays. Everybody is familiar with the offense all the time. It isn't just the starters last year and a couple of years ago. Everybody knows the offense.

"We have some good guys this year and some guys that you don't even see like Jessamen Dunker. We have a lot of depth on the line this year compared to last year.

"That is what offensive line is about. It's not just me and Hump in that formation. Throughout the week we put guys in there in case someone goes down. They know what to do if their number gets called."

Driskel sees the same thing.

"The backups this year are preparing like they are going to be the starters," the young quarterback said. "That's how you have to do it and it helped on Saturday. They were ready to play. They got their chance and they shined." ,p> Facing a much more talented defensive line this week when South Carolina comes to town, the relative health of the line could be a worry. Not according to the Gators' starting quarterback. ,p> "(The play calling) doesn't change at all," Driskel said of the chance of missing some starters up front. "It's the same preparation and mind set, we'll have to run downhill, make big plays in the passing game, and win one-on-one matchups. It's about depth and we have confidence in our guys that we will be able to step up and make plays."

Senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter sees them all in practice every day and knows what his teammates are capable of. He doesn't expect much of a letdown if the starters can't go.

"I don't think there is a drop off," Hunter said Monday. "Those guys come out each and every day and go just as hard as our starters. Robey is an experienced guy being a senior. Ian has been around a long time too and he goes hard in practice."

Some will worry about the freshman Humphries and if he gets matched up against All-American Jadaveon Clowney, but not Hunter.

"He is young and aggressive," Hunter said of Humphries. "He doesn't let too many things get to him. He never gets too high or too low or anything. It will be a tough matchup, Clowney is a great pass defender, but he'll be alright.


Fightin Gators Top Stories