Gators O-Line something to build on

By no means did the game go as anyone had hoped Saturday when Alabama shredded the Gators for a 42-21 win. But, there were a few positive things to take away from the game. The offensive line had one of their best days in a while as far as protecting quarterback Jeff Driskel. Although the guys don’t want to hear about it, they were matched up against a big time defensive line pulling that off.

Florida center Max Garcia had his hands full all day Saturday going against an Alabama defensive front that is highly celebrated and should be. But, of all the things that went wrong on Saturday, the offensive line really wasn’t one of them. Garcia took the humble route following the game and says they can play better and needed to provide quarterback Jeff Driskel with just a little bit more time to make some of his throws.

“We need to get better at keeping Jeff clean,” Garcia said. “I think he got hurt by a couple of our mess ups. If he had more time, he could’ve made another throw. That’s on us as an offensive line, protection. Just keeping him clean and making him feel as comfortable as possible.”

The fact is Driskel wasn’t sacked all day in Tuscaloosa and the Crimson Tide was credited with just three hurries of the quarterback. One thing that was very apparent as the game went on, Florida was not physically outmatched up front. This offensive line was able to form nice pockets in the passing game and more often than not provide some push up front in the running game.

“Yeah I think we played all four quarters,” Garcia said. “We played the first quarter just like we did the fourth quarter. That’s huge for our offensive line and what we have. I think that we’ll get good push off the ball. We’ve just got to make bigger holes.”

Things looked bleak up front early in the game. Already missing starting left tackle D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green was moved over to left tackle from right tackle last week. In Green’s place was Roderick Johnson. Green went down in the second series of the day. He was replaced by true freshman David Sharpe at that point. There was a chance he could have missed the rest of the game, but he fought through and came back the next series. In the second quarter, starting right guard Trenton Brown went down to injury and missed the rest of the game. His replacement was junior Tyler Moore.

The offensive line has already been tested early this season with injuries, but most believe all of them will be back, including Humphries by the time the Gators play again in two weeks against Tennessee.

“It’s tough because as an offensive line, you build chemistry in practice with them beside you,” Garcia said. “It’s a little difficult with a new guy in there, but when a man’s number is called, they have to be ready to play. (There can’t be a) drop off.

“It’s a good time for a bye week to get guys healthy, hopefully get DJ back for Tennessee.”

One of the big things the Gators worked on in the offseason was running an up-tempo offense. That is something we expected to see on Saturday. It didn’t happen. There were several reasons given, and Garcia provided one more.

“It’s hard to run up tempo when we’re going on silent cadence,” he said because of all of the crowd noise when the Gators are on offense. “I don’t want to have my head down for too long before the snap. If I put my head down, I can’t see what the defense is doing. I’ve got to wait sometimes. When they did move around, the guards did a good job of telling me where the backers were before I picked my head back up. We’ll get better at that.”

Like everyone, Garcia knows the Gators were presented with gifts that they just couldn’t take advantage of on offense and that has to change for the team to have any modicum of success. Florida forced four turnovers in the game and the only two scores for the offense came where they had the ball deep in Alabama territory.

“I think guys are really upset because we left one out there on the field this afternoon,” Garcia said. “We had a lot of opportunities and didn’t capitalize. We’re frustrated about that. All we can do is go back to the tape and see what happened.

“They just took advantage of opportunities we gave them. We left a lot of opportunities on the field. It was a game of turnovers and big plays. They had more than us. When we had turnovers ourselves, that hurt us.”

There isn’t much solace in the positive play of the offensive line given what happened Saturday, but it is something that not many expected coming into the day. It is something to build on moving forward. Getting a healthy group again should help even more.


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