There wasn’t much for the Gators to be happy about after leaving Tuscaloosa with a 42-21 loss last weekend. The defense gave up the most yards in school history and the offense struggled to move the ball, but that wasn’t the fault of the offensive line. The unit had no consistency last season and battled injury problems, but they passed a big test at Alabama on Saturday without the team’s starting left tackle.
The offensive line especially held up in pass protection against Alabama. Senior Chaz Green moved from right tackle to left tackle, and redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson stepped in at right tackle. The interior of the line also held up, led by center Max Garcia, who Will Muschamp called “the glue that holds it together.” Trenton Brown, Tyler Moore and Trip Thurman have held up the middle of the line.
“There’s no question I’ve been very encouraged, not surprised I wouldn’t say, by how we’ve played up front,” Muschamp said. “I felt like we had some talented guys.”
Johnson’s play was the biggest surprise. He started at home against Kentucky and drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the redshirt freshman battled inconsistency throughout the game. Muschamp chalked that up to nerves and was happy with the way he held up on Saturday at Alabama.
Pro Football Focus graded Johnson as the best offensive lineman on the Florida unit in Tuscaloosa.
“He played extremely well,” Muschamp said. “He’s a very good athlete and has handled himself, other than getting a little excited in the Kentucky game on the goal line, he has really handled himself extremely well. He has played well.
“(When) D.J. comes back, we’re going to figure out what our best five are, and that’s something we actually discussed Tuesday about where we move from there. We need to get D.J. back full speed first, but there’s no question Rod is playing good football for us.”
GETTING POWELL INVOLVED: After 11 Florida players caught passes in the season opener, the Gators haven’t used as many players on the field in the two conference games that followed. The 11 players that caught passes in the opener seems like a stretch, but the coaching staff would like to get more players involved in the passing game.
Running back Brandon Powell was one of the first Muschamp named that they’d like to get more touches. The coaches said he would get those before the Kentucky game, and he didn’t touch the ball in the SEC opener. Muschamp also said that there were plays to get Powell involved at Alabama, but they didn’t get to them.
With the bye week giving an extra week of practice, the Florida coach again said they’d like to get him involved. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, and the coaches want to use that by getting him involved as a slot receiver.
“At the running back position, we feel really good about Matt (Jones) and Kelvin (Taylor),” Muschamp said. “Both of those guys have played well. We’re looking at Brandon possibly in the slot to try and create opportunities for him.”
SITTING ON THE BALL BEFORE HALFTIME: Despite the struggles all over the field, Muschamp drew the frustration of Florida fans at the end of the first half for not trying to score. The Gators took over at their own 20-yard line with 1:44 left to play before halftime, and Muschamp chose to keep the ball on the ground and run the clock out.
Florida was trailing 21-14 at that point and Alabama got the ball to start the second half. Muschamp chose to avoid any risk of a turnover and head into halftime trailing.
“I didn’t want to get in the situation where we could’ve had a turnover to put them either 10 or 14 up from that situation,” Muschamp said. “Now if we had gotten a first down, if we had gotten to our 35, 40-yard line, we were going to go fast and see what we could do. I also knew the other head coach very well. He wasn’t going to call timeout. He wanted to get out of the half.
“In that situation philosophically, I don’t think it’s very smart to drop back and throw it or create a situation where you can create a turnover. And then you possibly could be down 10 or 14 on the road. So let’s go out in the second half, let’s make a stop and see if we can’t tie the thing up.”