The offensive line is Florida’s weak link. Everybody knows that. All you have to do is scour one of the preseason magazines and the “experts” spell it out for you. Florida’s offensive line is on the short list for worst in the SEC.
If that is true, then explain what happened last Saturday night against New Mexico State. Now granted, the NMSU defense isn’t going to rekindle memories of the Chicago Bears back of the 1980s or Doomsday, the Dallas defense of the Cowboys glory years, but what the Gators O-line did to the Aggies was impressive. Florida was physically superior but everybody knew that going into the game. What we didn’t know was the Gators were also the mentally superior bunch and that showed with the discipline in which they played. Not only were there any false starts or holding penalties, but busted assignments were few and far between. Mike Summers had his guys extremely well prepared.
First games against outmanned opponents tend to offer up false hope largely because a team like Florida should never is almost always physically Superior to a team from the Sun Belt or one of the other non-power conferences. That’s why you look beyond the obvious physical differences to decide if the optimism is pure folly or well placed. You look for things like discipline. You look for things like communication between the center and the other four guys at the line of scrimmage when the line calls are made. You look for guys who understand what they’re supposed to do when they look across the line of scrimmage and start counting bodies. Are they blitzing? Are they faking it and simply trying to draw someone out of his stance? Is there a twist? Will they stunt? Are they trying to overload a gap and pour through?
It is important to note that we were asking those same questions last year when Summers became Florida’s third O-line coach in four years. The Gators passed the tests well enough that four of those O-linemen (D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green, Max Garcia and Trenton Brown) find themselves on NFL rosters and a fifth (Tyler Moore) made it to the last cut of the Chicago Bears and will probably land on a practice squad. If that doesn’t tell you that Mike Summers knows how to get the most out of his O-line talent then nothing will.
Obviously, when you lose five guys to the next level and you return only one O-lineman (Trip Thurman) with any SEC experience, there is reason to ask the questions once again but the first game verdict is the Gators passed the test. The next test (East Carolina) and each successive test in the weeks to come will be progressively more difficult both in terms of physicality and athleticism. There is that chance that the young Gators will meet their match somewhere down the line, but there is also the chance that they will be up to each of the tests and perform admirably. That’s not false or misplaced hope, but a reasonable conclusion given what Summers did last year and the discipline and assignment integrity the O-line showed in game one. This guy knows what he’s doing, enough that some of those experts who declared the UF O-line a weak link might have to reach a far different conclusion as the season progresses.
THIS WEEK’S BIGGEST CONCERNS IN THE SEC
Alabama: Nick Saban spent Monday griping about the play in the secondary. The DBs might have done better against Wisconsin if the Crimson Tide had generated more pressure from the down linemen. Against Wisconsin in the season opener, Alabama had three sacks but one of them came on a corner blitz and there were only two quarterback hurries. Saturday opponent Middle Tennessee State threw for 351 yards and gave up only one sack in its season opener.
Arkansas: Toledo comes to Little Rock Saturday with the entire crew of runners who averaged 256.4 yards per game and scored 35 rushing touchdowns last year. The Hogs have to be especially concerned with tailback Kareem Hunt, who ran for 1,631 yards (7.96 per carry) and scored 16 TDs. Backups Terry Swanson and Damion Jones-Moore combined for 1,192 yards and 12 TDs.
Auburn: While Saturday’s game with Jacksonville State will allow the Tigers to get Carl Lawson and other dinged up Tigers healthy, it will also be a chance to get quarterback Jeremy Johnson untracked. While the three picks Johnson threw against Louisville are a concern, the 6.5 yards per pass attempt is a bigger concern for Gus Malzahn. Nick Marshall averaged 8.5 and then 9.0 per attempt the last two years.
Florida: When the Gators faced East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl the Pirates entire offense revolved around quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy. They have both moved on to the NFL and the new QB started August as the #3. Blake Kemp was an efficient 29-37 throwing the ball against Towson State but it was a very vanilla offense that looked nothing like what the Pirates ran in the bowl game. Was this because they’re spoon-feeding the offense to Kemp or were the Pirates holding back for game two against UF?
Georgia: Vanderbilt sold out to stop the run against Western Kentucky (WKU had 58 yards and averaged 1.6 yards per carry) and tried to force quarterback Brandon Doughty to beat them. The Commodores will use a similar strategy with the hope of shutting down Nick Chubb (120 yards, 2 TDs) and forcing Greyson Lambert (8-12, 141 yards, 2 TDs against Louisiana-Monroe) to beat them with his arm.
Kentucky: To beat South Carolina in Columbia, the Wildcats are going to have to do a better job of containing the run. In last week’s 40-33 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, the Wildcats gave up 247 rushing yards (5.26 per carry) and touchdown runs of 56, 26 and 23 yards.
LSU: The Tigers will use the old Al McGuire theory of defense – cut off the head of the snake – against Mississippi State in Starkville. In this case the head of the snake is Dak Prescott, who threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 105 yards and another TD last year, a game Mississippi State won, 34-29, at Tiger Stadium.
Mississippi State: Since LSU’s first game was cancelled, Mississippi State has no clue what to expect from an offense that has been revamped during the offseason. Brandon Harris, who will start at quarterback, came off the bench against Mississippi State last year, completing 6-9 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. One thing for sure, the Bulldogs know Leonard Fournette will have a bigger role than last year when he got only seven carries for 38 yards.
Missouri: It’s a real concern for Gary Pinkney that Mizzou ran for only 98 yards against a D1AA team last week. It’s unlikely the Tigers will send Russell Hansbrough (ankle sprain) on the field against Arkansas State so the running game will be in the hands of Ish Witter, who got 33 yards on 13 carries against Southeast Missouri State.
Ole Miss: The defensive focus for Ole Miss will be neutralizing Fresno State stud running back Marteze Walker, who ran for 154 yards in the season opener and has 2,342 yards in his career. In their season opener last week, the Rebels gave up only 2.97 yards per carry and 118 yards.
South Carolina: Improving their defense against the run is the focus for the Gamecocks this week as they prep for Kentucky. They struggled to stop North Carolina (208 yards, 6.5 per carry) on the ground last week. Last year in their loss to Kentucky, South Carolina gave up 239 yards, much of it (131 yards) on wildcat runs by JoJo Kemp.
Tennessee: After getting burned for 433 yards (8.5 per attempt) by Bowling Green, the Vols face a vertical passing game that average 10.5 yards per pass attempt in Oklahoma. Putting pressure on Sooner QB Baker Mayfield (23-33, 388 yards, 3 TDs) is paramount. The Vols got to Bowling Green for three sacks totaling 27 yards in losses but one of their D-tackles – Danny O’Brien – has been suspended indefinitely.
Texas A&M: Take away the 69 yards backup QB Kyler Murray had on scrambles and the Aggies averaged only 2.8 yards per carry. Getting the running game untracked is one of the priorities this week against Ball State.
Vanderbilt: Taking care of the football is Vandy’s top priority heading into Saturday’s game with Georgia. The Commodores gave the ball away three times against Western Kentucky (one fumble, two interceptions), something they can’t afford to do against Georgia.
GAMES THAT SHAPED UF FOOTBALL HISTORY
Florida 19, LSU 7; October 11, 2003
With the Gators sitting at 3-3 and about to play three ranked teams in a row including unbeaten and 6th-ranked LSU, disgruntled Florida football fans were calling this the college football equivalent of the Bataan Death March. No one expected Ron Zook to survive it, particularly with true freshman Chris Leak starting on the road in Death Valley. Someone obviously forgot to tell Leak he was supposed to be intimidated. Although sacked six times by the Tigers’ ferocious pass rush, Leak delivered18-30 passing for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Over on the other side of the ball, the UF defense held up its end of the bargain, holding LSU without an offensive touchdown and only 287 yards. The Tigers ran for only 56 yards, punted eight times, threw two interceptions, fumbled once and committed 13 penalties. The Tigers’ only touchdown came on an 80-yard punt return by Skyler Green in the first quarter. Florida answered that with a carefully engineered 13-play, 80-yard drive that at up five minutes, culminating with a 22-yard Leak to Ran Carthon touchdown pass with 6:51 left in the first quarter. On LSU’s next possession, Keiwan Ratliff jumped a route to pick off a Matt Mauck pass that he returned 44 yards to the LSU 30. The Gators moved the ball quickly to the LSU 10 but the drive stalled and Matt Leach came on to kick a 29-yard field goal to give the Gators a lead they never relinquished. The Gators had a chance to stretch the lead to 17-7 on their next possession, driving the ball from their own 26 to the LSU one where Deshawn Wynn fumbled into the end zone. Just before the half, the Gators increased the lead to 13-7 when Leach kicked a career-long 50-yard field goal with 1:58 remaining. By the third quarter, the Gators were playing without Carthon (hamstring) and Wynn (shoulder). Ciatrick Fason, who had been in Zook’s doghouse all week, got the call and responded with 92 yards on seven second half carries. Fason delivered the crushing blow to the Tigers when he caught a pass on a wheel route from Leak and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown with 5:21 remaining to put UF ahead, 19-7. LSU managed two threats in the second half. The first was a drive that began at the LSU five but ended when Matt Farrior and Reid Fleming stopped Mauck on a fourth and two a yard short of a first down at the UF 39. The second was stopped at the UF 37 when Ratliff came up with his second interception of the game when he jumped a pass heading for Michael Clayton. In addition to Leak’s cool hand – no interceptions even though he constantly had LSU linemen in his face – the Gators got three sacks from Bobby McCray, nine tackles, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups by Daryl Dixon and 10 tackles by Guss Scott. The Gators would finish the 2003 season with five losses. LSU lost just this one game on its way to a national championship for Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
ESPN’S ALL TOO EARLY FINAL FOUR
1. Ohio State
3. Notre Dame
The next group: (5) TCU; (6) Southern Cal; (7) Florida State; (8) Alabama; (9) Michigan State; (10) Oregon
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who took Wisconsin to three Rose Bowls, knows a thing or two about the difference between the SEC and the Big Ten. Bielema took a shot at Ohio State’s weak schedule Wednesday while pronouncing the SEC the superior conference. “Ohio State has one remaining game with a ranked opponent Bielema said according to Cleveland.com. “We have eight remaining against teams who are ranked. If anyone tries to argue that, it’s nonsense.”
Explaining his decision to demote co-offensive coordinators Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline and playcaller and turn the playcalling reins over to wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, Texas coach Charlie Strong said, “It’s about fixing the problem. You either accept the problem or you divorce yourself from it and let it go. I couldn’t let it go.” Watson will only coach quarterbacks and Wickline will only coach the O-line.
Senator Harry Reid has suggested that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has tried to bribe native Americans from his home state of Nevada to keep them from protesting the name “Redskins.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
After what you saw of Mike Summers body of work last year, do you think he can turn Florida’s O-line into a quality unit this season?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
“Feels Like Home” was Norah Jones’ second album, released in February of 2002. Within a week it had sold more than a million copies. The album was good for three Grammy Awards and featured a duet with Dolly Parton (“Creepin’ In”).