Florida has four new starters on the offensive line and none of the four had any starting SEC experience before the season. Every backup that has come into the games so far had zero experience before the season.
Saturday night a great deal of the inexperience showed up on the field, yet Thurman believes the group is really coming together.
“Tremendous,” Thurman responded Monday when asked about how the progress was coming with the unit. “I wasn’t practicing in the Spring, but I was on the sidelines with them. It’s been tremendous improvement from Spring to Fall camp to now. There’s always still stuff we need to work on though.”
One of the things that has to be worked on is the ability to understand what a defense is doing while the play is going on. East Carolina used several stunts and nonconventional techniques to rattle the young group and was able to make a dent up front on the Florida line. These are just things the group has to adjust to and they need the experience of it happening to really learn from it.
“When the young guys come in, with the speed of the game, communication helps a lot,” Thurman said. “Knowing what do on pre-snap reads too. This week we have to work on our footwork up front and get a look from our scout team.”
“As an O-line, being in the SEC, ECU they couldn’t really play a lot hat-up on us, so they did a lot of slanting blitzes. So it was difficult up front, in a sense of being a young offensive line and not knowing if there was a guy on the ball he was going to slant inside. ... But I think improving on that film and just working on the footwork this coming week and kind of working ahead on pre-snap reads and where defenses are going to.”
One of the bright spots on the line has been sophomore Antonio Riles who has started at right guard in both of the first two games. Riles was praised by McElwain for his play in the first game and was unofficially named the offensive MVP of that contest. Thurman sees a bright future for the young guard.
“He’s stepped up big for us,” Thurman said of Riles. “He’s a guy transitioned from d-line to o-line like you said. Sometimes when that happens to some guys they fold and get lost in the dust really, and I think he’s stepped up big time for us on the offensive line and he’s played pretty well too.”
The Gators are also hoping to get one of their projected starters back this week when they travel to Kentucky. True freshman Martez Ivey jumped to the lead of the pack pretty early in fall drills as the starter at left tackle. A week or so before the opener, he was showing issues with his knee and the team doctors had to perform arthroscopic surgery. A quick return is expected and he very well may be able to be on the field this weekend.
“It would be big, as far as depth,” Thurman said. “He looked really good in preseason camp. ... If that’s the case, I think it would be a big help up front. I know he’s still a young guy, but he knows a lot of football already.”
The Gators will take the show on the road for the first time all year on Saturday. The stakes get higher this go around as Florida starts heading into SEC competition. That means the atmosphere and the talent will make a big jump. The 2-0 Wildcats are foaming at the mouth for this game after a narrow loss last year and being on the wrong end of a 28 year losing streak to the Gators.
“I think Kentucky is a good team, a good defensive team too,” Thurman said. “I know they lost a couple d-linemen from last year. But it’s safe to say we have to be aware of slants and movement up front with Kentucky and the rest of the teams we play this season.”
There is no taking this Wildcat team lightly.
“Obviously, no one wants to end that streak, but I think we’re just focusing on the game this week,” Thurman said. “I could care less if we have a 28-game win streak. We lost to Vanderbilt at homecoming two years ago. It’s one of those games where you just don’t roll your hat out there and expect to win. We still need to do what we need to do up front and communicate on offense. It’s about us. It’s not about what they’re going to do. It’s about what we need to do.”