Five the Florida Gators need to step up

If the Gators are going to beat Florida State on Saturday, here are five players that need to step up.

Left tackle David Sharpe

The Florida offensive line has been a problem over the last three games. After playing better than expected over the first half of the schedule, the unit has regressed as the regular season comes to a close. That won’t work well on Saturday against the Florida State defensive line, especially defensive end DeMarcus Walker. The junior leads the Seminoles with 12 tackles for a loss and eight sacks.

If Walker starts to create havoc in the backfield at will, it could be a long night for the Florida offense. Pass protection is only part of the story for the offensive line. The Florida rushing attack hasn’t been effective during the second half of the schedule. Running back Kelvin Taylor is running hard, but there aren’t any holes for the junior to run through.

If the Gators want to have success on offense Saturday, the offensive line has to be better. Sharpe is an important part in making that happen.

Quarterback Treon Harris

This one is so obvious that I almost left him off the list. Over the last three games, Harris has completed 52.7 percent of his passes for 536 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. The quick asterisk is that the struggles aren’t fully on Harris’ shoulders. The offensive line’s regression has given him little time to find open receivers.

But that’s only part of the story. It takes Harris too long to see open receivers, and when he does, he hasn’t been accurate enough to put the ball on them. The middle of the field has also become less of a weapon with Harris at quarterback. Whether its his height that limits it from happening or something else, it has become far less of a weapon than it was with Grier at quarterback.

If the Gators are going to win on Saturday, Harris has to be more accurate and get the ball out faster. The combination of a porous offensive line and a quarterback that can’t get the ball out fast is bad for Florida’s downfield passing game. They’ll still have to take shots down the field to keep Florida State honest, but Harris will have to be more accurate on the shorter routes to give his team a chance.

Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley

The number of defensive linemen that will play on Saturday remains in question because of Florida’s lengthy injury report. Defensive end Alex McCalister, defensive tackle Taven Bryan and defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard are all doubtful while defensive tackle Joey Ivie is questionable play. It got so bad against Florida Atlantic that the coaches pulled the redshirt on Keivonnis Davis and moved offensive lineman Antonio Riles to defensive tackle.

Brantley (abdomen/groin) missed the Florida Atlantic game but is probable to play against Florida State. If multiple defensive tackles are out for the game, Brantley will be needed to eat space in the middle of the defensive line. The Seminoles’ offensive line has also struggled at times this year, and the Gators will have to be disruptive up front to limit Dalvin Cook as much as possible. He's going to have to play more snaps on Saturday than in any other game this year.

Linebacker Jarrad Davis

An important part of the run defense, Davis one of the few Florida defensive players that is healthy and ready to go for Saturday. He’s second on the team with 77 tackles this year and third with 11 tackles for a loss. Davis and Antonio Morrison will have to be on high alert Saturday.

The Florida State offense has been better with Sean Maguire at quarterback, but the Gators will have to focus on Cook. Davis and Morrison are important parts of that.

Kicker Austin Hardin

The most obvious person on this list, the Gators need something out of Hardin. Watching him drill kickoffs through the end zone with ease is what makes this so confusing to everyone, including Florida coach Jim McElwain. Length strength isn’t an issue, but accuracy has turned into a big one.

Hardin has two game-winning kicks over Florida’s last 20 games, winning the game at Tennessee last year and at home against Vanderbilt this year. The routine kicks, including extra points, are problems. He missed two field goals from inside 35 yards against Florida Atlantic and then barely got an extra point off the ground in overtime, where it was easily blocked.

The Gators aren’t good enough to give away points to Florida State on Saturday. Hardin will have to step up and be reliable on extra points and field goals. 

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