The offensive line is paramount to the success the Gators are having on offense this year. Among SEC statistical leaders, the Gators boast the league's leading passer in Chris Leak and the SEC's leading rusher in Ciatrick Fason. The Gators lead the league in passing offense and are second in the league in total offense. They have allowed 11 sacks on the year and are tied for third in that category. The two teams ahead of them have a minimum of 85 less passes and less than a two sack differential. At this pace, the sacks allowed total would be the best total in 15 years.
The offensive line is on the verge of helping the league's leading rusher reach a major milestone. If Ciatrick Fason can gain just 116 more yards he will join the 1,000 yard club as a Florida Gator. True to form, the offensive linemen aren't looking for the glory. When asked about the monumental goal, Lance Butler says, "I haven't even really kept up with the numbers. I want the best for them, and I haven't really thought about it." He also added, "We do everything we can to help those guys succeed. Ciatrick is a great football player. If we show him a little hole he will just take it and make something out of it. If we just keep playing the way we are playing, I am sure he will be able to (get 1,000 yards)."
Fason doesn't believe that they don't want it as bad. He thinks they relish in the fact that they are helping him attain such a monumental goal. Said Fason, "The offensive line wants it more than me. It makes me even more happy they are going to go out there and block good enough for me to get it. They said if I get 1,000 yards this week to get ready to get 1300 for the season. They told me if we get it this week, to get ready to saddle up and just ride them. Sometimes they tell coach to run the ball and quit passing because they always want to run. I think it is more important to them than it is to me. I am going to try and go out there and run and they tell me they will make holes."
Fason knew in the preseason this would be an excellent line. "I always said coming into the season that our offensive line was going to be the strength of our offense and it really has been." He also added, "They have been opening up holes for the running game and keeping people off of Chris and keeping a pocket for a long time."
Fason also acknowledges just how important it is for the offensive line to do well. "If they are having a good game, we are having a good game. If they are having a bad one, we will have a bad one. A lot of credit goes to the offensive line; they are what make our offense go."
Fason tells of how an early meeting of the running backs and linemen helped create a bond that has kept the two units close this season despite all of the bad things that have happened. "Before the Tennessee game, the O-Line and the running backs, we all went out to Ballyhoos (restaurant) and had a blast. From that point on, we always go out once a week to talk about football, talk about life. We talk about what each of us are going to do after football, after college. The running backs and o-line became real tight."
If there has been one drawback to the play of the offensive line, it has been the number of penalties that are attributed to them and have put the offense in a hole. Butler talks about that: "I have had a few this season. That is definitely something I have to work on. Mental mistakes and twitching off sides and stuff like that are things we have to work on. I realized this week that we had about all the penalties (in the Georgia game)."
While giving praise to Coach Wickline on the performance of his unit, we asked him about the rash of penalties lately. He replied with reference to the Georgia game -- one penalty in particular was due to injury and a line shuffle at game time. "Let's start with the alignment penalty. Colon gets hurt and Lance Butler hasn't lined up there in a long time. That is going to happen from time to time. It is something that is called one way one week and called another way another week, and he hasn't played tackle," said Wickline.
He wasn't at all happy with some of the official's calls on his players, but he expressed his concerns politely."We had a couple of holding calls, one was legitimate and one was not. The personal foul, that goes on every single play. What we saw is something that is going on all year."
The player's aren't totally blameless. Wickline went into an area they really need to work on. "What I am frustrated about are obviously the flinches and off sides. That is my job. We talked about it this week. It has happened before. It wasn't brought on by them (the defenders). They had some really good pass rushers, and were getting good jumps. Our guys were trying to get in position. It is going to happen from time to time and it happened." The offense has had a tough time crawling out of the holes that the penalties put them in this season. Wickline adds, "It added on two or three times to some of the calls that weren't legit and it got to be a tough situation for us."
Coach Wickline shared with us what needs to be done to correct the situation. "On those, we can fix something like that. We can adjust our stances and talk about the tempo of the ball being snapped. But, honestly a lot of it is focus. Sometimes they are revved up and ready to go and sometimes they aren't.. We had a focus problem. It will be corrected. Our kids are bothered by it a lot. I will be surprised if it is not rectified."
One of his prized pupils, Lance Butler must have been listening to his position coach. He said, "We realize we need to focus more and not have any more penalties."
Coach Zook Q & A:
On Channing Crowder's injury…
They took the cast off and he has some strained tendons in his foot, It will be day to day, but obviously out this week.
Do you expect to get him back before the end of the season?
Todd McCullough was limping after practice…
Someone fell on the back of his ankle. He will be alright.
On Travis Harris status…
He didn't play today, hopefully he can do something tomorrow.
On DeShawn Wynn's injury…
They did an MRI, it's an abductor muscle there. It is going to take some time to heal. It is bad in terms that he is out this week, but he'll be back.
Gavin Dickey working at receiver.
I don't know, we'll have an extra guy in there to see what he can do.
About the Vandy crowd.
They do a good job, they get up for it. Usually we come right off of Georgia or an emotional game like that.
How do you get revved up for this game?
We have 16 days, we are going to lock and load.