Offensive Line: It's All About The "Voom"

Nothing succeeds like success, particularly when you're talking about an offensive line that's halfway through a first season in a brand new scheme where the blocking assignments are like learning Sanskrit compared to the way things were taught in the previous years. For Florida's struggling offensive line, building off a successful outing and gaining confidence is critical as the Gators get ready for LSU Saturday in Baton Rouge.

The Gators ran for 191 yards and threw for 279 last week in a 35-9 win over Mississippi State, one of their best offensive showings of the season. Florida's 480 yards were largely the result of a battered offensive line finally starting to understand what it takes to be consistent, therefore successful, in this new spread option offense brought to Gainesville by Coach Urban Meyer.

"Our focus was to keep it simple as we could and our goal was we were going to move the line of scrimmage and we did that for sure," said tight ends/offensive line assistant Coach Steve Addazio. "We had great opportunities to dent the line of scrimmage and get the running game going a little bit and that's what we wanted to do. That was a real focal point during the week and a real focal point during the game."

The Florida line gave up two sacks but one of those was due to Mississippi State's tight coverage. The Gators got the option going both outside and inside with the shovel pass which changed the way Mississippi State defended the pass. Once the Bulldogs were forced to commit to defend the option and shovel pass, the downfield passing game opened up and Chris Leak and Dallas Baker became an item.

Of course, the Gators were going against Mississippi State's defense. This week, the Gators are in Baton Rouge to face an LSU defense that is bigger, faster, stronger and more experienced. The Tigers have a new defensive coordinator in Bo Pelini, a former defensive coordinator at both Nebraska and Oklahoma. His style of defense is very aggressive with lots of blitz packages.

In particular, the Tigers want to collapse the pocket on every pass play and force either an early throw or get a sack. That puts a premium on the offensive line play for Florida's 11th ranked Gators.

"We have to do a better job of protecting the edge and taking care of the integrity of that pocket," said Addazio. "That's something that's obviously under major focus for right now and we're working on it every day. It's got to be a combination of the run game denting the line of scrimmage, coming off the ball, being real consistent with our assignments and what we're doing and coming off the ball with confidence; and in our throwing game, keeping the integrity of the pocket together, especially on the edge."

The Gators inconsistency can, in part, be tied to the learning of the new system. It's been particularly difficult for the guards because they have the least experience. Center Mike Degory is a four-year starter as is left tackle Randy Hand. Right tackle Lance Butler is a three-year starter.

"Inexperience and learning a new system, that's all part of it," said Addazio, "but at the end of the day it's still all about getting your freaking body on the guy across from you and moving him out of there.

"It's all about playing fast and being so confident that you can rip off the ball. When you're really confident in what you're doing, you rip off the ball. That's our key and our focus this week, to keep our system clean so they can come off the ball with great confidence. It's about total awareness of what's going on but not paralysis by analysis. We need them to do it without thinking instead of losing that split second because they have to think about it. You started seeing us coming out of that and starting to come off the ball the way we should last week."

In the previous three years, the Gators ran more of a man on man blocking scheme, but the new offense requires a lot of zone blocking. Some say that zone blocking is all finesse but Addazio will disagree.

"People say this is a finesse block but no, it's not," he said. "This is a right downhill at your ass kind of deal. Inside zone play is a voom play where you put your body on that guy across from you and voom. We gotta get it vooming."

Six games into the season, Addazio believes the offensive line is starting to turn the corner. The guard play is getting better because of improved health and getting in the reps, both in practice and in the game. Against Mississippi State, the Gators got into a four-man rotation with Tavares Washington, Jim Tartt, Steven Rissler and Drew Miller.

Washington and Tartt are the projected starters. They have been off again, on again with health issues. They finally seem to be on the mend and the payoff is consistency with the line play. Having the guards in synch means all five linemen play better.

"As you well know it's all about five guys firing our together," said Addazio. "We see a lot of different configurations each week defensively and because of what we see, well, I like to call it a bank. That's what experience is, like a bank.

"Now after six games they can say, we'll you've been through this front and that front, this style of blitz. Now once you've been through all that, you've had to body learn it, rep it in practice and now you've gamed it. You've built that bank but the bank keeps getting bigger and bigger. They've got a six-game bank now so that means there's going to be less and less things that they haven't seen before and less that they don't know how to handle."

A SHADOW OF HIS FORMER SELF: When Chuck Heater was an All-Big Ten running back at Michigan, he first encountered Les Miles, now LSU's football coach. In those days, Miles had quite a different appearance.

"He was an offensive guard, about 5-11 and 300 pounds back then and now he looks like the CEO of a major corporation," said Heater, Florida's cornerback coach. "He was a really motivated guy back then and obviously he's had a great career as a coach."

Heater says that Miles did the "trek around the country as an assistant" and was always gearing toward a career as a head coach. He left Michigan, where he was the offensive line coach, to take the job as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. That led to a gig with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL before Oklahoma State called him to return as the head coach. After four years as Oklahoma State's head man, he's now Nick Saban's successor at LSU.

"People looked at that move he made from Michigan and thought gee whiz, but he did a great job there and got the job with the Cowboys," said Heater. "They brought him back to Oklahoma State as their head coach when they had an opening because they respected what he had done there before. He's a solid guy who is a fine football coach."

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