Sunday, June 17, 2018
Colleges

Florida Gators turn offensive line from a liability to a strength

GAINESVILLE — When Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease called the Gators' offensive line "the strength of our team" four days after quarterback Jeff Driskel was sacked eight times in Game 2 against Texas A&M, he caused a few eyebrows to rise.

But now, with Florida (7-0) ranked No. 3, Pease's evaluation is starting to make sense. The unit that was manhandled last season as the Gators struggled with an offense ranked 73rd nationally in rushing (143.0) has turned into a steady, productive group that has matured and been reinvented under the tutelage of veteran line coach Tim Davis.

Heading into Saturday's Georgia game, Florida is gaining almost 70 yards more on the ground (212.71), in part because of the offensive line's improvement. The Gators' running game ranks third in the SEC.

"I think we're a unit that is a little more tied together," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "There are two units that need to be the closest units on your football team; that's the offensive line and the secondary. Because generally, if they're not on the same page, it's not good for your football team. They have been that way, and I think our communication is much better because of that.

"But I think as much as anything we have some competitive guys. Going into last season, Xavier Nixon and Jon Halapio were the only guys that had played extensive snaps in the Southeastern Conference. So it was a pretty daunting task what those guys were trying to undertake in a new scheme and a new system. They're a year older, a year more mature, experienced, stronger."

The new-look O-line is still working on pass protection, having allowed 21 sacks, but part of that is having a first-year starter in Driskel who hasn't learned to get rid of the ball quickly. But the offensive line has held its own against some of the nation's toughest defensive fronts, including LSU and South Carolina, giving it a newfound confidence.

"I feel like we can do that against anybody, really," said Halapio, a St. Pete Catholic alum. "Just the way we practice, the way our mentality is this year. We're just really relentless, especially up front. Yeah, pretty much, we can wear down anybody. I feel pretty strong about that."

"Yes, we're going against some better athletes, but especially as an offensive line, we've come a far ways from last year," junior center Jonotthan Harrison said. "We're more meshed as a unit. We've been working this whole offseason for a situation like this."

Davis, who is in his first season with the Gators, has 29 years of coaching experience in college and the NFL. He has stressed technique and extremely physical play.

"I think you look at all the reasons why we've made a huge step forward, and Tim Davis has a huge part of that, as well," Muschamp said. "He's an outstanding football coach. He was a guy I worked with when I was with the Miami Dolphins. His track record speaks for himself when he was at Wisconsin and Southern Cal."

Davis is also credited with helping develop a young group of players quickly. When the Gators lost three offensive linemen to injury against Vanderbilt, they didn't miss a beat with the replacements.

"Coach Davis is a good coach," said offensive lineman Chaz Green, a Tampa Catholic alum. "He's really good with attention to detail. He's good at developing guys, so I think that they've made tremendous leaps from camp to now. Pretty much, it's all about us. We try to pride ourselves on sticking to the group. We know that we have to work as a unit. One guy can't do this, another guy do that. It's just unity and everybody working together."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Florida’s Brady Singer voted top college baseball player of year

Florida’s Brady Singer voted top college baseball player of year

OMAHA, Neb. — Florida pitcher Brady Singer has won the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball's player of the year.Singer, who received the award Friday, carries a 12-1 record and 2.30 ERA into the College World Series, which begins Saturday. T...
Published: 06/15/18
Former Plant QB Rex Culpepper cancer-free; ready to return to Syracuse lineup

Former Plant QB Rex Culpepper cancer-free; ready to return to Syracuse lineup

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Rex Culpepper is back. The smile on his face said it all. The redshirt sophomore quarterback had his first full workout with Syracuse on Friday after overcoming testicular cancer. He said he broke down and cried when he was told he w...
Published: 06/15/18
Willie Taggart comes clean on the origin of ‘Do Something’

Willie Taggart comes clean on the origin of ‘Do Something’

During his question-and-answer session with more than 500 Manatee-Sarasota boosters Monday evening, FSU's Willie Taggart was peppered with the normal inquiries about recruiting, offensive scheme and the Seminoles' quarterback derby.All well and good....
Published: 06/12/18
When Willie Taggart filled in for Tommie Frazier at Manatee High

When Willie Taggart filled in for Tommie Frazier at Manatee High

It would have been easy — expected, even — for Willie Taggart to be nervous when he started in place of the injured Tommie Frazier as Manatee High's starting quarterback in 1991.Nope. Taggart wasn't, even though he was the first...
Published: 06/12/18
FSU football coach Willie Taggart gets local hero’s welcome

FSU football coach Willie Taggart gets local hero’s welcome

SARASOTA — He slithered and scrambled his way into the local consciousness in the fall of 1991.Manatee High's Willie Taggart, 145 pounds in a sopping jersey, suddenly found himself with the keys to the Hurricanes' ruthlessly efficient opti...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18
Florida Gators add West Virginia grad transfer Adam Shuler

Florida Gators add West Virginia grad transfer Adam Shuler

Former West Virginia defensive lineman Adam Shuler announced Monday that he plans to join the Gators as a graduate transfer.Shuler, a 6-foot-4, 268-pound Longwood native, started 10 games for the Mountaineers last season. As a redshirt sophomore, he ...
Published: 06/11/18
Florida State’s Jessica Warren lives ‘every senior’s dream’ with Women’s College World Series title

Florida State’s Jessica Warren lives ‘every senior’s dream’ with Women’s College World Series title

OKLAHOMA CITY — Jessie Warren’s career finished just the way she envisioned it. On Monday night, Florida State’s star third baseman made perhaps the play of her career, a diving catch and throw for a double play that helped preserve a 1-0 win over Wa...
Published: 06/06/18
Florida Gators hire former Auburn AD Jay Jacobs

Florida Gators hire former Auburn AD Jay Jacobs

Former Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is joining Florida as its executive associate athletic director, the Gators announced Tuesday afternoon."Florida Athletics is fortunate to have someone of Jay's caliber joining the (University Athletic Assoc...
Published: 06/05/18
What Mississippi State says about Dan Mullen’s September homecoming

What Mississippi State says about Dan Mullen’s September homecoming

I haven't yet ranked every college football game in the state (as I did last year), but here's a spoiler: Dan Mullen's return to Starkville on Sept. 29 will be very high.The Florida Gators' new coach hasn't shied away from his Mississippi State homec...
Published: 06/05/18
Ray Lewis, Lomas Brown, Simeon Rice among College Football Hall of Fame nominees

Ray Lewis, Lomas Brown, Simeon Rice among College Football Hall of Fame nominees

Eleven former players/coaches with state ties are up for consideration for the College Football Hall of Fame.Notables notables on the ballot, released Monday morning, include:Florida OT Lomas Brown: 1984 All-American and two-time all-SEC talent helpe...
Published: 06/04/18