Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Colleges

UF's improvement must begin with offensive line

GAINESVILLE

The last time Florida had a bye, the Gators were coming off a loss at Miami, but at the time took solace in the fact their demise was largely due to five turnovers — something they felt was correctable.

Seven weeks later, the Gators (4-3, 3-2 SEC) are entering another open date but things are much more serious.

The offense is a mess, having gained just 391 yards in the past two games and scored one offensive touchdown. The starting tight end has not caught a pass this season. Florida is last in the SEC in total offense (336.9). Though the Gators tout themselves as a rushing team, they are fourth in the league in rushing attempts (305), yet last in yards per rush (3.7), and 12th in rushing offense.

After racking up impressive numbers against Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky, the defense gave up 500 yards to Missouri on Saturday, and gave up 200 yards in the first half against both LSU and Missouri.

The team that began the season ranked No. 10 has fallen out of the AP and USA Today coaches' polls. All this with South Carolina, Georgia and Florida State still looming on the schedule.

It goes without saying this off week is critical.

"We need to make some changes as we move forward," coach Will Muschamp said Sunday on his weekly television show. "If you continue to do the same things, you are going to get the same results. We have an awful lot to work on in the open week."

The offensive line is among the biggest problems. With the Gators offense predictable, opponents are outnumbering the blocking, and using blitzes and heavy pressure that has rendered quarterback Tyler Murphy nearly ineffective. Missouri sacked him six times.

"We're struggling right now to get the right combination, to get guys blocked in the run and the pass game," Muschamp said. "We're doing everything we can do. We've shuffled guys around. We've just got to get better."

For senior right guard Jon Halapio, it's make or break time for the line.

"First we're going to have to find out the best five blockers that we can get together up front, that's the first and foremost thing," he said. "Without dependable and accountable guys up front, there is no production in the offense. So we're going to first and foremost find who can we depend on up front to block for Tyler Murphy, block for anybody back there and block for this team. Second of all, obviously get some rest.

"But we've got to get better. We can't just take this whole week off and make the excuse that everybody is injured. Everybody else is still playing, everybody else is still practicing. We can't just take this week off laying around and resting and getting caught up on sleep. We've just got to get better."

Injuries have taken a toll on the line. Halapio is playing with a torn pectoral muscle. Chaz Green's season-ending shoulder injury has forced Tyler Moore into a left tackle role he's not suited for. On Saturday, backup center Kyle Kohne was at left guard, and Max Garcia, who is a guard, was playing left tackle.

"It does have an effect just because if you're practicing one week all week in one position, and then you get thrown into the game into another position, it throws that person off and it throws the whole line off," Halapio said.

It's no longer just the Gators' offense that is struggling. The Gators, who entered the Missouri game giving up just 83 rushing yards per game, gave up 205 to the Tigers.

"We've got to play better defense," defensive lineman Dante Fowler said. "We're going to have to go back to the drawing board and find ways to get better."

Added Muschamp: "We'll go back and work extremely hard to get these things corrected. We've got this off week to get it turned around."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @TBTimes_Gators.

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