They’ll never get the credit they truly deserve. So it’s time they finally did.
I’m talking about Florida’s offensive line, of course. It’s a unit that traditionally takes a beating in the media and on message boards when they don’t do their jobs well, and is pretty much ignored when they do perform their jobs well. We know how it goes: when the offense thrives, the skill position guys get the credit. When the offense flounders, the offensive line more often than not takes the blame.
But while Jordan Scarlett certainly earned every inch of the 93 yards he got against Georgia, the offensive line deserves every bit as much credit for that. And for keeping Luke Del Rio on his feet for most of the game. True, Georgia did sack Del Rio three times, but one of those was a situation where he held the ball too long and another was a corner blitz- a play that’s difficult to pick up in general. And Georgia did manage to stop seven plays for losses.
But there were holes for Scarlett and LaMical Perine to go through at the line of scrimmage. Neither broke off a really big one, but both of them (Scarlett in particular) would consistently get three, four, or five yards on every carry. Every now and then Georgia would load the box and outnumber Florida up front, and the Gators’ offensive line was still able to create running room more often than not. Instead of Georgia defensive players splitting gaps and getting into the backfield, it was the Florida running backs who found the gaps and got to the middle level. It was at the point where on short yardage situations, I could sit back and relax because I knew the Gators’ line would do their job and help pick up the first down. Everyone watching the game in my house knew it. Georgia just couldn’t stop it.
Martez Ivey in particular had a great effort, so much so that he was selected as the SEC’s offensive lineman of the week. Ivey displayed the same nasty combination of raw power and quickness he did on his highlight tapes from high school; this time, though, he did it against an SEC opponent. On one play in the second quarter, Kirby Smart dialed up a blitz, and Ivey appeared beaten… until he juked laterally right into the path of the blitzing linebacker and exploded into him as if he’d just gotten out of his stance. The play resulted in an incomplete pass, but that was still one of the more remarkable blocks I’ve ever seen from an offensive lineman.
And the other five linemen who played did their part, too. Fred Johnson, Cam Dillard, Tyler Jordan, David Sharpe and Jawaan Taylor all deserve their own heaping of praise for the way they blocked, especially on running plays. It wasn’t just that Scarlett or Perine had an initial crease to go through, but the pile would continue to push forward well after the runner was first contacted. And again, you can credit Scarlett and Perine for their efforts here too, but the sheer manpower that kept the scrums surging forward was mainly the doing of the angry offensive line.
I still think the line has some work to do. As a group, the fundamentals are there. I’ve seen all five linemen improve the placements of their initial punch into defenders since the start of the year. I’ve seen them improve how quickly they rocket out of their stances and into defenders off the snap. And I’ve even seen improvement in the blitz pickup from the beginning of the year (which is also on the tailbacks).
The key now is doing this all the time. Doing it on every snap, not most. Allowing zero sacks instead of three. Allowing one or two negative plays instead of seven. At the highest level, the talent, technique and fundamentals are all identical. What separates good from great is focus and consistency.
The improvements this line has made since the start of the year are noticeable, and very promising. Now let’s see if they can keep getting better with every passing day- and if they do, opponents might be in for a nasty surprise.