GAINESVILLE -- According to Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, matrimony and football might have more in common than previously thought.
The Gators’ run game peaked in a win against LSU in early October and hasn’t been the same since. It’s no coincidence that the production started to decline after a win against Vanderbilt the next week when three of the Gators’ starters on the offensive line sustained injuries. Players up front rely on the man next to them, and, with three starters missing time the next few weeks, the communication among the linemen just wasn’t there.
“It is kind of like being married: If your partner is not there, you are kind of looking around,” Pease said. “It just causes inconsistencies.”
After the win against the Commodores, the Gators struggled running between the tackles, accruing fewer than 100 total yards on the ground in a win against South Carolina and a loss to Georgia. Until Saturday’s game against Jacksonville State, starting running back Mike Gillislee had not rushed for a touchdown or 100 yards in a game since the win over LSU after averaging 109.6 in the first five games of the season.
But against the Tigers’ eighth-ranked rushing defense, the Gators employed jumbo formations with six or seven offensive linemen to control the line of scrimmage and had success. Gillislee rushed for 146 yards in the win, and UF ate up the clock with five drives of longer than three minutes, holding a near-15-minute advantage in time of possession when the clock hit zeroes.
Center Jonotthan Harrison has played with a hard brace on his right elbow after leaving the Vanderbilt game with an injury caused when right guard Jon Halapio attempted to double-team the man Harrison was blocking and bent his elbow inward awkwardly. But Harrison said he and the rest of the offensive line are as healthy as they have been since the jumbo package helped wear down LSU in early October.
“We have everybody back and we’re good to go,” he said. “All five of us will be healthy, which will be great. We’ve worked with each other the most of anyone playing on the O-line. It just makes communication that much easier.”
Against Florida State on Saturday, that communication will be key. UF coach Will Muschamp and Pease both compared the Seminoles’ front four to the Tigers’, and it’s easy to see why.
FSU leads the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 70.64 yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry on average. Five times this season the Seminoles have held their opponent to fewer than 45 total yards on the ground. And they have yet to allow an opposing offense to average 4 yards per rush.
“They’re going to win some battles,” Pease said. “Those guys over there are good. They’re not going to be shut down the whole game. That’s why they’re No. 1 in the nation. You’ve got to find your spots, and, like the LSU game, you’ve got to compete and hit some plays here or there.”
With starting quarterback Jeff Driskel (ankle) likely not 100 percent, Florida will not be able to rely on his ability to run out of zone-read plays that worked with so well while the line was banged up, and that means a return of the six- and seven-man fronts is a distinct possibility.
“When you face those teams, you kind of have a good gauge on what you can do, especially if there are a lot of similarities in the type of player you’re facing, the type of scheme you’re facing and what you have to beat,” Pease said. “It gives us some confidence knowing how our kids will probably react to the fact that we played LSU the way we did, played Georgia the way we did. We can look at those games and kind of make a comparison.”