Mike Summers isn’t Vincent van Gogh, but Florida’s 36-year coaching veteran has made quite an impression on one of the youngest offensive lines in the country.
Saturday night culminated in his masterpiece.
On an evening when No. 11 Florida looked like a Southeastern Conference heavyweight again, the Gators’ makeshift offensive line delivered its most impressive performance this season.
Although quarterback Will Grier and a tenacious, unrelenting defense stole the show in UF’s stunning 38-10 romp over then-No. 3 Ole Miss, Summers’ unit not so quietly stamped its legitimacy as a group not to be underestimated anymore.
“Each week they’ve gotten better and better,” senior tight end Jake McGee said.
“The comfort level. They’re young, but they’re some good offensive linemen. It’s something that, as they see more blitzes, stunts, all that stuff, they’ll only continue to improve.
“Coach Summers has done a great job just getting all the pieces. Moving some things around. That’s a hard-working group that wants to be great.”
They were Saturday night.
The Rebels tout one of the fiercest fronts in college football, but the Gators’ inexperienced offensive line held its own against Robert Nkemdiche and a defense full of future NFL Draft picks.
The Gators didn’t run the ball particularly well against Ole Miss (just 84 yards on 34 attempts), but their pass protection was so solid — especially against pressure — that the Rebels just stopped blitzing.
Nkemdiche was mostly a nonfactor, and on his one hurry, Grier still managed to complete a 36-yard touchdown to Demarcus Robinson in the first quarter to kick-start the rout.
“It’s the best front seven we’ll see all season,” senior left guard Trip Thurman said.
“They’re really good up front. It was awesome for us to just come together as a unit, offensive unit, and O-line communicating up front. They did a lot of slanting angles up front, twist games, and we held our own.”
This spring, UF had just six healthy linemen, and the unit was considered the team’s biggest question mark entering the fall.
It struggled at times against East Carolina and Kentucky, but it has progressed and gained confidence with each week.
Now, a group comprising two seniors, a couple sophomores and several talented freshmen is suddenly positioned as a catalyst for a potential Southeastern Conference contender.
“Summers is an awesome coach,” Thurman said. “The best O-line coach in the country. … We’ve worked our butts off. You’ve got a bunch of young guys, and I’m just really proud of them.”
The Gators offense has hit another gear with the unit’s improved play, as Grier was unstoppable in the first half (229 yards and four touchdowns) thanks to consistent protection and some well-executed rollouts and play-action passes.
He was sacked twice but was rarely forced to leave the pocket early or scramble because of busted plays.
“The O-line did a great job of picking up all the blitzes they were doing,” Grier said. “We did a great job of communicating hots and breaking off and making plays.”
Summers’ unit entered the fall with the fewest combined starts in the conference (10) — and third-fewest starts nationally.
The Gators’ offensive line has played three true freshmen together at times, and even experimented with five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey at guard some against Ole Miss.
There are a lot of moving parts, but thanks to Summers’ tutelage, a much-maligned unit is transforming into a serviceable, cohesive group much earlier than anticipated.
After the blowout, McElwain actually cutoff a reporter’s question about how the offseason storyline centered on the unit’s shakiness.
“Still is,” McElwain quipped. “But you know what, we’re growing up. We’re getting a little bit better. We’re learning to compete.”