Heading into Saturday’s SEC Championship Game, the matchup between Alabama’s offensive line and Florida’s defensive line has been a hot topic.
Some believe the Crimson Tide have the edge in this battle, but the Gators’ offensive line, which has produced three consecutive 300-yard rushing efforts, has helped its defensive front get ready for the challenge.
“Our O-line and their O-line are both very good lines,” Florida sophomore defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “Practicing against our O-line every week has helped us out and it has got us to where we are right now this season.”
Dunlap cited his work in practice against Phil Trautwein and Carl Johnson as a big key in helping him getting ready for Alabama left tackle Andre Smith, a player many feel is a first-round NFL Draft pick next spring. Facing a stout offensive line in practice has helped make the 6-6, 290-pound Dunlap a better player, so he will be ready for anything he sees on Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome.
“I like the progress I’ve made,” Dunlap said. “Of course, I want to make some more plays and get a couple of more sacks. I just want to keep helping my team get to wherever it needs to be.”
Dunlap, who played in 13 games last season, also has picked up his game thanks to a great offseason in the weight room.
“Every day during the offseason, coach (Florida strength and conditioning coach Mickey) Marotti pushed us to the limit so that we could get to the place that we are at right now,” Dunlap said. “(With the idea) of knowing when we got there, that we could push through it because we worked so hard (last) summer. We got no breaks. (Our) families were wondering why we weren’t coming home when other teams were coming home. We’ve just been here working and doing whatever it takes.”
Last week, Dunlap earned Florida’s defensive player of the game honors against Florida State. In the contest, he recorded two sacks to give him a team-high nine for the season. He also leads the team with 12 tackles for loss.
All of this dominance has occurred despite the fact that Dunlap has started just two games at defensive end. With Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney’s rotation scheme, however, he gets ample opportunities to make an impact.
“Coming off the bench, I always have the mindset that I am going to come off and make the plays,” Dunlap said. “I am always looking to make a play each time that I have the opportunity to play.”
As the season has gone on, injuries have hit Florida’s defensive line, but McCarney’s plan of establishing depth has helped the unit not miss a beat. Season-ending injuries to Brandon Antwine and Matt Patchan have tested the group’s depth, along with an injury to Lawrence Marsh, which limited him to 15 plays last week against Florida State.
The depth of Florida’s defensive front, however, has shown through. The Gators have recorded at least four sacks in each of the past three games and the line’s role has enabled the defense to up its sack total from 15 to 31 from a year ago.
This week, the injuries to Antwine and Patchan may force Dunlap to the inside where he will battle it out with the likes of Alabama senior center Antoine Caldwell. The move from end to tackle is something Dunlap is ready for.
“If that’s where (Florida head) coach (Urban) Meyer and the team needs me, I’ll do it,” Dunlap said.
So far, whatever challenge the defensive front has been faced with, it has handled, including those every day in practice.