Last week, I wrote a piece on how thin Florida’s usable roster has been getting this fall. One of the biggest areas of concern that I highlighted multiple times is that after Chris Bleich’s withdrawal from the team the Gators no longer had any reserve offensive linemen with much experience. John Hevesy tabbed true freshman guard Ethan White as the new sixth man, but he’d only played late against this year’s FCS opponents.
I wasn’t expecting to see him get any experience either. I figured the starting five would take the team home from here except in garbage time of blowouts such as the one that ended up happening against Vandy. After listing freshmen who could still redshirt, I said, “But unless an injury puts [Ethan] White into the lineup, it’s unlikely any of those players will get a lot of meaningful offensive or defensive snaps the rest of the year.”
About that: Florida didn’t announce after the Georgia game that Brett Heggie had suffered a concussion. It also didn’t announce that he was having headaches during the week, which meant that he wouldn’t be able to go against Vanderbilt. My hedging paid off, because an injury did indeed put White into the lineup at right guard.
It’s worth noting that Vandy is pretty bad this year, so there are certainly worse opponents that White could’ve been thrown into the fire against. Having said that, I can happily report that White looked fantastic against the Commodores, especially for a true freshman getting his first non-garbage time snaps.
White played all but the last about two-and-a-half minutes in the game. He was still holding it down at right guard once the backup line went on the field for the final touchdown drive, but the coaches pulled him once the offense crossed the 50. I don’t know if it was time or snaps or field position or just a whim, but that was the end of his day. The Gators ran all of four plays after he went out, so he was on the field for 65 official snaps that weren’t wiped out for penalties.
Not every snap is useful for evaluating White’s performance. Florida ran a good number of quick screens and swing passes, and some of those went to the left side of the field. Some other throws were out of Kyle Trask’s hand so quickly that the only relevant thing to come from the offensive line was Nick Buchanan’s shotgun snap.
With those caveats in place, I only counted White truly getting beat twice. On the first of them, he slowed down the rusher enough that Trask was still able to get a completed pass off to Kyle Pitts. On the other occasion, it was a quick enough pass that him getting beat didn’t end up mattering. There was a goal line situation where he let a defensive lineman get the low leverage, stand him up, and stop the ball carrier, so that was a negative play as well. Other than those three instances, he played a clean game.
One of the best things I saw was him handling edge twist moves with Jean Delance. I’ve written an entire article about twists, but basically what happens is a player on the defensive front shoots forward at an angle and the guy next to him loops around back of him. When it works well, offensive linemen aren’t able to deal with the rushers directly in front of them before the snap not being the ones they will need to block after the snap.
Every time Vandy tried a twist with the players on the right side of Florida’s offensive line, White and Delance worked together to block it without appearing to break a sweat. The defensive tackle would come in angling to the right, and White would pass him off before picking up the edge guy coming around inside. It was textbook offensive line play against that defensive strategy despite, I would imagine given the depth chart, White and Delance not having worked alongside each other a ton before last week.
Even better, White looked quick and decisive when pulling. Florida didn’t ask him to do it a lot, but he was good when he did. It wasn’t always pretty, as he almost overran his block early on when Lamical Perine was attempting to convert a 2nd & 1 with a run to the left. White found his man, though, and Perine followed White’s block to move the sticks.
Critically, Perine took the handoff and accelerated normally. Bleich was often slow on his pulls from the right guard spot to the point that against Georgia, Perine noticeably waited on a play for Bleich to get over to the left side before trying to speed up. Bleich did get his block, but a Bulldogs defender came around the other end of the line and caught Perine from behind as a direct result of the delay.
Here is a highlight reel of some of White’s best plays. First up, he and Delance handle a twist move just fine. Next, he pulls and gets the block to allow Perine to pick up that first down. Then he walls off the left side of the hole with a pulling Richard Gouraige sealing the right side on an Emory Jones carry. A pancake block on an end around for Freddie Swain follows before he and Gouraige create a lane on a quarterback run again.
Again, it’s worth remembering that Vandy is not very good. It still has players that are SEC sized though, and the veterans on the Florida offensive line didn’t have perfect games themselves. Delance got beat on both of Trask’s sacks, for instance. Buchanan was the only one who didn’t have an obviously bad play that I saw, but he still got put on skates and pushed backwards as happens a couple times every game.
White has good size, and he moves well for that size. Things like getting his pad level correct for that goal line run will come with time and experience. He now has already graded out at 100% against defensive line stunts in a conference game, which is legitimately impressive for a true freshman in his first start.
I don’t know how much White will play from here. It sounds like the coaches expect Heggie to be back this week, and they probably would like to preserve White’s redshirt if possible. UF probably won’t blow out Mizzou on the road in the cold this weekend with Kelly Bryant appearing ready to go, and you figure the bowl opponent will be good since the Gators are on track to get into a New Year’s Six game if they win their next two. It may be that White only gets on the field if Florida can run it up on FSU to close out the regular season.
Regardless, I expect to see reports of White seriously pushing for playing time next spring. Heggie has cross-trained at center for years, and Buchanan graduates following this season. If last weekend’s game is any indication, White is already good enough to pencil him into the starting lineup at guard in 2020. We’ll see what happens with the rest of the line, but the interior has a good piece for years to come in big No. 77.