Florida’s lines have chance for redemption against Colorado State

The Florida Gators are looking to pick up the pieces against Colorado State this weekend following their clunky loss to Kentucky. Two units that need to assert themselves are the offensive and defensive lines.

The offensive line has had a rough go of it so far in 2018. It did not impress even against a much smaller Charleston Southern defensive front in Week 1, and Kentucky’s SEC-sized defense found ways around and through the Gator blockers.

The defensive line hasn’t been as much of a liability, but it hasn’t been impressive either. The defensive tackles got more penetration against the Wildcats than you remember, but they didn’t always know what to do once they’d broken through. The edge rushers, whether at traditional end or the new buck position, haven’t been tremendously disruptive. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson leads the team in sacks, after all.

Florida is now in the third week of the season. It got its feet wet in the first game and got a taste of what real physicality feels like from a conference opponent in the second. Now is the time to step it up and play like it should be able to.

After having reviewed Colorado State’s comeback win over Arkansas from last weekend, I can say that the Rams are a good opponent to have coming in for the lines to build their confidence against.

The Florida defensive line should be able to spend quite a bit of time in the Colorado State backfield. The Arkansas defensive line sure did. It largely was the unit that held the Rams to 2.1 yards per carry (excluding sacks), and it bothered quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels all night. CSU could only get things going offensively once it scrapped some of its slower-developing pocket pass plays for quick strikes and rollouts. And, even as the wheels were coming off of the Razorbacks during the Rams’ late comeback, the defensive line was still getting great push and holding the run game to almost nothing.

The Colorado State offensive guards were the main weak points against the Hogs. Here’s a great example of the nearside defensive end easily beating the right guard with a swim move (so called because it looks like a freestyle swimming stroke) and forcing a fumble.

Or, perhaps you’d like to review this play where the two interior Arkansas linemen just bully their ways past the center and left guard to get a tackle for loss.

TJ Slaton, Khairi Clark, and Elijah Conliffe should have the chance to make some of these kinds of plays. If the Florida defensive tackles are able to blow up some plays straight away like this, that will make everything easier. The early struggles to move the ball against Arkansas definitely got to Carta-Samuels, as evidenced by his one early interception and about a half dozen or so other throws that should’ve been picked but weren’t.

On the other side of the ball, the Gator run offense was expected to be a strength of the team this year, but so far it hasn’t materialized. It should this week, as the Ram defensive front isn’t intimidating anyone. Colorado State at times showed breathtakingly inept run defense, as Aaron Taylor diagrams here:

Against the Rams, Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald ran for 99 yards on 12 non-sack rushes (8.3 yards per carry). Colorado running back Travon McMillian ran for 103 yards on 10 carries (10.3) while reserve Beau Bishrat went for 52 yards on seven carries (7.4). Arkansas’s Devwah Whaley went for 165 yards on 26 carries (6.3) as his backups Rakeem Boyd racked up 67 yards on seven rushes (9.6) and Chase Hayden ran for 55 yards on 11 carries (5.0).

One of the main reasons Arkansas allowed the comeback was that Chad Morris didn’t just line it up and run it down CSU’s throat consistently. After the second half touchdown that started the comeback, Whaley still ran for 40 yards on seven carries (5.7 YPC). During that time the Hogs also ran five pass plays that resulted in three completions for a combined three net yards and a third down sack.

The weaknesses on display from Colorado State just beg for Florida to line up and run it at them again and again. I could maybe still buy that there were some first-game jitters in Week 1 that resulted in some mental mistakes for the offensive line. Those should be gone. If the Gators can’t get a decent run game going in this game, they’re not going to this year.

If the Florida offensive and defensive lines are going to show that they can fulfill their potential, they have no better opportunity than 4 o’clock in the Swamp on Saturday.