The SEC is changing. Gone are the days where you absolutely, positively needed to pound the football on the ground to win the game — Alabama was proof of that in 2018.
You do, however, need to have a running game in order to avoid becoming one-dimensional — in Dan Mullen’s offense, especially, where the passing game is predicating off establishing the run. Right now the Gators aren’t one-dimensional, but they’re heading in that direction.
Florida has the SEC’s 12th ranked rushing offense (139.67 yards per game). Of the Gators’ 419 rushing yards barely more than half (218) have come from running backs. In Florida’s lone SEC game last week against Kentucky the Gators rushed for 138 yards but 76 of those yards came on a jet sweep to Josh Hammond. If you take that one explosive run out of the equation Florida rushed for 62 yards on 26 carries — just 2.38 per carry.
That’s not cutting it.
After the game, Mullen was asked about the rushing attack against Kentucky being lackluster and he brushed it off.
“I think part of it was you look at what they were doing and the passing game didn’t struggle. What we’ve got to do is just take what they give us. As you get into the flow of the game, they were going to let us throw it. We threw it. And so sometimes that’s just how it goes,” he said following Florida’s win. “You’ve got to adapt. I mean I love being balanced, right? We threw it 30 times, ran it 27. Somewhat balanced. Obviously you always like to tip the scales on the side of the run, that’s me, I love to run the ball. But if you’re going to sit there and let us throw it and say, ‘We’re not going to let you run it,’ we’ll throw it.”
The line had a particularly rough go of it early on against Kentucky with a miscommunication lading to a sack-fumble as Feleipe Franks was in the process of throwing to a wide-open receiver. Later in the game another breakdown on 4th and 1 caused Franks to turn and scramble, he was ultimately tackled, dislocated his ankle and was lost for the season.
“It makes me sick to my stomach. It still does,” Hevesy said Tuesday. “He got hit. He got hit early on with the fumble that was just a miscommunication, which to me is unacceptable. Not the noise. It’s not a major thing, but just miscommunication upfront of it’s three-down or four-down. That’s one thing to me jumping out.”
Communication and familiarity are the two most important things on the offensive line. The line is only as good as their weakest link and the sum of all of their parts. All it takes is one person to not pick up their assignment to completely blow up a play. A receiver could run the wrong route and nobody would know but when an offensive lineman misses a block it’s on display for everyone watching.
“They gotta be able to communicate better upfront to do that. It’s not that anybody got physically beat. It’s a communication error,” Hevesy said. “The greatest thing is it’s correctable. We just gotta do a better job, especially in a situation when they’re moving in and out of things.”
Hevesy made some changes last week but they were brief. Redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige entered the game at left tackle with Stone Forsythe sliding from left to right tackle. Hevesy’s thought process there was simple. Forsythe has been on campus for four seasons and has played on both sides of the line. Gouraige practiced at left guard most of his redshirt freshman season before transitioning to tackle. The younger player was more comfortable on the left side, so it was the natural move. That doesn’t mean Hevesy will be making wholesale changes on the line just yet.
Still, something has to change. Florida needs to run the ball better and more efficiently than they have. Yes, turnovers hurt them against Miami and led to only running 55 plays. The following week against UT Martin the Gators’ total rushing stats look good with 231 yards but for most of the first quarter, Florida tried, unsuccessfully, to get the running game going and ended up putting up 148 of the 231 in the second half when the game was already cooked and served.
There are answers to be had. Only three games into the season the staff is protecting a young offensive line publically but it’s plain to see that they need to get better. They were able to in 2018, progressing throughout the season into a very solid unit. It’s up to Hevesy to get that same kind of production with this line.