The Florida Gators offensive line is hearing it all. They’ve heard it from fans, critics and they’ve certainly heard it from their coaching staff. Dan Mullen was as exasperated publically as he’s been all year following Florida’s win over Towson last week.
Mullen blasted his offensive line’s mental approach and attitude. The Gators rushed for 160 yards, the second-highest total of the season, but Towson came into the game allowing 222.5 yards-per-game on the ground.
“I push plenty of buttons. (John) Hevesy pushes lots of buttons,” Mullen said after the game. We get after guys. They’ve got to know a sense of urgency. They’re not bad guys. They may work hard. They’re good guys. They try to put in the time. What they’ve got to understand is what putting in the time means. ‘Hey, we’ve got practice.’ But what are you doing when you leave here? What extra things are you doing to make sure you’re improving? And making sure they understand what they need to do. What they’re currently doing is not enough.”
Last week the Gators didn’t adjust well to a smaller, quicker Towson defensive front. This week, as does every opponent, brings a different challenge.
“This is probably one of the best one in 15 years I’ve been in this league,” Hevesy said of Auburn’s front four. “That’s one of the best ones I’ve seen just as a group of four or some of the backups, the 2s that go in there there’s not much of a letdown.”
Auburn’s unit had produced three straight SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week before Jeremiah Moon took home the honor last week. Derrick Brown, projected as a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft, Marlon Davidson, and Tyrone Truesdell, lead the group. Auburn’s defense is just behind Florida’s in terms of defending the run. The Gators are second in the SEC (86.8 rushing yards per game allowed) and Auburn third (95.2).
As good as the Gators have been against the run, they haven’t been able to run the ball themselves. Florida is averaging just 141.4 yards per game rushing — 11th in the league and this isn’t the kind of defense you look at and think, “We’ll get the running game going against them.” You’re also not going to roll over and play dead, so this week has been about finding ways to be successful against their defense.
“They’re going to be physical. We have to be just as physical coming back at them,” Hevesy said. “We got to come off the ball and we got …They’re going to try to knock us back, we got to try to knock them back. We have to be great fundamentally. We got to be great playing with our legs and with a base and just be physical back with them.”
It’s a tall ask this week but it has to be done. Florida may be able to scheme around the Auburn defensive front like they were able to in 2018 when they traveled to Starkville and faced the Bulldogs’ bullying defensive line.
There could also be a change in the line this week as well. Against Towson Florida put redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige in at left guard and his production was promising. Gouraige has played at both left tackle and guard this season, but Hevesy explained why he would likely be playing guard moving forward.
“There’s a little less thinking than if you put him out on the edge. You put him in between Stone and Nick so if there’s any kind of communication right now, getting his feet very wet and playing, there’s at least two people on the side of him to help him with any confusion there,” Hevesy said. “So instead of sticking him out there by himself; it’s going to be a little more physical, but it’s less thinking.”
It’s the SEC, so this story could be written any week. The Gators’ offensive line has a challenge this week. They’ll have another next week in Baton Rouge and then in two weeks against Georgia. That’s life in the Southeastern Conference and the attitude that left tackle Stone Forsythe is bringing to the table.
“We just got to bring our hard hats and come to work.”