ARLINGTON, Texas — This is supposed to be the year.
After several seasons of inconsistent and at times dreadful offensive line play, Florida’s most criticized position group — other than quarterback — was expected to turn the corner in 2017.
This wasn’t just offseason coach speak, although we heard plenty of it from Jim McElwain. The third-year Gators coach touted his improved O-line throughout summer and fall camp, but so did others.
With four starters returning and some upperclassmen now in the lineup, multiple college football analysts — most notably SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic and Marcus Spears — believed Florida could field one of the best offensive lines in the SEC.
“They physically took it to us. Give them their due,” McElwain said Saturday after Florida’s 33-17 loss to Michigan at AT&T Stadium.
“I thought we had a good plan, obviously. And then as it turned out, the plan was pretty well foiled by getting physically whooped by big, strong guys.”
The Gators managed just 11 yards rushing on 27 carries. Other than a 16-yard scramble by quarterback Feleipe Franks, the offense didn’t have a run longer than 8 yards.
Franks and backup QB Malik Zaire were sacked a total of six times. Their combined stat line was OK in the passing game (14 of 26 for 181 yards), but they ran for their life all night.
“They beat us every which way they could up front and we never had an answer,” McElwain said. “Our quarterbacks obviously didn’t play great. You usually don’t play great when you’re playing off your back foot, so we’ve got to do some things that way that’ll help.”
But in Year 3, what really can Florida do about its offensive line woes?
McElwain replaced veteran O-line coach Mike Summers after last season with Brad Davis, who was tasked with making the Gators play with more physicality and toughness up front.
Davis, who has the coaching style McElwain wants, obviously can’t be judged on his first game — and these aren’t his players.
If we give Davis the benefit of the doubt and assume coaching isn’t the issue, could it be the physical development of Florida’s linemen?
When asked what it will take to improve their play, this was McElwain’s response.
“Well, we’ve got to make sure we’re doing what we’re doing in the weight room,” he said.
Florida left tackle Martez Ivey declined to respond to McElwain’s “whooped” statement. While McElwain gave the Wolverines their props, Ivey focused his comments on what Florida did poorly.
“Next question,” Ivey said when asked if he was surprised by Michigan’s dominance. “We’re still confident, that’s for sure. I know how well we’re going to be if we do our jobs and execute and do what we’re taught.
“It wasn’t nothing they came up with that we couldn’t block. We just didn’t stick to the fundamentals and the basics. It wasn’t really that there were people we couldn’t block.”
It sure looked that way Saturday. Perhaps Rashan Gary & Co. will be one of the best defensive lines Florida faces this year. Maybe those anticipated strides begin to show up once the Gators get into SEC play.
The season opener, however, wasn’t promising.
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