No. 17 Florida counting on better O-line play vs Michigan
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida coach Jim McElwain has no plans to relive his team's last game against Michigan.
He doesn't want to see his offensive line get pushed around, tossed aside and ''physically dominated'' again.
''I'm not sure we still have it in the system,'' McElwain deadpanned. ''I think I threw up all over it.''
The Gators lost 41-7 to the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl to end McElwain's first season in Gainesville. It was the program's most lopsided loss in two decades and its second-worst defeat in bowl history. Little, if anything, went right for Florida that day in Orlando.
The thing that stood out to McElwain - still does nearly 20 months later - was the futility of his offensive line. McElwain is eager to see how much the unit has improved when the 17th-ranked Gators open the season against No. 11 Michigan in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.
''I like where we're at,'' McElwain said. ''But to me that's going to be the tell-tale of everything we do.''
It should be the key matchup in a game filled with unknowns . This much is certain: Florida's linemen are ready to change public perception of their past performances and erase any lingering memories from that last outing against the Wolverines.
''Personally, I'm sick of it,'' guard Fred Johnson said. ''I'm so tired of it. It's going to be there and it's going to be a factor until we change it. ... We're ready to prove people wrong.''
Johnson and his teammates get their first shot Saturday against a defensive line anchored by highly touted sophomore Rashan Gary and fifth-year senior Maurice Hurst. Even though the Wolverines lost defensive linemen Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow to the NFL draft, they expect the line to be stabilizing force for a rebuilt defense.
McElwain has praised his O-line repeatedly and even called it the strength of the team. That raised eyebrows considering the unit was manhandled by Florida State and Alabama in each of the last two years and failed to do much to help create a consistent offensive attack.
Sure, quarterback play has been Florida's main issue for nearly a decade. But the team's inability to protect quarterbacks and open holes for running backs has been equally burdening.
Despite insisting they would be dramatically better on offense last year, the Gators ranked last in the Southeastern Conference and 116th in the nation in total yards. Line play was such a concern that even after beating Iowa in the Outback Bowl, McElwain made it clear that the unit needed to become more physical in the offseason.
McElwain hired journeyman line coach Brad Davis to replace Mike Summers and bring new energy to a stale room.
Davis implored to his guys to get closer off the field, so they started eating weekly meals together, going on fishing trips and even staying for extra repetitions after practice.
''Most people were bashing us the last two years,'' left tackle Martez Ivey said. ''Now they think we're the strong point of the offense and we're supposed to carry the load. We're not going to shock ourselves.''
Coaches and players swear the line has improved. But the only way to show it is on the field against Michigan.
The last meeting was a one-sided affair. The Wolverines outgained Florida 270-28 in the second half, with the Gators getting one first down in four possessions and failing to get even close to midfield.
''I still think about it,'' Johnson said. ''I didn't even want to look at the scoreboard. But, yeah, that's on everybody's mind just to prove ourselves, like, `We can do this.'"
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