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Florida Gators X-Factor vs. LSU: Offensive Line

The Florida Gators X-Factor for their trip to Baton Rouge is the production and efficiency from their offensive line in the chaotic road environment.

The Florida Gators travel into enemy territory for the second time this season to take on the LSU Tigers in their yearly cross-divisional matchup.

Currently slated as 12.5-point favorites over the Bayou Bengals, Florida should be everything but cocky when going into Death Valley due to their mistakes this year and last.

Given a chance to overcome the sins of their past on Saturday, Dan Mullen’s squad will have to control the trenches to ensure they avoid another letdown.

That is why the AllGators’ X-Factor for Florida's matchup with LSU is the offensive line.

Despite the widespread understanding that the identity for the Gators offense in 2021 would be its rushing attack, the UF offensive line was considered the worst position group by outsiders — myself included — across the board.

However, to give credit where credit is due, big men up front have proved to be ready for the uphill challenge of continuously raising the bar for how good the unit could become by the season’s end.

Led by offensive line coach John Hevesy, pieces were mixed and matched to near-perfection in the offseason.

He would establish continuity by retaining Stewart Reese and Jean Delance at the right guard and tackle position. But, former left guard Richard Gouraige would kick outside to left tackle, groomed junior Ethan White would take his old spot and Kingsley Eguakun — who was a familiar face for quarterback Emory Jones — would become a first-year starter at center.

The group has worked relatively well together to this point, despite injuries taking a piece or two out of the lineup from time to time throughout the season.

As a result, Florida sits as the No. 3 rushing offense in the entire NCAA, behind only Air Force and Army. 

The Gators have rushed for nearly 274 yards per game in 2021. They also boast the best yards per attempt average in college football at 6.67.

Controlling the trenches has been a strong point for the Gators so far this season and has played a prominent role in their successes thus far into the year.

On the other side of the coin, it has been the reason for their letdowns — or at least the most notable one.

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Traveling to Lexington, Kentucky, for an annual SEC East showdown with Mark Stoops’ Wildcats, Florida would be greeted by a hostile crowd for the first time all season.

Having barely escaped upset losses in their last two appearances on the road versus UK, the Gators were going to have to silence a raucous atmosphere with the newly created methodical rushing attack.

They were unable to do so.

Instead, the same offensive line that was praised for its early-season efforts — specifically the dominance against the powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide in week three — was ridiculed for their constant miscommunication in their first true road test of the season.

They plagued the Gators’ offense with several self-inflicted wounds and were to blame for a large portion of UF’s 15 penalties for 115 yards against the Wildcats.

Getting a shot at retribution when traveling into Baton Rouge on Saturday, the Gators offensive line will be called upon to dictate the game, especially with the missing pieces across the lineup for LSU’s defense.

Namely, the trench monsters will have to be efficient and consistent in opening rushing lanes for Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, Nay’Quan Wright, Emory Jones, Anthony Richardson and anyone else the Gators decide to let tote the rock on Saturday.

Meanwhile, their duties in pass protection are equally as important. With Mullen not wanting his conservativeness to cost the Gators another game, Florida will likely look to push the ball downfield from time to time against a Derek Stingley and Eli Ricks-less Tigers secondary.

Jones — and possibly Richardson — will need time in the pocket to allow the plays to develop and hoping to see receivers like Jacob Copeland run open.

Florida is two games back in the East and cannot afford to lose any more contests if they hope to remain mathematically in contention for a return to Atlanta, despite the craziness that would have to ensue for that to happen.

LSU — albeit depleted on both sides of the ball — built the confidence last season that they can take down the Gators when the two square off head to head no matter the circumstances.

To win, and do so in the fashion they should, the offensive line will have to remain fundamentally sound amidst the chaos of Tiger Stadium.

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