Since arriving at Florida, coach Will Muschamp has strived to establish a power-running offense that can dominate the line of scrimmage.
Now halfway through his third season with the Gators, both the offensive and defensive lines have struggled to maintain that identity.
Against Missouri on Saturday, the Gators (4-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) allowed the Tigers to gash them for 205 yards on the ground.
While the defensive line struggled, Florida could not get any protection on offense, allowing Mizzou to sack quarterback Tyler Murphy six times.
“First year, we were a little, you know, handcuffed, as far as where we were and what we were trying to do,” Muschamp said. “But certainly this year, I felt like that we would have played a little better at this point.”
Florida shook up its starting offensive line in Columbia, Mo. Sophomore D.J. Humphries, who started UF’s first six games at left tackle, sat out the opening drive. Instead, Muschamp played redshirt junior Max Garcia on the outside. Garcia had spent most of the season at left guard.
In Garcia’s place on Saturday was redshirt senior Kyle Koehne, who has been praised for his ability to play multiple positions on the line.
But on Wednesday, Muschamp emphasized the need to nail down the starters on the line.
“We need to settle on a five and let those guys play,” he said. “Right now.”
Muschamp said he expects Humphries to be among those five players, but another tackle’s job may be in danger.
Redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore struggled against Missouri’s pass rush on Saturday — especially when he was matched up against defensive end Michael Sam.
Muschamp said he would try to get Trenton Brown some reps. Brown, a 6-foot-8, 361-pound lineman who transferred from Georgia Military College, has been listed as the second-string right tackle since the start of the season.
Muschamp said freshman Octavius Jackson may also get a chance to see some action on the field.
“We’re better than what we put on the field the last two weeks,” Muschamp said.
But while the offensive line is underperforming, the defensive line is trying to just stay healthy.
Muschamp said on the SEC Coaches Weekly Media Teleconference that the defense had only 13 healthy players last weekend. Linebacker Ronald Powell (ankle) and defensive lineman Damien Jacobs (head) missed Saturday’s game after suffering injuries against LSU on Oct. 12.
“We’ve got a couple of bumps and bruises, but nothing that’s serious,” Muschamp said.
He said he expects both Powell and Jacobs to return to practice in the next week.
The defense has been ailing since losing starting defensive tackle Dominique Easley, surrendering an average of 164 rushing yards in its last three games.
Despite Florida’s struggles stopping the ground game, the Gators still rank 12th in the nation in rush defense — a testament to their early-season dominance.
After LSU ran for 175 yards against UF — the most by any team to that point — defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said the key to the loss was the Tigers’ ability to physically dominate the Gators near the line. That problem reared its head three days later in Missouri.
“It was one of those things that kind of trickled down,” Durkin said on Oct. 16.
“We weren’t winning at the line of scrimmage.”
Follow Adam Lichtenstein on Twitter @ALichtenstein24.