Florida Missouri Football

Florida head coach Dan Mullen watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Quarterback Kyle Trask has an array of weapons to get the ball to. Receivers Trevon Grimes, Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland are all lengthy, athletic targets. They run crisp routes and have good ball skills.

Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond are two of the best possession receivers in the country and are trustworthy leaders and playmakers.

Tight end Kyle Pitts leads the Gators in receiving with 566 yards, and at 6-foot-6, leaving a slow linebacker or an undersized safety on him in man coverage over the middle is a fool’s errand.

Running back Lamical Perine isn’t having a very productive season on the ground, but he’s great out of the backfield, leading SEC backs in receptions.

And, if all else fails, Trask can dish it in the flat to all-purpose player Kadarius Toney, who has no qualms about breaking a defense’s collective ankles en route to a big gain.

With all these pieces, it’s no wonder UF’s passing offense averages 292.3 yards per game — more than any Tim Tebow-led squad.

Yet, despite gaining 176 yards in the first half on Saturday against Missouri, all Florida managed in the period was six points off two Evan McPherson field goals.

It’s an all-too-familiar tale for the Gators. Trask is third in the SEC in passing touchdowns and yards per attempt, but overall production is still limited, and there’s one primary reason why: poor offensive line play.

The Tigers have a good front seven, and they disrupted UF’s offensive schedule.

Trask was sacked four times by Mizzou, which contributed to Florida's abysmal conversion rate on third down (3 of 14). Still, Trask had a good game through the air, tossing two touchdowns and 282 yards as the Gators pulled away in the second half for a 23-6 win.

But, per usual, shoddy run protection forced Florida into a one-dimensional game plan.

The Gators had just 85 sack-adjusted rushing yards, and most of that came from quarterback Emory Jones and Toney (who combined for 56). Running backs Perine, Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis totaled just 23 yards on nine carries. Florida can’t run the ball up the middle, and that forces a struggling O-line to give Trask time to make plays, which it often can’t.

These shortcomings were predictable; an already thin unit lost guard Christopher Bleich to the transfer portal two weeks ago and now starts redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige. The line’s sixth man and only regular rotational player is true freshman Ethan White, who can line up inside or outside but has struggled at times.

The line improved consistently throughout the season last year under offensive line coach John Hevesy, but after the exodus of four starters, it has clearly taken a step back. The unit hasn’t progressed much this season, and it’s the most glaring weakness on an otherwise talented roster.

Against inferior teams like the Tigers, that leads to 6-3 halftime scores before the dam eventually breaks. But against elite teams like LSU and Georgia, O-line incompetence is the difference between a win and a loss. 

And as long as the group tasked with protecting Trask can’t block the latter, a date with the College Football Playoff will remain a pipe dream.

Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno. Contact him at [email protected]

Tyler Nettuno is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida men's basketball team. He has previously covered UF golf and lacrosse. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.