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Gators center Jon Harrison and Florida's offensive line have a big task on Saturday against LSU's defensive line.

Wednesday October 3, 2012Key Matchup: Gators' Offensive Line vs. LSU's Defensive Line

Gators center Jon Harrison and Florida's offensive line have a big task on Saturday against LSU's defensive line.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After Gators coach Will Muschamp made an opening statement Wednesday during his weekly appearance on the SEC media teleconference, the first question he took concerned LSU's revamped offensive line.

The query offered a brief interval for Muschamp. Many of the questions Muschamp has faced from the media heading into Saturday's game against No. 4-ranked LSU concern Florida's offensive line.

While the Gators' line has played well during their 4-0 start, the unit hasn't played a defensive line as talented or deep as LSU's. They might not again this season.

If you need evidence of how much attention the Gators are paying to the Tigers' defensive front, consider Muschamp's response to the second question he took on Wednesday's conference call.

You guessed it, one about LSU's talented defensive line.

"That front right there is impressive,'' Muschamp said. "Whether it's Mingo, Edwards, Johnson, Downs, Logan, Ferguson, Montgomery, it don’t matter. They all can run. They can rush the passer. They play with great motors. You’ve to maintain blocks versus these guys. They don’t stay blocked long.”

Obviously Muschamp has studied LSU's depth chart as he reeled off the last names of seven of LSU's top eight defensive linemen. He skipped past reserve defensive end Ego Ferguson, but that's understandable considering how many players LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has to roll in and out.

"You block this front you've done something,'' Muschamp said.

The Gators hope to do something Saturday afternoon at The Swamp. And much of the dirty work will fall onto the shoulders of Florida's offensive line.

The Gators' line is also revamped, more along the lines of physique than personnel.

A year ago in a 41-11 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, the Gators got beat up along the line of scrimmage on both sides. Offensively, Florida managed only 213 yards and nine first downs.

Little worked on a frustrating day for Muschamp.

“We weren’t physical enough on the line of scrimmage to compete and play in this league,’’ Muschamp said Wednesday. “Our depth was part of that issue.”

The Gators are confident they are better prepared to handle the load that is LSU's defensive front this year.

Part of that renewed faith in the offensive line is due to a growth in numbers and chest measurements. Due to a lack of depth and injuries, the Gators often had only seven or eight scholarship linemen available at times last season. That number has grown, allowing the Gators to hold more physical practices.

And after a spring and summer in the weight room under the direction of first-year strength-and-conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman, Florida's offensive linemen are noticeably bigger with the implementation of an Olympic-style lifting program aimed to build core and lower-body strength. First-year offensive line coach Tim Davis has also added a charge into the unit with his high-energy approach.

"We’re practicing more now the way I see us moving forward and the way I wanted to from the get-go,’’ Muschamp said. “You can’t talk about being physical. You’ve got to practice physical.”

Next up is to play physical on Saturday.

Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease said recently that he views the offensive line as the Gators' strength early in the season. There might not be a debate if Florida can hold off LSU's defense.

While the Gators have been without redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (pectoral strain) all season, they enter Saturday's game relatively healthy. Offensive tackle Chaz Green is expected back after missing time with an ankle injury, and freshman left tackle D.J. Humphries is starting to emerge behind starter Xavier Nixon.

The interior line of left guard James Wilson, center Jon Harrison and right guard Jon Halapio has been solid, and key reserve Kyle Koehne can fill in at all five positions. Sam Robey, Ian Silberman and true freshman Jessamen Dunker provide depth that was lacking a year ago.

Harrison is ready to line up and see how the Gators stack up against one of the most talented defenses in the country.

"We’re going against some better athletes, but we, especially as an offensive line, we’ve come a far ways from last year,” Harrison said. “We’re more meshed as a unit. We’ve been working this whole offseason for a situation like this.''

So has Muschamp.

All those questions he has taken lately about Florida's offensive line could be easier to answer come Saturday night.


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