Offensive line paved way to victory

Offensive line paved way to victory

There were laughs in the Florida huddle. Quarterback Jeff Driskel would come to the offense on the field, bark out a play and linemen started snickering. Surprise wasn't important to the offense because LSU knew what was coming. It was a run, followed by a run. And then another. It was an ideal night for the Florida offensive line, as the unit wore down a respected LSU defense on the way to a win.

"It's an offensive lineman's dream," Florida guard Jon Halapio said. "In the offseason, we trained for moments like this. We felt like, as an offensive lineman, that LSU was tired. Their defense was very tired towards the end. We just out-physicaled them."

The offensive line could see it in the opposition's eyes. The Gators would break the huddle and jog to the line, where an LSU sporting two future first-round defensive ends had hands on waists and gasping for breath.

Halapio remembered jogging to the ball in the second half and seeing LSU defensive tackle Josh Downs with a look of exhaustion on his face, even calling him "dead tired." The exhaustion for the LSU defense came as Florida continued to pound the ball on the ground. Once it happened, the Gators weren't going to back off.

"Everything was just falling into place," Halapio said. "The offensive line was just running off the ball. Everyone was finishing blocks. Pancakes here, pancakes there. Knockouts here."

There was no reason to go away from the run. The Gators ran the ball on their last 25 offensive plays of the game and 30 of the final 31. Florida didn't throw a pass with the lead on Saturday.

Driskel's final passing attempt came on a screen pass to Omarius Hines with just over four minutes left in the third quarter. Mike Gillislee scored on the next play to give the Gators a 7-6 lead, and the ball would stay on the ground until the clock ran out.

"That's what we were looking for," Halapio said. "Taking time off the clock and letting the defense rest."

The build up for the showdown with LSU actually started on October 8, 2011. The Florida team sat in the locker room of Tiger Stadium after a 41-11 beating that felt like more than a 30-point beating. It wasn't just a defeat. It was destruction. Florida couldn't do what it wanted on either side of the ball while the Tigers executed to perfection.

It was embarrassing for the Gators.

They set out to make sure that Saturday wouldn't be like that. Not in their stadium. Not with the foundation they have been building.

"There was a whole bunch of regret left in that LSU stadium last year," Halapio said. "We definitely didn't want to feel like we were going to lose this game."

The talk all week was about the offensive line being challenged. It didn't look good in the first half, as Mike Gillislee rushed 12 times for 34 yards as the Gators struggled to get going on offense.

The second half showed a different unit, largely because of their stamina and focused effort towards running the football. The perception of it being an important game for the offensive line wasn't preached at practice throughout the week anymore than usual. It's always the focus.

"Not this week. It's 365 days," Muschamp said of challenging his line.

When the clock hit zeros and the game was over, the win was the important part. But there was a sense of satisfaction for the offensive line in the day that Gillislee had. The senior running back had a career high 34 touches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third game with two touchdowns this season.

"It really is," Florida center Jonotthan Harrison said of Gillislee's stats making it worth it for the linemen. "We don't need the 50 touchdowns at the end of the game. The win is the win. The yards show and that's what we get excited about."

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