It wasn’t just that Florida’s offensive line committed penalties (those happen), but rather the timing of the penalties that really hurt a team that plays with a small margin for error. These procedural penalties surprised Florida head coach Billy Napier.
“To be quite honest, I was surprised by that,” Napier said. “We had played pretty clean football in scrimmage and practice settings. We had done significant crowd noise work. So those were surprising. I really felt confident that our team was ready to play.”
The issue began on the first drive of the game against Utah. Florida found themselves in a favorable 3rd and 1 situation on their own 28-yard line when right tackle Damieon George was flagged for a false start.
Later in the game, on a crucial 4th and 1 at the Utah nine-yard line, Florida was flagged for a false start, leading to a missed field goal.
Starting left tackle Austin Barber echoed the sentiment of his head coach that these mistakes were not expected.
“We’ve been putting in the work every single day through training camp and the weeks of practice leading up to this game,” Barber stated. “This is not what we thought we were going to do. We just have to learn from it.”
Starting center Kingsley Eguakun was injured late in fall camp and attempted to play against the Utes, but Jake Slaughter made his first start at center as Eguakun was unable to go. Barber does not use Slaughter’s first start as an excuse for the offensive line’s performance.
“I had a penalty, so if you see the penalties, I’ll take the blame. That’s nothing Jake did. I need to be more locked in. I think Jake played a pretty good game. Obviously, you don’t want to go and have all these penalties in your first start. You can’t blame him for it. You didn’t see him have the penalties. It’s hard to come in against a ranked opponent in your first start. My first game was Utah, and I played seven snaps. There was one play where I went the complete wrong way.”
“It was a big learning curve for Jake, but Barber believes he will embrace it and learn from it. “He’s a guy that’s always in the building watching film. He’s locked in. He knows he wants to do this. I have all the confidence in Jake.”
Utah is a tough place to play, and an offensive line with limited game reps together only makes it harder. However, Barber says the issues were internal. “In my opinion, we just weren’t totally locked in. I think things like that are something we can learn from and not let happen in the upcoming games. A lot of those penalties were self-inflicted. Sometimes it’s just what we have to fix. I think we’re going to do a good job of fixing it.”
Overall, with penalties and execution, the Florida offensive line took a step back from where they were last season, but Barber believes they will get there.
“I think that’s where you want to be, one of the top offensive lines in the country. That’s how you succeed. I think we’ll get back to that level. It’s the first game, and there are a few new faces on the offensive line. I’m confident in every single one of the people in that room. I’m not pointing any fingers. It’s all of us. I think we’ll be back to that level.”