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Published: Thursday, 8/29/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

UT ROCKET FOOTBALL

Rockets’ inexperienced line prepares to wrestle Gators

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Elliott Elliott
HANDOUT NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

If this was battle of the bands and not football, you might call Florida’s offensive line Motley Crue and University of Toledo’s defensive line New Kids on the Block.

The tussle in the trenches Saturday between an eclectic front and a group of teenagers promises to be an intriguing clash, one that Toledo coach Matt Campbell predicts could swing the pendulum one way or the other at Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The Gators are without two line starters because of injury, weakening a ground attack also absent of its top rusher. Their counterpart is a defensive front with six first or second-year players. Among them is a freshman starter who didn’t turn 18 until Sunday.

“That’s certainly going to be a great factor in this game,” Campbell said. “Here’s a very talented offensive front with what they have coming back. They’re physical. They do a great job. I’m really excited to see what we have on the defensive line.”

In a nutshell, here is what Campbell has on the defensive line: Four starters, all whom will be making his first career start.

Senior end Jayrone Elliott, who is being commanded for the first time to be an every down threat, is the only projected starter to have played significantly.

Sophomore tackles Orion Jones and Chris Collins transition from minor roles.

Freshman Marquise Moore, the youngest player on the team, will make his college debut in front of 88,000-plus fans pantomiming gator chomps with their arms.

Such is the barren reservoir for a unit that graduated six seniors and lost starter Elijah Jones this summer to a blood clot. Jones is out indefinitely.

A heavy rotation, much like one seen early last season before a rash of injuries hit, will bring others into the mix such as former starter Christian Smith, sophomores Allen Covington and Robert Zimmerman, and freshman Treyvon Hester.

Zimmerman, who has been out of football for a year, has never played in a college game. Neither has Hester, who enrolled at UT a year ago but was forbidden to practice until this preseason because of academics.

Others trying to break the rotation are Ray Bush — who will get work at linebacker — and veterans Grant Pleasant and Keenen Gibbs. Those three appeared in one 2012 contest among them.

“Being the first game of the season, and it’s going to be hot, we might have to deal with cramps and stuff like that,” said Smith, who lost his junior season a year ago to an ACL tear in the fifth game. “We try to keep a lot of people fresh. You have to prepare if you’re a second-team player just like you’re a first-team player.”

No one is shedding tears for Florida’s attrition on the offensive line, not with understudies that appear capable.

Out are starters on the right side, guard Jon Halapio and tackle Chaz Green. Between them, they started 44 of a possible 52 games the past two years. Stepping in are senior guard Kyle Koehne, who has appeared in 39 contests, and sophomore tackle Tyler Moore, who started four times in 2011 with Nebraska.

The other three line starters are boulders. Center Jonotthan Harrison has started 27 games. Left guard Max Garcia started every game in 2011 with Maryland. Left tackle D.J. Humphries was the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit in 2012, according to Rivals.com.

They will try to push around an inexperienced Toledo front and create running lanes for a host of backs filling in for injured starter Matt Jones.

“They have a really good offensive line,” Toledo’s Collins said. “Being in the [Southeastern Conference] they go against top competition every week. It will be good to see what we can do against them.”

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.



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