ORLANDO -- Florida will start four underclassmen -- including a trio of true freshmen -- against No. 17 Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on Friday (1 p.m., ABC).
Despite fading late in the season, the Wolverines rank No. 4 in total defense and No. 3 in passing defense.
“They're outstanding,” UF offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said.
“They're top five in about every major category. The great thing about us, we get to practice against our defense, so that helps to prepare us.”
It didn’t late in the season, though.
For the first half of the year, Florida’s offense was efficient and steady. Its makeshift offensive line slowly gelled, tailback Kelvin Taylor churned out tough yards and former quarterback Will Grier made just enough plays with his arm.
But following Grier’s suspension on Oct. 12, the Gators’ offense stalled and the young line experienced some serious growing pains during the final month of the season. Florida averaged just 14 points in its last five games, scoring a single offensive touchdown against Alabama and Florida State. Quarterback Treon Harris was sacked 10 times in the last two games, and Florida ranks No. 2 nationally in sacks allowed (43).
On Friday, Florida will start freshman Fred Johnson at right tackle in place of suspended senior tackle Mason Halter, and the Royal Palm Beach product will be joined by freshmen guards Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan and sophomore left tackle David Sharpe.
That's a lot of youth against a defense that nearly shutout four-straight opponents earlier in the year.
"Here's the good thing we’ve got some guys that are getting some great reps," Gators coach Jim McElwain said.
“They're going to learn and get a little bit better based on their experience. I look at it as this is bright for the future of the Gators because these are guys that’ll keep getting better. There’s no replacing taking the rep."
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