Gators getting running game in gear

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Florida running back Jordan Scarlett follows his blockers for a few yards pickup during the second half against Mississippi State in their Sept. 29 game in Starkville. Florida won 13-6. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

After getting manhandled up front in the loss to Kentucky on Sept. 8, it appeared Florida’s offensive line and running backs were headed for a long and potentially unproductive season again.

The arrow was clearly pointing down for the Gators’ running game.

Now, it’s just as clearly pointing up.

Like the other aspects of Florida’s offense, there has been steady change and improvement in the running game over the course of the season. The line has been more assertive and physical, the running backs have been finding the holes and hitting them.

The results have been pretty impressive.

Since rushing for only 128 yards in the loss to the Wildcats, the Gators have averaged 209 yards rushing a game, including a 215-yard performance against one of the nation’s strongest defensive fronts (LSU) three weeks ago and a season-high 292-yard effort against Vanderbilt two weeks ago.

The offensive line and the running game have gone from a troubling question mark to a potential team strength.

How has this happened?

“I think it’s just guys understanding the scheme a little bit better, both the backs and the quarterbacks, understanding what plays to get us into and how to check us into the right plays,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Our coaches, just finding what our guys do well and making sure we’re putting them in position to be successful. But more importantly, I think it’s the line being comfortable with the schemes we’re blocking and the backs being comfortable with how the plays are supposed to hit.”

Whatever it is, the Gators have started having consistent success in the running game, something that was missing earlier in the season and for most of all of last season.

Jordan Scarlett, Lamical Perine and true freshman Dameon Pierce have made the running back position perhaps the most productive in an ever improving offense. They have combined to rush for 1,052 yards and eight touchdowns and are averaging 6.5 yards a carry.

“They have really come on,” Mullen said of the running backs. “They’re starting to get real comfortable in our offense and how to run the plays within the offense and how plays hit in our offense.

“I’ve seen a huge step from those guys from game one to now. Hopefully, they’ll continue that confidence and that progression to keep moving in the right direction.”

Scarlett said the backs and line have started to mesh.

“Just the whole offense, just believing in what we can do,” Scarlett said. “The offensive line is sticking together, working together and we’re working together with them in sync.”

The veteran offensive line was supposed to be a team strength last season, but wasn’t. After that UK game, it looked like it might be more of the same this season.

But the big guys have finally come together and are starting to play up to expectations.

“They’ve gotten a lot better,” Scarlett said. “They improve every day, working hard every day. It’s really just a matter of knowing what you’ve got to do and knowing your assignment. They can execute and block any guy in front of them. It’s just really knowing what we’ve got to do.”

Offensive line coach John Hevesy is one of those coaches who are hard to please. But even he seems happy with the progress that’s been made in the running game and on the offensive line.

“It’s getting better,” Hevesy said of the running game. “We’ve gotten better slowly each week. We’ve just got to keep maintaining that mentality. To win in this league and to win in this game (with Georgia), you absolutely have to be able to run the ball well to help the passing game.

“It’s a mentality. It’s slowly building up with (the offensive linemen) understanding that part of being physical up front and knocking people back and worry about the linebacker later. Just take care of down linemen.

“They’re getting better. I’m pleased. I’ll give it that. But we still have a long way to go.”

The offensive line — and the running game — is facing another tough challenge in Jacksonville on Saturday. The Bulldogs’ are fast and physical up front and will be determined to shut down UF’s run and put the game in the hands of quarterback Feleipe Franks.

The Gators, of course, want to avoid that by establishing a steady ground game again and taking some of the pressure off Franks and the passing game.

“We have to be physical up front and set the tone,” senior offensive guard Tyler Jordan said. “If we can punch these guys in the mouth, we’ve got to keep going. We can’t punch these guys in the mouth and stall out. We have to be consistent all day.

“They’re a physical team and they’re strong. You can see that on film. I think that they’ve got some talented guys up front. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but we love challenges.”

 

17 COMMENTS

  1. The O-line’s improvement stuns me. After watching the UK game, I was certain the offense would be near the bottom again and we might win only 3 or 4 games. But we hired a solid successful head coach who hired a most complementary staff and future seasons would hopefully be promising better things. Thankfully, better things came in each of the next five weeks. The o-line has improved almost miraculously, with the RB’s being the beneficiaries of better blocking up front, and in turn, Franks has grown into a better QB than most people imagined. Who among the Gator Nation wouldn’t love to watch Florida run the ball down UGA’s throat? Kirby Smart might say he isn’t surprised by the Gators’ improvement, but I bet a lot of his players might find it a shock shortly after kickoff. Yeah, I like the Gators chances against Georgia now, where five weeks ago I wasn’t sure if I could even watch the game without covering my eyes like in a horror flick. Gators 27 Muttdawgs 20

  2. Ga.will certainly be a challenge for us on Saturday but one that we are fully up to.
    Our O Line is starting to move people off the line and to make bigger holes for our RB’s.
    From 128 yards to 292 yards rushing is major growth in just a couple of months.
    Look for Scarlett, Perine and Pierce to rush for over 200 yards and receive for over 100 yards and be the deciding factor in our 24-21 win.
    Go Gators!

    • Lakeland,
      I hope you are correct, but I think that loss to LSU is going to end up being our downfall. I believe if UGA was still undefeated we would win, but just as LSU’s loss to us motivated LSU to beat UGA, Georgia now has no room for error and will play like it.

  3. UGA will be a challenge for us, but NOT NEAR what people think. Who is their SIGNATURE win ?? Mizzou, USC? Gimme a break. They are no where near last years’ team. Fromm is mediocre. The running game carried them last year and they have had injuries on the OL recently. Their D is un-impressive, and they are only decent at pressuring the QB. We are finally seeing that Coach Smart is nothing special. Seriously, get your benz tickets now. 11-1 … I cannot believe we are already back….

    • we dont need to say a lot and our guys know it. not because they dont want to arouse Georgia, thats not a big deal, but because our guys are watching for georgia, and the wise ole alligator knows not to show that open mouth to the dog until he gets close enough to be chomped on. if the dog tries to run away the alligator is faster, but its hard to chase someone with your mouth open. the only thing the dog can do in a race with a gator is lindsay scott and get tim groves to slip and get a miracle victory that way.

  4. I almost forgot about “does a duck pull a truck” smack talk about Tennessee’s chances of beaten us and then we go and loss to Tennessee. I know were 3 days away but I like how we aren’t hearing any smack talking from the Gators. this is feeling like the YEAR AFTER knowshon morreno scored that td and all the Georgia players stormed the field. we got our revenge by murdering them 49-10 and urban lier calling those T.O.’s at the end of the game. I hope these Gators have that same revenge/payback mode those gators had in 2008.

  5. It’s one of the many reasons to expect a close game. Dan Mullen has talked about how the team has found a way to win different games. They will need that resourcefulness in Jax to come out victorious.

    The Georgia defense should be careful for what they wish for in testing Franks’ arm.

  6. I agree mtn2top, I expect to see more of Franks arm than we have seen up to this point in the season because I think Kirby will sell out to try and stop our run game and dare Franks to try and win the game throwing the ball. I also think that CDM has refrained from throwing vertical a lot so far for several reasons, partly because of trust factor with Franks and him learning our offense / reading opposing defenses , partly because its not really a major part of his offensive philosophy ( he would rather throw 5-20 yard passes and play ball control while resting his defense ), and maybe partly because he’s been saving a few things for when he was more comfortable with Frank’s grasp of things and in tune with his sense of timing for same ( which is outstanding btw ). Saturday afternoon is the time for our talented group of receivers and TE’s to step up and ball out as they should see a LOT of man on man with single safety coverage, at least until Franks proves to them that its not worth the risk. That’s the thing about our offense, is that while we may not have any “superstars”, we have so many very good skill position players that can hurt you in so many ways with a good imaginative play caller which we now have. Franks was the weak link coming into the year and he has gotten SOOO much better. I can’t wait to see what Dan has up his sleeve for the dogs! GO GATORS ! WHOOOP THEM DOGS GOOD !