There have been suspensions, injuries, a mutual parting of ways and position battles galore.
But Florida’s 36-7 win over UAB on Saturday featured a full display of one aspect the Gators have consistently improved on weekly: running the football.
UF rushed the ball for 257 yards, with Adarius Lemons leading the group with 89 yards on 11 carries in the first significant action for the true freshman. And it marked the third time this season the Gators rushed for at least 200 yards. With such productive performances, it would appear the backfield exceeded expectations.
Unsatisfied with simply another 200-yard rushing game, Florida had a loftier goal in mind.
“Our goal, we were trying to reach at least 300 yards rushing,” offensive lineman Tyler Jordan said. “Coach (Brad) Davis was harping on us, we were talking about it on the bench. It’s just a good feeling being able to run the ball at the end of the game and not having to pass.”
Florida had built a 19-0 lead by the halftime break and didn’t look back, feeding Lemons as the fourth quarter arrived. The Clearwater native took his first hand-off 7 yards, and he was just getting started. Lemons would string together back-to-back runs of at least 20 yards to move Florida into range for kicker Eddy Pineiro to boot his fifth and final field goal of the night.
While it might have come as a surprise to those who’ve followed Florida’s futility on offense to see a second freshman running back excel this season, his backfield partner wasn’t surprised in the slightest.
“When you come to Florida and you play running back that’s what you’ve got to come with. He’s an elite running back,” sophomore running back Lamical Perine said of Lemons. “(He’s done that) all year and on kickoff returns, if you pay attention to that.”
But Lemons’ breakout performance may not have happened if it weren’t for the efforts of Perine and running back Mark Thompson. The duo paced Florida through the first three quarters with a combined 164 yards on 33 carries. And Perine’s 15-yard touchdown run in the third quarter marked his ninth score of the season, which put him in a tie for the fourth most in a season by a UF running back since 1996.
While Perine was once again full of humility following the game, his head coach didn’t hesitate to credit the backfield with pacing Florida to victory.
“Our run game offensively really kicked in tonight. I think the running backs and offensive line did a tremendous job of running the football and getting big plays for us to put us in situations to score the touchdowns,” UF interim coach Randy Shannon said. “Most of the times if you practice hard, you will play hard. If you don’t practice hard, you don’t play hard. It’s been a great competition. It’s been great for us as a football team. Guys are really coming around and doing a great job.”