In the unlikely event it wasn’t clear from UF’s 56-0 win over Vanderbilt, it bears repeating: the Gators are now a pass-first offense rather than a run-heavy one.
Florida’s stable of five running backs combined for just 34 yards on 13 carries Saturday against a Commodores defense that entered the day ranked last in the SEC in rushing defense no less.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney led all rushers with 39 yards on a pair of attempts, while Florida quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Emory Jones combined for 64 yards and a rushing touchdown with the production of the running backs bringing up the rear.
“We spread the ball around a lot. We had a lot of different guys touch the ball, and there’s a benefit to that,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen. “Allows the quarterback not to force things and just take what they give us, and it was working, so we just stuck with it.”
At times, it seemed as if any non-running back seemed set for success superior to that of the speedy backs.
Yet a senior such as Lamical Perine wasn’t about to be a non-factor simply because the traditional run game was ineffective.
Perine hauled in four receptions against the Commodores while being targeted a team-high six times, making him UF’s fourth-leading pass-catcher this season with 28 receptions.
Rather than be a blatant attempt to appease UF’s senior leader in the backfield, Mullen said Perine’s involvement was simply an extension of the team’s offensive philosophy: spread the ball around rather than hone in on a primary target.
“I think what it allows you to do is call plays and understand that we’re not calling plays maybe to get it to this guy or get it to that guy, (it’s) ‘hey, call the play and we’ll take what the defense gives us’,” Mullen said. “We completed 25 passes. The leading receiver had four. They celebrate with each other, there’s no arguments or fights over series. I go position-by-position, and each position probably had eight catches, but they split time and they don’t care.”
It’s a point Mullen has stressed, yet one that seems to grow more impressive by the contest — despite the wide receiver unit possessing talent of various levels, UF isn’t forcing the ball to anyone.
“That’s what it’s all about, cheering on for the next guy. The receivers are unselfish and want to see everybody succeed on the field. That’s the approach we take,” said senior wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland. “It’s not common, but you’ve got to have that mindset. In our receiver room, we’re brothers and we stick together no matter what.”
And it’s a philosophy that’s required players reliant on possessions to be unselfish more often than not; considering the list of targets seems to grow as UF’s run game shrinks, said mindset is seemingly necessary for the cohesiveness of Florida’s offense.
Fortunately for the Gators, they have Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain leading by example.
As the light at the end of the tunnel of their UF careers grows ever brighter, the pair have been a beacon of altruism in a frequently egocentric sport. When they’re gone, the offensive philosophy won’t change, the lead-by-example play of Hammond and Swain should pay dividends beyond the season.
“Two team captains play the same position. I can’t tell you who’s started how many games. I never hear about it. All I ever hear from those guys is go out on the field and play hard, play special teams, be a team player, do what’s right. It just shows how unbelievable leaders they are,” Mullen said of Hammond and Swain.“I don’t know how many teams have two wide receivers that are captains that play the same position and split time and it’s not a complete meltdown. It just shows the leadership of that position and what Coach (Billy Gonzales) has been able to do with them.”