Based on his rushing total alone, the assumption could be made that Florida running back Lamical Perine is having a disappointing season and perhaps made a mistake returning for his senior season rather than entering the NFL draft last spring.
But viewing it from the big picture, which UF coach Dan Mullen does with his standout running back, Perine has had a productive season and actually has improved his draft standing this fall.
“What gets lost in the year he’s having is how he’s catching the ball and the matchups and the problems he causes coming out of the backfield,” Mullen said. “We run a pro-style offense. He’s understood that, ‘Hey, I’m running the offense that’s going to be really similar to what I might be doing next year in the NFL. Catching balls and I’ll get some carries here and there, got to take advantage of my carries.’
“To be an all-purpose back you’ve got to be able to do everything. Got to be able to catch, protect, run, do it all. And he’s done that. You see now you get the opportunity to go single him up and run receiver routes and catch the ball coming out of the backfield and catching the ball in the slot.”
One of the main reasons Perine decided to return for his senior season was to continue working on becoming a complete back, something he’s always taken pride in. All indications are that he has become one. The rushing numbers may not be there (just 520 yards and four touchdowns on 115 carries), but everything else has — his pass protection, which has been outstanding, and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s become a go-to guy in the passing game, catching 32 passes for 179 yards and four touchdowns.
“This year he’s shown a whole different aspect of his game,” senior center Nick Buchanan said. “Last game you saw the toe tap in the Missouri catch (for a touchdown). He’s a complete back. He’s a complete football player. He can run, he can throw, he can catch, he can block. He can do it all, just completing himself as a football player. I’m pretty sure he’s happy with where he’s at.”
Perine seems to be. And he has no regrets about returning for his senior season.
“Honestly, I feel like this has been a back and forth season for me, but I’ve learned how to become a better receiver and things like that, when the running game is not working. And just being a leader and just being somebody who people can look up to on the team.
“Just showing my game, just not being a basic running back that can just run the ball and pound people. Being a guy who can protect your quarterback, being able to receive out of the backfield, things like that, they put me out wide, put me in the slot, just makes me a versatile player overall. I’m fortunate to be in the position I’m in.”
Heading into the season, the expectation was that Perine would have a big year running the football, a potential 1,000-yard rusher, for sure. He ran for 826 yards last season, and he did it sharing the position with Jordan Scarlett. With Scarlett moving on to the NFL, Perine would be the go-to guy in the running game in 2019.
And he has been — but the running game just hasn’t been there for the Gators behind a young and inexperienced offensive line that has been unable to get any push in the running game.
Once it became apparent UF could not effectively move the ball with a conventional running game, the Gators became almost a pass-only offense. And Perine’s role changed. He went from dominant back, to versatile back. He’s had an impact as a receiver, blocker and team leader — and his had a few big moments running the ball, like his 88-yard TD run in the win over Auburn.
“He’s a great teammate,” junior offensive guard Brett Heggie said. “He’s had a great career here and I’m excited to see what he does in the future.
“He’s a team player, he’s all about team. When he shows up he really shows up, makes big plays in big games. He’s going to be something special in the future for whichever team picks him in the draft.”
At the moment, Perine’s not thinking about the draft. He’s focused on his final game in The Swamp against arch-rival Florida State.
“Very emotional, teary-eyed,” he said. “Just knowing it’s going to be my last time running out there, man, just going to be crazy. Something to think about. I’ve had a long four years, and it’s been good times, bad times, but ain’t nothing like running out there your last time. That’s the best feeling right there. I’m just ready to get out there with my boys and play.”