Gators boast nation's top rushing attack behind bevy of backs, dual-threat QBs

Zach Abolverdi
The Gainesville Sun
Florida running back Dameon Pierce (27) pushes through USF defenders to score the game's first touchdown Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Following his 100th career win against USF, Florida coach Dan Mullen had to know he would be asked whether his starting quarterback was Emory Jones or Anthony Richardson. 

When the question came Saturday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, Mullen was ready and brushed it off before diverting the discussion to the other competition in his backfield. 

“I know everybody loves just looking at the two quarterbacks,” Mullen said. “Who started at running back? Do you know?”

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Mullen said he didn’t know and was told Malik Davis, who got the nod for the second game in a row after making just two starts in 2020. 

“OK, Cool. ’Cause we have really good running backs. We roll those guys through. We’re pretty fortunate at quarterback, too,” said Mullen, implying that both positions warrant a rotation. 

Florida used all five tailbacks against both FAU and USF, opening the season with back-to-back 300-yard rushing games for the first time since at least 1996. Dameon Pierce had the most yards among the backs Saturday, rushing for 55 yards on five carries. 

His first two went for 16 and 20 yards, and the next was a seven-yard touchdown run for Florida’s first score. Pierce had another first-down run (11 yards) in the third quarter and one last carry on that same series, along with a 13-yard catch. 

“That’s probably a good question, why did Pierce (not play more)? I mean, you saw the spectacular touchdown that he made,” Mullen said. “Unbelievable run.”

Nay’Quan Wright and Malik Davis had seven carries apiece for 36 and 22 yards, respectively, while Demarkcus Bowman gained 33 yards on three touches and Lorenzo Lingard had 21 yards on five.

The five backs accounted for 167 of Florida’s 363 rushing yards. 

“I know Greg [Knox] rotates those guys,” Mullen said. “We have a bunch of good backs that we roll through. Long season, we want to keep those guys fresh, keep those guys healthy.”

The Gators boast the nation’s top rushing offense heading into SEC play, ranking first in the FBS in rushing yards (763) and first in rushing yards per game (381.5). Richardson (115 yards) and Jones (81 yards) were the team’s top rushers vs. the Bulls. 

Richardson leads all FBS quarterbacks with 275 rushing yards and 137.5 rushing YPG, while Jones set a single-game career high for rushing yards against the Bulls and scored his first touchdown run of the season. 

“We have two quarterbacks right now that can make great plays out there on the field, play both of them,” Mullen said. “It's a long season and I gotta continue to grow and develop them into being really good football players.”

Up next

Who: No. 1 Alabama (2-0) vs. No. 9 Florida (2-0)

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, 850-AM