Gators Believe Run Game is Sustainable

This is a familiar place for the Florida offense. The team is 4-0 with impressive rushing statistics. It happened just last year before crashing to the ground against the elite defenses of the SEC. Florida head coach Will Muschamp believes this is different. The rushing scheme is more sustainable for the Gators this year because of a more physical offensive line and running back.

"I think a little bit because of our backs to be honest with you," Will Muschamp said. "Again, that's not a knock on anything that we did last year. It's just simply we are a little bit more physical up front—or much more physical up front—a year older, more mature, experienced and understanding a little bit more about climbing vertically on the second level. Then, our backs are different."

The rushing statistics aren't as impressive as last year's. After four games in 2011, the Gators were averaging 259 yards on the ground. Chris Rainey was averaging 102 rushing yards per game while Jeff Demps was averaging 80. The duo at running back got to the edges and outran all four defenses they faced.

It broke down as Florida went up against Alabama and LSU in back-to-back weeks.

The Crimson Tide are off the regular season schedule this year, but the challenge of the Tigers remains on October 6. The Gators come into the game fourth in the SEC with 224.5 rushing yards per game. It's a strong number but isn't as good as the team was at this point last season.

The difference is sustainability. The current offense is built to be more effective against stronger defenses. Last year, the Gators ran outside of the tackles because they weren't tough enough to open up holes in the middle, and the speed of Demps and Rainey was better suited to be in space.

The hard-nosed running of Mike Gillislee and an offensive line that's one year tougher has Muschamp confident his group won't slow down against some of the best defenses in the country.

"We've all got to understand that the opponents are going to get better, and we've got to continue to play better and stay multiple in what we're going to do, which we will do, but we are a better football team because of our line of scrimmage," Muschamp said. "That's as much as anything. We're getting very productive play from the quarterback position with Jeff. "We've made plays down the field and created opportunities for ourselves at the receiver position, which really we didn't last year as far as catching the hitch and scoring and things like that that we didn't do as much last year."

The offensive philosophy won't be changing. Even when the Gators didn't have the personnel to run between the tackles and grind out the tough yards last year, Muschamp was still intent on running the football. Each year he is at the helm of the Florida program, the group should have the personnel to be closer to what he wants to be with the ball.

It's still not perfect, but it's closer than 2011.

Gillislee is a big reason why. He doesn't have the build that some running backs do, but he runs tough and knows how to pick up the extra yards.

"He's just a one-cut guy," Muschamp said. "He's going to make it, he's going to stick his foot in the ground and he's going to get north and south. We can't try to hit a big run every time, and that's the thing Gilly does, he gets the ball north and south. He hits a crease. He may not hit the big one every time, but in our league it's hard to hit big ones, you're going to get run down.

"People leverage the ball, and they recruit fast guys on the other side. A five-yard run is a great run, and that's what sometimes younger players don't understand. They want to hit the big run and in our league that's difficult."

The run game is also helped because of the offensive balance, which is the ultimate goal of the offense. When John Brantley got hurt last season, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett were forced into the game as freshmen that weren't capable of running a complex passing game in the SEC.

Through four games, Driskel has shown the ability to do that.

His arm and knowledge of the offense is keeping defenses from throwing eight defenders in the box to try stopping the run.

"We're able to do more offensively because of up front. We're just better on the offensive line. Brent's done a really good job of adding some different things to our offense and variation, and he's a really good play caller on Saturday afternoon. Staying multiple and changing things up for a defense and keeping them off-balanced, which I experienced first hand.

"Everything compliments each other with what you do and how you do it. We're very pleased to this point."

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