Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators searching for run game improvement

Florida is using its bye week to attempt fixing its struggling run game.

Jim McElwain’s team ranks No. 8 in scoring offense (31.6 points) during its current bye week, but there are multiple holes remaining in the unit. Florida’s passing game still has to improve with backup quarterback Treon Harris leading it. However, it looked serviceable at LSU last week and should improve with the bye.

The area of the offense that’s most concerning to the coaching staff is the rushing attack. Florida currently sits at No. 13 in the Southeastern Conference with 3.5 yards per carry. Combine that with the Gators having the seventh most attempts in the league, and it’s not a pretty picture when Florida keeps the ball on the ground. Even with an athletic quarterback -- whether it’s Harris or Will Grier -- the Gators are 13th in the league with 126.7 rushing yards per game.

Florida running back Kelvin Taylor is averaging 66.1 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry, but he leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns. He’s running hard, breaking arm tackles and has been elusive to create missed tackles. But the junior is somewhat limited in what he can do with the football because of a porous offensive line. The inexperienced group has been acceptable in pass blocking, but they simply aren’t opening enough holes for Taylor and the Florida running backs to make an impact.

“All great teams are built on being able to run the football game and being able to stop the run defensively,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said, noting that the rushing offense is a ‘huge’ focus during the bye week. “We need to continue to get better at that. We had some opportunities in the last ball game, and that’s a pretty darn good defense. They’ve got very good players, year-in and year-out, they get the best players in the country.”

The Florida coaches changed things up on the offensive line at LSU. Freshman Martez Ivey, a five-star recruit in last year’s class as an offensive tackle, earned his first collegiate start but it came at left guard. Ivey was working as the first-team left tackle in fall camp before a knee injury kept him out of the first two games to open the season.

With Ivey at left guard, senior Trip Thurman moved to right guard and Antonio Riles moved to the bench. The coaches have also experimented with Ivey at left guard, Riles at left guard and Thurman at center, pushing Cam Dillard to the bench. However, neither lineup worked as the Taylor rushed for just 25 yards on 15 attempts at LSU.

With two weeks of the experimentation on film, the bye week will be an important opportunity for the Florida coaches to find what works.

“We’ve got to be able to produce more that will help us in the play action game,” McElwain said. “It wasn’t for lack of effort. Our guys played hard. I’m proud of where they’re at.”

Another thing the coaches could look at during the bye week is other running backs. That’s not to say that Taylor’s starting job is in jeopardy as he figures to lead the team in carries for the rest of the season. However, McElwain made it clear in the offseason that he preferred to use multiple running backs to keep them all fresh for late in the game.

Over the last four games, freshmen backups Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett have combined for nine carries.

“What you would hope to do is be able to get to where you can roll three through there, which we were obviously fortunate enough to have (at Alabama),” McElwain said. “I think it helped those guys immensely not only in preparation and competition part, but more keeping them fresh. It’s something we need to look to get to here. That helps you, and we will. We’ll get there.”

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