Kan Li / Scout

Florida Gators optimistic about the run game

Coming out of a bye week, Florida has spent two weeks working on improving the run game.

Florida coach Jim McElwain has said multiple times this season that he defines dominant teams as ones that can run the football and stop the run on defense. The Gators have the defensive part of the equation solved, currently No. 5 in rush defense, but it’s their own running game that is causing issues.

According to Florida running backs coach Tim Skipper, the Gators have found a way to improve during their bye week. It didn’t require a massive overhaul or scheme changes, simply cleaning up errors that the young Florida offense has made.

“I think it’s a combination of many things,” Skipper said. “A lot of times it’s not the same guys out there all the time. Whether it’s injuries or shake ups in personnel or the lineup, or it’s just one guy where one guy misses a block or one of the backs doesn’t hit it exactly where he should hit it, then you’re not going to have those big plays when you play against good defenses.

“I will say this -- I have a lot of confidence in it. We’ve worked hard in this bye week to get some things cleaned up, and I feel good about the run game going into this game.”

Florida’s offensive linemen have taken the blame for it this week. Antonio Riles and Trip Thurman have both said their unit isn’t getting the job done in opening holes in the running game for Kelvin Taylor and true freshmen Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett.

"It's on us,” Riles said. “We've gone against some tough teams, and we're right in the middle of the SEC. It's all on us. You just have to keep working and doing what you do to get us where we need to be."

Skipper said there haven’t been any major changes to the running game since Will Grier was suspended and Treon Harris took over at quarterback. Harris is the more elusive of the two quarterbacks, but the Gators are still using the same run game they did with Grier under center.

The one thing that does change is the scramble potential. Grier fell victim to it early in the season, tucking the ball and deciding to run too early instead of going through his progressions and letting receivers come open. Harris can fall into the same trap, but his elusiveness in the open field means he can keep plays alive longer and force the running backs to pass protect for longer time.

“You’ve got to protect,” Skipper said. “Treon is going to be Treon. He’s a natural, gifted athlete. If he feels the rush from one side, he has the ability to get away from it. As far as our protection goes, we know we need to protect and hang on as long as you can.”

HAPPY WITH THE FRESHMEN

Behind Taylor, Will Grier is still second on the team in rushing attempts. Taylor’s 129 carries leads the way, but freshman Jordan Cronkrite is third on the team with 28. In fifth place is fellow freshman Jordan Scarlett with 13, and he had an important 11-yard carry at LSU.

They’ve both had typical freshman seasons, according to Skipper. 

“Coming from high school to college all the guys always think I’m ready, I’m ready to go,” Skipper said. “Then they get here and they’re like, this is pretty organized. Every day is a fight, it’s 100-percent or you’re going to get exposed. I think those guys have adjusted to it well.”

When the running backs first showed up, they were battling the Gainesville heat during fall camp. When McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier installed the large volume of the offense, it set both freshmen back again trying to understand it. Once the season started, both freshmen suffered through two rounds of the flu bug that went around the team.

Skipper is just now starting to see them get confident in the offense and on the field.

“I think we’re getting to the stage now where those guys have complete command of everything that we’re doing and their expectations of themselves has reached where it needs to be,” Skipper said. “I think you’ll see good things from them.”


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