ATLANTA, Ga. -- The Gators could only manage 262 yards of total offense last week against Florida State, and 128 of those came on the ground. Kelvin Taylor became the first Florida running back to top 100 yards rushing against all three of the Gators’ rivals -- Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee -- in the same season.
If they want to have any hope of springing the upset over No. 2 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, the rushing game will have to carry the team again on Saturday. Florida’s offensive line played well against the Seminoles and opened up holes for Taylor, but they’re facing the best front seven in the country in Alabama.
Taylor is just 23 yards from being the second 1,000-yarder rusher at Florida since Urban Meyer took over in 2005.
“What he's done, and he keeps getting a little bit better at it, is understanding the patience he needs to the hole and then accelerate with speed through the hole,” McElwain said. “I think early, he was running so hard and so fast, sometimes he wasn't letting things develop, and I think he's done a much better job of that.
“Obviously his numbers, he's I think done some things that will put him right up there historically as one of the real great Florida running backs.”
The bad news for Florida is that its offensive strength in recent weeks has come on the ground, and the Alabama defense is the best in the country, allowing just 78.9 rushing yards per game. Against SEC opponents, Alabama allows just 90.9 yards on the ground. The front seven is loaded with future first-round picks, or as McElwain refers to them, ‘creatures.’
Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier in the week that McElwain used to have a trick play lined up for the first few drives of the game to keep the defense off balance when the two worked together in Tuscaloosa.
McElwain laughed that off during his press conference at the Georgia Dome before Friday’s walkthrough and said there just aren’t many ways to fool Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart’s group.
“How are you going to trick them?” McElwain joked. “It's like when (Saban) hired me and said, ‘Mac, just work hard and be complete in what you do.’ The one thing when you watch them play on that side of the ball, they are complete in what they do. Each one of them, they complement each other because they do their job.”
The extra wrinkle this week could be the running of quarterback Treon Harris. Florida has been careful with how many times he has run in the open field this year, not calling many designed runs. The Gators don’t have any depth behind Harris, using post-graduate transfer Josh Grady or walk-on Jacob Guy on the field if Harris were to get injured.
On Saturday, that could chance. McElwain said earlier in the week that the Crimson Tide has experienced issues in the past with running quarterbacks and thinks Harris could do that more against Alabama.
“He may be running anyway just naturally for his life,” McElwain joked. “That's something, quarterback-run-wise, they are created sometimes. We have done it a little bit.”
Receiver Brandon Powell (foot) is in a boot and is questionable for Saturday. Left tackle David Sharpe (foot) is questionable but McElwain said he “didn’t think he looked very good” during practice on Thursday.
McElwain said he “would be surprised” if linebacker Antonio Morrison didn’t play on Saturday. Defensive end Alex McCalister (foot) remains out.