Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Cronkrite and backs to help Appleby

It seems not that long ago that the Florida Gators had trouble attracting top-level talent at the running back position. Signing days came and went without netting one of the top players at the crucial position. That is certainly not the case now, with sophomore Jordan Cronkrite among four heavy-hitters that Florida head coach Jim McElwain has at his disposal.

How would you split carries among the ‘four-headed-monster’ (as it continues to be referred to) at running back? While your design probably has its merits, you can certainly imagine that it is not easy for Coach McElwain to decide what order and at what magnitude to feed his beasts in. I do not believe you would be surprised to find out that, in typical McElwain fashion, the answer does not always have to be eloquent. Nor was it necessary in Saturday night’s 32-0 victory for his 23rd ranked Florida Gators (3-0, 1-0) over the North Texas Mean Green (1-2).

“There’s no number one guy here,” explained Jordan Cronkrite, who ran the ball nine times for 46 yards and, like the other three members of this brigade, found the end zone. “We’re all here to push each other and if you’re not getting the ball that much, you just have to keep pushing because you never know when your number is going to be called. It keeps you focused on the game, because we don’t really have an actual, set depth chart.”

Cronkrite stressed that although the stable is full at this position, the running backs are focused on the team. When pressed for further details on the structure of duty, the sophomore from Miami reaffirmed that there was none to be had. The deadly combination of Cronkrite, signing-classmate Jordan Scarlett, true freshman Lamical Perine, and junior college transfer Mark Thompson is an embarrassment of riches that even the team in Tuscaloosa might fancy ahead of their own. With the potential for conflict certainly there, the Gators respond by being more tightly-knit than the typical college football team, a fact that can only further galvanize the squad.

“We just continue to work hard. We share the ball in practice too, whether it’s Perine or whoever. We just push each other and there’s no controversy. You have to be ready at any time. None of us are ‘I’ guys. Whatever play is called, we are going to execute it.”

It was not all perfect Saturday night, however. The offense will look back on the game film and believe that they left a hefty amount of points on the field, coming away with only four touchdowns in seven red zone appearances. Cronkrite believes the finer points left a little be desired, something the Coach McElwain stresses often.

“Just not taking care of the little details that coach is always talking about,” explained the sophomore when asked about what stalled the drives. “When you don’t do that, you don’t punch it in. We have to clean that up for next week. We obviously didn’t perform well in the red zone. We had penalties here and there but we came out with the win and that’s all that really matters.”

Next week is a game that many have been talking about since the moment last year’s 28-27 classic victory over the Tennessee Volunteers concluded in dramatic fashion. That win made it 11-in-a-row in a rivalry that has been entirely one-sided since the dismissal of Ron Zook as head coach in 2004. Cronkrite and the Gators understand what is at state.

“It definitely was,” replied Cronkrite when asked whether or not this was a game that has been circled for a long time. “Everyone knows about [what went on] with social media but we just take it one week at a time and now is this week. Definitely prepare for them and come out fighting.”

And when will preparation begin for the game in Knoxville?

“Tomorrow… that’s in the past and now it’s on to the next one.”

While true, the ramifications of the injury to Luke Del Rio will certainly impact the future, as the senior went down with a suspected knee injury in the third quarter. While certainly an obstacle, Cronkrite believes that his team has the quality and spirit to make it a mere blip on the radar.

“It’s a big blow,” when asked about Del Rio. “Obviously, he’s the starting quarterback but its next man up. I don’t think we got down on ourselves or anything like that. He [Del Rio] walked off the field, which was great to see. If it was anything bad, we’re going to finish out the game for him and continue to dominate.”

The next man up is graduate-transfer Austin Appleby, who appeared in 16 games for the Purdue Boilermakers over the past three seasons. While Del Rio’s grasp of the offense is a something that can only be developed with time, the offense believes that it will be business as usual with Appleby behind center.

“They all have their own way that they lead,” when asked about what qualities Appleby brings to the table. “Austin is an experienced guy and I’m very confident in him.”

Appleby’s performance will go a long way in deciding the trajectory of the season from this point. Beating Tennessee early in the year has jump started many championship runs for the Gators and the early lead on a division rival is not something that can be understated. These Gators have lofty ambitions for the campaign and is a game Florida must get a positive result from if they are to achieve them.

“I feel like it is,” when asked if the Tennessee game sets a marker for the rest of the season. “You can say driver’s seat, but you still have to win out and continue to win your conference games. It is the most critical game so far.”

When asked what advice he would give to Appleby about making his first start on the road at Neyland Stadium, the sophomore focused on just doing what you are supposed to. Tennessee, while ranked above the Gators, will not feel like a true favorite entering the contest. They have looked uninspiring in their opening three contests to say the least. With injuries mounting on the Volunteer defense, this is perhaps the perfect time for Appleby to make his starting debut, if there is one. Tennessee’s inability to produce running lanes and time for their quarterback to throw against inferior competition when compared to the Florida defense is something that will certainly give the team assurance moving forward. With perhaps the most talented group of running backs in the country, Appleby will not have to be the hero in Knoxville. This is a prospect this group relishes.

“I am sure [the running backs] would love to run the ball every play, but that’s not the type of team we are. Just do your job and play football because that’s what you came here to do. Enjoy it. Obviously, if you have a good running game, you can open it up for Luke or Austin and that gives us the confidence to win.”


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