From Fedora, he's been hearing all about Emmitt Smith lately. It's all good natured teasing, but the comparison to the great Florida All-America tailback who is now the all-time leading rusher in the history of the National Football League gets Fason's attention.
"I hear it all the time," said Fason, "but I gotta admit, it does motivate me."
Fason was highly motivated Saturday at The Swamp. He racked up a career high 210 rushing yards on 31 carries, good for one touchdown, and he added another score on a pass from Chris Leak as part of a five-catch, 43-yard effort.
"It's great to see a guy with the hard work pay off," said Coach Ron Zook. "He just keeps plugging away and he does the things he's supposed to do. He catches the football, he protects and he runs. I'm really proud of him and proud of our offensive line for the way they blocked.
"Give Kentucky credit. They caused us some problems today with their front the way they were moving around and did some things to frustrate us, but I told Larry (Fedora) don't get frustrated with the running game. Just keep running and keep running."
The Gators kept running. Fason carried the ball 31 times, most in his career as he moved over 1000 yards (1006) for his career and 396 for the season. Fason's big game led one of the most balanced Florida offensive efforts ever. The Gators rushed for 262 yards on 40 attempts and passed for 261 on 45 throws, but the 523-yard effort was overshadowed by difficulties in the red zone where the Gators kept shooting themselves in the foot. Between the twenties, Florida was practically unstoppable, but in the red zone, the Gators sputtered worse than a Yugo with bad plugs and points. Throw in three interceptions and two missed field goals and it adds up to an afternoon when the Gators certainly needed Fason to elevate his level of play.
Ciatrick Fason as he sheds 7 tackles on his way to a touchdown.
Kentucky forced the Gators to punt only two times in their 13 possessions, but most of the time when the Gators drove the ball, something would happen to grind the drive to a halt. A missed receiver, a missed block on a running play or a costly penalty (Florida was flagged 11 times for 91 yards of losses) always seemed to find pop up at the worst possible moment. The Gators needed someone to elevate his game to overcome the sluggishness and difficulties. Fason was the guy.
"Over there on the sidelines, Coach Zook said for me to get that spark in them," Fason said. "He knows I'm always ready to play, so I went out there to make a big play."
He had two big plays in the first quarter that were an indicator that this was going to be his kind of day. He bolted 17 yards on a draw play that was one block from being sprung for a 53-yard touchdown run. Later in the half, he twisted, ducked and dodged his way 18 yards with a screen pass that again was very close to going the distance.
Fason finally broke loose in the second quarter. Following a Terrence Holmes interception at the Kentucky 46, Fason took a handoff from Chris Leak on an audible that Fason was trying to get Leak to check out of. It was supposed to be a pass play, but Leak called an audible to the running play. Fason noticed that not
"I was trying tell Chris not to run it because the tight end didn't get the call. Right when I called his name, he hiked the ball. I knew right then I looked at the tight end's block and he was pushing his man out and Mike Degory cut off his man on the backside so I just hit it."
A yard past the line of scrimmage, he got hit but he broke the tackle.
"I looked right at the end zone and I wasn't going to let him bring me down," said Fason, who went another 10 yards before encountering more contact which he ran through. "I saw Anthony Guerrero, an O-lineman down there blocking at the 20-yard line, and that just motivated me even more because he wanted it just as bad as I did."
That touchdown proved to be all the Gators would need to win the game. Fason would add a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a pass from Leak and in the final three minutes of the game, he broke a 32-yard run that put him over 200 yards for the day, the first 200-yard rushing game by a Gator runner since Emmitt set a school record with 316 yards against New Mexico State in 1989.
Fason's big game overshadowed an inconsistent performance by Leak, who threw three interceptions in a game for the first time since his first career start last year against Ole Miss. Leak was at times tentative with his throws and there were only a few throws that he made the entire day in which it seemed the timing was 100 per cent there. He had a few uncharacteristic poor decisions as well as overthrows of open receivers.
"If you play football long enough, that stuff is going to happen sometimes," said Leak, who threw a touchdown pass in his twelfth consecutive game, the top streak in the Southeastern Conference. "I didn't play all that well, but you just have to keep on playing and do the best you can.
"Give a lot of credit to Kentucky. They were moving guys around and doing a lot of stuff. They played really hard and showed that they're a great defensive team. They really made it hard for us to get in a rhythm."
Still, Leak threw for 261 yards on 25 completions in 43 attempts.
"Obviously, he was off this week, but I am not concerned," said Zook. "You see that all the time with quarterbacks. He's still the real deal and no quarterback can play every game 1000 per cent. Some of his throws were off and some of his throws were late, but he's still a great player."
Leak's off-day couldn't take the shine off Fason, however. And, at the end of the day, Fason got the last laugh on Zook.
"He's always talking Rhett, Rhett, Rhett," said Fason. "Well, I took one all the way and I had a pretty good day. Hopefully, I'll have some more games like this. Coach Zook keeps me motivated and I want to do anything I can to help the team and Coach Zook.
"I love my teammates and I love Coach Zook. It's not every coach that cares about you like he does, both on and off the field. It's really a father-son type relationship we have. Whatever he needs me to do, he knows I'll do my best for him and for my team."