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Monday September 17, 2012Commitment Between Tackles Gives Gators the Edge

Gainesville, Fla.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With apologies to University of Florida coach Will Muschamp, apparently you can be a perimeter running team and win in the Southeastern Conference.

The Florida Gators seem to be doing so.

"Yeah, when you're able to run the ball inside, you can," UF coach Will Muschamp said Monday.

The enduring images from Saturday night's 37-20 victory at Tennessee are of Trey Burton's two touchdown dashes -- 14 yards off the left edge, 80 yards off the right -- that helped the Gators trample the Volunteers to the tune of 336 yards on the ground.

They were big plays, just like the previous week when Mike Gillislee's toss sweep around the right end for a 12-yard touchdown proved the difference in a huge 20-17 comeback win on the road at Texas A&M.

What about wide receiver Solomon Patton averaging 10 yards per carry (with no runs for more than 14 yards) coming in motion and taking the ball to the edge on the jet sweep? And then there are the times blossoming quarterback Jeff Driskel has tested the edges on keepers and scrambles.

Pretty potent perimeter stuff.

"We're finding some creases," Burton said. "And hitting 'em."

UF (3-0, 2-0) ranks third in the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense at 232.7 yards per game heading into Saturday's date with Kentucky (1-2, 0-0) at Florida Field.

But make no mistake, Muschamp said with a nod, a significant chunk of those rushing yards have come the hard way. As in between the tackles. As in the way Muschamp determined the Gators have to run the football to create some offensive balance and become the SEC force he envisions.

Like with Gillislee's 45-yard burst that gutted the Vols defense in the fourth quarter.

"An A-gap run," Muschamp said.

Or Gillislee's two touchdowns in the season opener against Bowling Green.

Or his 4-yard first-quarter TD at College Station. They started between the tackles, too.

Florida's commitment to running inside was put out there for all to see from Day 1 and Muschamp will not deviate from the philosophy -- even when the results aren't there.

A half-dozen short-yardage situations were turned back in the game against Bowling Green, much to the frustration of the UF fans. The inability to convert on third-and-short reared its head again at A&M, much to the coaches dismay. Then, against the Volunteers, with a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds of the first half, the Gators were denied on second- and third-and-goal situations from the UT 1.

Instead, UF settled for a chip-shot field goal.

When needing two or less yards on third or fourth down, Florida has converted just seven of 17 times for first downs -- and only 3-for-13 when running the ball.

"Short yardage and goal-line we've addressed every week. What we're doing is not good. We need to continue to either [improve] or change personnel," Muschamp said. "We're studying ourselves again as we speak to make sure we're getting in the right spots in those situations. What we're doing is not working. To continue doing the same stuff, you're going to get the same results."

That doesn't, however, mean the Gators will stop trying. Quite the contrary. In his post-game remarks at Knoxville, Muschamp gave a short history lesson on that very subject, recalling his interviews with offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis last winter. Discipline and toughness would be traits of the Florida program, and a no-nonsense rushing attack was a prerequisite.  He actually advised both Pease and Davis not to take the jobs if they did not share that commitment.

"I know what it takes to win in this league," Muschamp said after the Tennessee win. "You better be able to run the football in this league. You can't drop back and throw the ball every down in this league. They have bought in 100 percent, our players have bought in 100 percent and when you have a buy-in like that it makes it easy -- and now they've seen the results. Even after the first week, after everyone was so upset about Bowling Green, we got what we wanted. The formula was going to be fine."

The formula appears to be jelling each week, with the next chance to further solidify at home against the Wildcats this weekend. Kentucky is surrendering 188 rushing yards per game, which ranks next-to-last in the SEC.

Pay particular attention to third and short, but don't lose sight of perimeter runs, either.

The Gators haven't.

"We've got some guys that handle [coaching] very well," Muschamp said. "They understand when you stand in front of them and you say, 'We're not doing this well enough.' We need to improve. Whatever it is you're talking about, they seem to understand that. They get that; they take that. A lot of situations, in our society nowadays, no one ever wants to be corrected or told they did something wrong or something exactly right. That's a good quality to have."


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