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Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor has five runs of 10 or more yards in only 16 carries this season.

Monday October 14, 2013Muschamp Wants to See More Explosive Plays in Run Game to Ignite Offense

Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor has five runs of 10 or more yards in only 16 carries this season.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators established their offensive identity during an 11-2 season a year ago primarily behind the running of Mike Gillislee, who became the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher in eight years.

Gillislee carried 244 times – only Emmitt Smith and Errict Rhett have ever had more rushes for the Gators in a single season -- and reeled off 31 runs of 10-plus yards. Those long runs are what the Gators call explosives.

They gash a defense and usually open some opportunities in the passing game. They have also dropped off considerably since Gillislee’s departure.

In the season’s first six games, the Gators have only 30 runs of 10 or more yards (5.0 per game). They had 90 in 13 games (6.9 per game) in 2012. Quarterback Tyler Murphy, who didn’t play until the season’s third game against Tennessee, leads Florida with seven explosive runs.

Running backs Mack Brown (photo, below) and Kelvin Taylor have five apiece. Meanwhile, sophomore running back Matt Jones, the player projected to take the bulk of the carries that went to Gillislee last year, is done for the season due to a knee injury suffered in Saturday’s 17-6 loss at LSU.

Jones had four explosives in 79 carries, including Florida’s longest rush of the season on a 67-yard scamper at Kentucky.

With Jones out for the season following surgery Monday, Gators coach Will Muschamp said Brown and Taylor will split most of the work at tailback. Mark Herndon and Valdez Showers also are in the mix.

Mack Brown

Regardless of who is running the ball, the Gators need more of those long runs to wake up an offense that is currently ranked 13th in the SEC (367.8 yards per game).

“We’ve got to improve the run game,’’ Muschamp said Monday. “We’ve just got to be more consistent in what you’re doing and create some more explosive runs. That's been the biggest issue to me in the run game this season is we haven't had as many explosive runs as we need to have. And we've got to continue to create that.”

With offensive numbers up overall in the SEC, the Gators’ rushing attack has gone in the opposite direction. Florida is ranked 11th in the SEC in rushing (178.5 ypg) after finishing third a season ago (187.7 ypg). Alabama, which finished second behind Texas A&M last season with 227.5 yards rushing per game, has also dropped off, averaging 188.3 per game this season.

While Alabama’s average would have been good for third a season ago, the Crimson Tide rank 10th this season. Eight SEC teams are averaging more than 200 yards per game on the ground at the season’s midway point.

As fans and the media try to explain what factors are at work in the SEC’s offensive outburst, Muschamp’s take on the Gators’ struggles on the ground is not complicated.

The offensive line has not opened the same kind of holes and there have been protection issues (sacks count against rushing yards in college football).

“I look at all this,’’ Muschamp said. “On first-and-10, we ran it 17 times [Saturday]. We averaged 4.5 yards a carry. We threw it seven times for 2.5. You’ve got to protect if you want to throw it every down. That’s something that was an issue Saturday.

“It was something we’re trying from a protection standpoint to make sure we were not giving them negative plays in the way the game was being played.”

For those fans wanting to see more passes, Florida’s third-year coach is interested in more production from the passing game, too.

“Do we need to throw the ball better? Absolutely,’’ he said. “There’s no question.”

When Florida’s offense was at its best last season, Gillislee was the tone-setter. Gillislee’s production allowed offensive coordinator Brent Pease to call high-percentage passes for first-year starter Jeff Driskel and mix in some plays for Trey Burton in the wildcat. Receiver Solomon Patton also factored heavily into the run game on jet sweeps.

A banged up offensive line and the transition from Driskel to Murphy has caused some turbulence in the first half of the season. While Murphy has mostly played well since taking over for Driskel, he was not satisfied with his performance Saturday.

Or the offense’s as a whole.

“They did a good job getting in the backfield and getting pressure,” Murphy said. “Any time a team does that, your timing will be off. That’s just something we’re going to have to work on. You’re never going to have that perfect-picture every play."

The Gators play at Missouri on Saturday with first place in the SEC East on the line. The Tigers (6-0, 2-0) lead the division and Florida is in a second-place tie with Georgia and South Carolina.

Taylor’s best game Saturday at LSU offers at least hope of more explosives in Florida’s running game. Taylor had 10 carries for 52 yards, including a 14-yard run that was the Gators’ longest of the day. His five runs of 10 or more yards have come on only 16 carries on the season.

“Regardless of the injury [to Jones], he was going to play in the game more than he had previous to this game,’’ Muschamp said Monday. “Obviously, the injury accelerated that.”

If the Gators are going to make a run at Atlanta and the SEC Championship game, a few more long runs would help.

 

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