Florida Gators aim to establish the running game against Vols

All offseason Jim McElwain kept saying that the Florida Gators’ offensive line was going to be its best unit in 2017. That should have tipped us off to the identity that McElwain and his offensive staff thought the team should or would take this season.

That plan changed early on against Michigan, as the wolverines stacked the box and forced Florida to run in overloaded fronts.

As the game started to slip away from the Gators turned to more to the passing game trying to get back into the game. Florida threw the ball 17 times compared to eight rushing attempts.

Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the formula one of the Gators running backs thought would help the Gators win the game.

“In my opinion, receivers are gonna hate me for this, but we need to run the ball more. I feel that after the run I had that was called back, regardless of if it got called back or not, that’s momentum,” Thompson said last week. “The penalty is obviously going to take one back, but get right back and run the ball. I don’t think we had very much problem in running the ball.”

Thompson is referring to his 47-yard touchdown scamper that was negated due to a holding penalty. The play, initially, was shut down to the right where it as intended to be run but Thompson was able to bounce it back to the left and outrun Michigan defenders to the end zone.

“I just think we have to trust the running game and continue to do it,” Thompson continued. “When something doesn’t work, you don’t just give up. You keep going until it works.”

Thompson carried the ball just five times in the Gators’ only game this season. Lamical Perine carried the ball the most, seven times, and was the only running back to carry the ball in the fourth quarter against Michigan.

McElwain was highly critical of his offensive line after the loss to Michigan. The plan, at least early on, was clear. The Gators were determined to run the ball and protect redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks in his first start. The problem, Michigan punched Florida in its mouth and the Gators didn’t have a plan B.

“I thought we had a good plan, obviously. And then as it turned out, the plan was pretty well foiled by getting physically whooped by big, strong guys. That was disappointing.”

Florida’s chance to get that game off of its mind was washed away by Hurricane Irma last Saturday. The Northern Colorado Bears allowed 215 rushing yards to NAIA College of Idaho. Surely Florida would have had an easier day rushing against the Bears.

Heading into their SEC opener, the Gators might want to heed Thompson’s advice. Since 1990 the team that has rushed for more yards has won 24-of-27 games. Florida has come away with wins in three contests where they were out-rushed by the Vols (2000, 2002, 2015).

Florida, under McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, has shown that they want to establish the run. If they want to do that they’ll need an inspired effort from its offensive line, but it’s a proven method to getting a win over Tennessee.

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Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC