After coming just 35 yards short of becoming the first freshman to lead Florida in rushing yards since his father did, Kelvin Taylor is poised to take the lead of a deep running back group.
Taylor’s career got off to a slow start. He carried the ball five times in the season opener but saw just one carry over the next month. He got his break when Matt Jones went down for the season in Baton Rouge and from that point on averaged 4.4 yards-per-carry, while leading the team in carries over the last seven games as well. That performance earned Taylor a nod on the coaches’ Freshmen All-SEC team.
2013 Season Stats: 111 carries, 508 yards, 4 TD, 5 receptions, 37 yards
With Matt Jones still on the mend following knee surgery, Taylor has emerged ahead of the other running backs. The Gator legacy was Florida’s most effective runner last season but only carried the ball 20 times in a game on three occasions. Taylor’s yards-per-carry were actually higher (over 5 ypc) against AP Top-25 teams, showing that Taylor can be productive against top-tier competition.
Now, something that could hold Taylor back is Roper’s penchant for rotating running backs. No back had more than 120 carries at Duke while Roper was the offensive coordinator. Taylor is, undoubtedly, the most talented tailback that Roper has ever coached, so that philosophy might change. Taylor is used to being a workhorse; he was the focal point of the offense at Glades Day High School starting as an eighth grader.
Taylor can carry the load and Roper is likely to give him the lion’s share of reps this season.
But what about the new offense, you ask? Won’t switching to a spread offense hurt the running game?
Just the opposite, in fact.
Spreading the field will open running lanes for Taylor and the rest of the running backs. Rolling out in three and four receiver sets forces the defense outside the hashes, leaving open space between the tackles. Look at the season that Tre Mason had for Gus Malzahn’s Auburn attack last year. Mason led the Tigers to a SEC title, a berth in the national championship game and himself a seat at the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Spread offense does not mean you can’t be a physical running team. Taylor will give Florida the bite they need at running back and if he continues to improve and play his best games against Florida’s toughest opponents like he did as a freshman, he might end up getting his own invitation to New York for a certain award ceremony.