For the first time in a long time the Florida Gators will feature of a stable of running backs that are both experienced and talented, and multi-faceted in their skillsets.
As the Gators look to new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to help improve their atrocious offense, that ranked 115th in the country, the will likely look to move away from the usual pro-style offenses that have become popular in Gainesville, Fla. and move toward a more spread offensive attack.
Contrary to popular belief, a spread offense is not solely focused on the passing attack, no, more often than not spread offenses are very balanced, if not more focused on the run game.
Last season, Kurt Roper elevated a lowly Duke team up to the 47th ranked offense, including being ranked 54th in rushing attack (34 spots ahead of Florida). The Duke rushing attack last season had two players eclipse the 543 yard mark (Mack Brown – highest rusher last season); had five rushers average more yards per carry than Florida’s three top rushers last season; and had twice as many (28) rushing touchdowns than the Gators (14).
Entering the 2014 season, the Gators return their four top rushers in Mack Brown, Kelvin Taylor, Matt Jones and Valdez Showers. Further, the Gators will now have the ability to utilize redshirt freshmen Adam Lane and could potentially use freshman Brandon Powell, while also utilizing fullback Hunter Joyer. And finally, the offense will likely feature designed quarterback runs from Jeff Driskel and his back-up. All in all, the Gators have seven players on the roster that could see meaningful playing time rushing the football.
With seven potential ball carriers, how will the carries be split-up to ensure that the defense is kept on their toes, that each player stays fresh, but that there isn’t too much change to allow the ball carrier to build a rhythm?
During his last season at Duke, Roper’s team rushed the ball 544 times, including 167 by quarterbacks, accounting for 53.5% of the teams’ plays.
With that in mind, here is how I imagine the carries will be split.
Getting the lion’s share of carries will be Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown, with Kelvin Taylor getting the most carries. Taylor had a great freshman campaign (after a slow start) with 508 yards on 111 carries (4.58 average) and four touchdowns. He was the best north-south runner on the team to go with the kind of shiftiness that others did not seem to have. He was first on the depth chart this spring and seemed to have done well during open practice and when he played sparingly in the Orange and Blue Debut. Brown led the team in rushing last season, but had averaged only 3.67 yards per carry. Brown, however, had a strong spring and a great Orange and Blue game, with eight carries for 55 yards and a touchdown, including a shifty 19-yard run. The two combined for 53.7% of the Gators rushes last season and I expect that to remain the same.
Percentage of total carries for Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown: 55% (30% Kelvin Taylor, 25% Mack Brown)
Continuing, I expect Jeff Driskel and his back-up (likely Treon Harris) to have the third highest number of combined rushes next season. Last season, Jeff Driskel averaged nearly six carries per game before going down with a season-ending injury against Tennessee. Last season at Duke, the quarterbacks ran the ball 167 times, or nearly 30% of the total carries. I do not expect to see the quarterback run the ball 30% of the time next season for the Gators simply because they cannot afford to be risky with Jeff Driskel. I do expect more designed runs and more option runs, perhaps using freshman Treon Harris in this role.
Percentage of total carries for Quarterbacks: 20%
Further down the list, is 2013 starter Matt Jones, whom has done nothing wrong to deserve the drop, other than have to battle through sickness and injury. Matt Jones showed last season that he can be a great running back, but he also showed that he still runs a bit too up-right and can be brought down a bit easily, and is not as shifty or quick as some of his competition. I expect Matt Jones to have a solid season, who is coming off a 4.29 yard per carry average and two touchdowns appearing in only five games last season.
Percentage of total carries for Matt Jones: 15%
Finally, Gators will look to Valdez Showers, Hunter Joyer and Adam Lane for two different functions – Showers for a change-of-pace speed back, while Joyer and Lane can offer support in short yardage and goal line situations. Showers ranked fourth on the team total yardage with 103 yards on 12 carries and proved to be a real threat when the ball was put his hands. Joyer and Lane will likely be used sparingly, but each offer size that no other running back has and have a low center of gravity, making them tough to tackle. These guys always seem to fall forward. Joyer, a senior, had three carries last season for 18 yards. Lane, who had 64 yards on 12 carries in the Orange and Blue Debut, really showed that he could be a real threat. However, with just not enough carries to go around, Lane will likely have to wait a season or two before he carries the ball more.
Percentage of total carries for Valdez Showers, Hunter Joyer, and Adam Lane: 10% (5% Valdez Showers, 2% Hunter Joyer, 3% Adam Lane).
The running back stable appears to be very strong for next season, but the Gators will need to have more consistency from Brown, injury-free seasons from Jones and Driskel, and improved offensive-line play to capitalize on their depth.
This is the Gators most important season in a very long time and the running back position will be one of the most important pillars of a successful season.