Gators impose their will on the ground

Passing is flashy, points are sexy but running the football, lining up man-to-man, blowing defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage and imposing your will on an opponent is true dominance.

That’s what the Florida Gators did to South Carolina on Saturday night and it was much needed to exorcise the demons left after the last two weeks of disappointment, running the ball all over South Carolina in a 35-31 comeback win.

Florida rushed for 367 yards on 62 carries. The 367 yards are the most the Gators have rushed for since they toppled Georgia in 2014 on the back of 418 rushing yards in a nother demon exorcising win for Will Muschamp, who beat his alma mater for the first time.

“I thought we needed to, and I thought we could,” Dan Mullen said when asked if he saw something on film that made him believe they would be able to run the ball this effectively against South Carolina. “Obviously, I want to try and keep people balanced and keep em’ on edge, but our backs were running hard and once we started getting success on the ground, we started to roll with it. But it was a big deal for us. We thought coming in we wanted to play up-tempo, get on the ball and go fast, and to be able to run the ball to do that.”

Florida came out throwing the ball on its first drive. The first play of the game was a designed swing pass, which could be considered an extension of the running game but then a rush and three incompletions ended the first drive. The second drive started with four consecutive rushing plays before a slant and then five more rushes. It was clear early on that Florida would be able to run the football and they had the backs to do it too.

Lamical Perine had his second 100-yard game of the season and his second game with two scores. Jordan Scarlett set a career-high with 159 yards on 18 carries, an average of 8.8 per touch.

“Yea I feel like we always run the ball pretty well against South Carolina so I feel like we could go out there and run the ball on them pretty good,” Scarlett said after the game. “The offensive line was feeling pretty confident going into the game so I was happy.”

It wasn’t just the two backs. Quarterback Feleipe Franks ran with a renewed enthusiasm and viciousness. The 6’6”, 240-pound had been accused of running tentatively. He won’t hear that criticism after this week. One play ended with Franks dragging a defender around his waist while lowering his shoulder into a safety, knocking the defender on his back. There were two rushing touchdowns, one where he plowed through two defenders on his way into the end zone, putting a double biceps flex on them as an exclamation point.

“Coach Mullen says all the time, if you want to thumb wrestle me I’m going to beat you, that’s just my mindset,” Franks said. “It’s just being a competitor, that’s it. That’s what I play football to do. I want to compete against anybody that lines up in front of us.”

That kind of physicality is normally reserved for bruising backs and defensive players, not quarterbacks. So when his teammates see him lowering a shoulder to get an extra yard it’s not lost on them. Not to mention Franks, because of running backs cutting back and reversing field, ended up as a lead blocker. He helped spring runs for Kadarius Toney and Scarlett on Saturday.

“He goes through the blaster just like we do,” Perine said of Franks going through running back drills. “He’s got that mindset of a running back like running the ball. He’s preparing for it.”

“It definitely gives me an extra edge that I gotta go a little bit harder cause I got my quarterback out there blocking for me—I really wish he didn’t, I don’t want him to get hurt or anything but he’s a tough guy man, he’ll handle it,” Scarlett added.

Kadarius Toney got in on the action as well the speedy wideout with seemingly no tendons in his ankles or knees had 51 yards on just four carries. He’s an electric player to watch, even when it doesn’t look like what was drawn up.

I’ll be honest with you, about half the time he touches the ball the play doesn’t look anything like we designed it to look at in practice,” Dan Mullen said. “But exciting things certainly happen. We’ll try to continue to do that and make sure he gets touches.”

Florida found the right mix of what will make them successful the rest of the season. Use your quarterback who has recently been running like he’s trying to hurt people and your deep backfield, sprinkle in a little bit of Toney’s sporadic electricity and you have a gameplan to keep winning football games.

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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